CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is a naturally occurring fatty acid, similar to an omega-6 fatty acid but with health benefits for skin and weight loss. It's one of the "good fats," present in foods such as beef and dairy products, but only in low levels. Ironically, beef and dairy products are the same foods that are also high in what we think of as "bad fats," or saturated fats, so obtaining enough CLA through diet alone is problematic.
Also ironically, even though CLA is a fat, studies show that 1.4-3.0 grams per day of CLA will lead to overall body-fat loss.1,2
And yet, to get that much CLA into your system naturally, you'd have to consume upwards of 2 pounds of beef, a pound of cheese, or 100 ounces of milk every day!
Increased consumption of CLA doesn't have to come from dairy products or beef, however, as the benefits of CLA can be achieved through supplementation.
Why is CLA Good?
It might seem weird that a fatty acid could help reduce body fat while increasing lean muscle mass, but that's what the science suggests!3
While technically a trans fat, CLA is naturally represented in our food sources and is different than industrial-produced trans fats, such as vegetable oil. Like many naturally occurring agents, CLA has an organic, meaningful place in our diet.
Can CLA Help Me Lose Weight?
Even though conjugated linoleic acid is a trans fat, there's a purpose for this one! Specifically, CLA helps reduce the urge for unneeded food intake and inhibits the production of additional fats. Basically, CLA is a special type of fat that takes the place of our need for other, unhealthy fats.
CLA hardwires us to stay lean and clean, helping us to burn the calories that already exist, instead of craving additional calories that serve no purpose.
A recent study investigating the effect of 4.2 grams of CLA per day in 53 healthy individuals showed a significant decrease (3.8 percent) in body fat compared with individuals not taking CLA.
An additional study in obese and overweight populations demonstrated that at least 3.4 grams of CLA per day for a period of 12 weeks was actually necessary to see a significant reduction in body fat.2 In other words, without CLA intake there was no significant fat loss!
What are the Benefits of CLA for Training?
One trial, monitoring the benefits of CLA supplementation on muscle development, showed that consuming 7.2 grams of CLA per day, when accompanied by a bodybuilding regimen, led to an increase in skin-fold corrected arm girth, leg press gains, and overall body mass, as compared to a placebo group which performed the same routine without CLA.5
Are There Additional Benefits of CLA?
Research shows there are also CLA benefits for skin health, in addition to the benefits for weight loss. Because of this, CLA has been added to a number of popular skincare products.
But you don't have to buy those products to get the benefits of CLA, so long as you're already supplementing with it.
Why Don't I Have Enough CLA Already?
Many people already consume a lot of beef and dairy products, so it would make sense to think that the amount of CLA in their bodies should be enough to get by on.
Unfortunately, meat and milk production have changed over the years. Industrialized meat that is not grass-fed contains far less CLA than grass-fed meat, while dairy products from non-grass-fed cows also have less CLA in them than the dairy products from grass-fed cows.6
How Should I Take CLA?
As with any supplement, some types of CLA, especially if not taken as recommended, may be difficult for the liver to process. CLA might also create an imbalance in breast milk fats, so it's recommended that nursing mothers put off CLA supplementation until their child is beyond nursing age.
Other than that, taking CLA is simple: Capsules of a CLA supplement, in the manufacturer's recommended doses, should be ingested slightly before or during a meal. The stimulant-free capsules stack well with other products.
Here are some other articles on CLA you might want to check out:
- Mougios V, Matsakas A, Petridou A, Ring S, Sagredos A, Melissopoulou A,Tsigilis N, Nikolaidis M. Effect of supplementation with conjugated inoleic acid on human serum lipids and body fat. J NutrBiochem 2001;12:585-94
- Blankson H, Stakkestad JA, Fagertun H,Thom E, Wadstein J, Gudmundsen O. Conjugated linoleic acid reduces body fat mass in overweight and obese humans. J.Nutr. 130:2943-2948 (2000).
- Roche HM, Noone E, Nugent A, Gibney MJ. Conjugated linoleic acid: a novel therapeutic nutrient? Nutr. Res. Rev. 14:173â€¦quot;187 (2001).
- Smedman A,Vessby B. Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation in humans - Metabolic effects. Lipids 36:773â€¦quot;781 (2001).
- Lowery L.M., Appicelli P.A. and Lemon P.W.R. (1998). Conjugated linoleic acid enhances muscle size and strength gains in novice bodybuilders. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30.5 s182.
- Daley, C. A., Abbott, A., Doyle, P. S., Nader, G. A., & Larson, S. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal, 9(1), 10.