If you’ve done some googling and found yourself sucked in the quicksand of supplements, then you might be wondering what does CLA do. All these scientific terms can leave you feeling at a loss for what supplements can do for you.
So, we’re here to crack the codes and help you understand what CLA is, how it works, and if it’s the supplement for you.
Whether you’re new to fitness or have been training for years one thing is always true — what you use to fuel your body has a major impact on the results you get. So, what about CLA?
Could it help you lose weight, gain muscle, or improve your performance in the gym? Discover what it is, the benefits, if there are any side effects, as well as how to use it to reach your training goals.
In this article you’ll find:
What is CLA?
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a type of essential fatty acid. Now, before you run for the hills at the word “fat”, you should know that not all fats are bad. An essential fat means that the body needs to have this fat to function properly. The body can produce certain fats on its own, but essential fats have to come through the diet.3
In broad terms, there are two main types of essential fats — omega 3 and omega 6. CLA is a subcategory of the omega 6 essential fatty acids — a linoleic polyunsaturated fatty acid. 3
The word conjugated refers to the arrangement of its single and double bonds (this helps determine the type of fat). CLA is also a naturally occurring trans-fat, which is a type of unsaturated fat. Unlike the processed man-made version of trans-fats, it is thought to have health benefits associated with it.3
How does CLA work and what does it do?
1. CLA for weight loss and metabolic rate.
Some have theorised that CLA can change body composition and facilitate weight loss by altering the metabolism.
The theory behind how CLA works is that it helps the body break down and burn more fat cells, as well as preventing excess fat storage. What’s seen in reality is that this process seems to happen mainly to the fat cells stored inside muscle tissue.
It’s important to note that fat cells inside the muscle don’t seem to affect body fat levels, as this is determined more by subcutaneous fat (fat between the skin and the muscle.) CLA interacts with this process on a cellular level. 7
Most of the benefits of weight loss and changes in metabolism have only been observed in cells (in a test tube) or in animal studies.
These promising results are yet to be seen in most human studies, with weight loss and changes in metabolism being minimal so far.7
2. Enhanced muscle growth
More research needs to be carried out to show that CLA positively impacts lean muscle mass in humans. There’s some science showing potential in animal test subjects, though.6
3. CLA and immune function
There have been several studies to date that look at what CLA does for the immune system — so far the results have been highly variable.
When looking at how to make a conclusion based on the science available, a good place to start is to look at what the majority of the studies show. Is there a general trend, and if so is it in favour of an effect or not?
The studies on CLA and its effect on the immune system doesn’t seem to show a particularly strong trend as to whether it has a distinct positive effect on the immune system.1
CLA dosage and duration
There’s no general consensus as of yet for how much CLA you should take, at what time, and for how long. The studies show a big difference in dosages from as little as 0.7g/d to as much as 6.8g/d for what does CLA do at these different doses.
The majority of the studies look usage of 8-12 weeks with a few going beyond that. Perhaps the most common dosage would be around 3g daily. If supplementing, then this would best be taken with meals.
Sources of CLA
Now we’ve answered what CLA does, you might be wondering how you can get more through your diet. It can be found naturally in foods, or in the form of a man-made supplement. The most common food that you can find it in are meat and dairy.
CLA can be found in:
- Cow’s milk
- Cottage cheese
- Cheddar cheese
Take home message
So, what does CLA do? Most people buy it for its potential weight loss properties. CLA is claimed to aid muscle growth, lower cholesterol, improve blood glucose levels and support healthy immune function.
It is a dose-dependent supplement and has been used with as little as 0.7g/d up to 6.8g/d. The average use seems to be around 3g/d in supplement form for about 8 to 12 weeks.
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of CLA as a supplement in humans. Perhaps as technology improves and more studies are conducted, what is seen in theory might be observed in a real life setting.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
- Benjamin, S., Prakasan, P., Sreedharan, S., Wright, A.-D. G., & Spener, F. (2015). Pros and cons of CLA consumption: an insight from clinical evidences. Nutrition & Metabolism, 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-12-4
- den Hartigh, L. J., Wang, S., Goodspeed, L., Wietecha, T., Houston, B., Omer, M., … Chait, A. (2017). Metabolically distinct weight loss by 10,12 CLA and caloric restriction highlight the importance of subcutaneous white adipose tissue for glucose homeostasis in mice. PLoS ONE, 12(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172912
- Eynard, A. R., & Lopez, C. B. (2003). Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) versus saturated fats/cholesterol: their proportion in fatty and lean meats may affect the risk of developing colon cancer. Lipids in Health and Disease, 2, 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-2-6
- Gonçalves, D. C., Lira, F. S., Carnevali, L. C., Jr, Rosa, J. C., Pimentel, G. D., & Seelaender, M. (2010). Conjugated Linoleic Acid: good or bad nutrient. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 2, 62. https://doi.org/10.1186/1758-5996-2-62
- Kim, Y., Kim, J., Whang, K.-Y., & Park, Y. (2016). Impact of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) on Skeletal Muscle Metabolism. Lipids, 51(2), 159–178. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11745-015-4115-8
- Kreider, R. B., Ferreira, M. P., Greenwood, M., Wilson, M., & Almada, A. L. (2002). Effects of conjugated linoleic acid supplementation during resistance training on body composition, bone density, strength, and selected hematological markers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16(3), 325–334.
- Lehnen, T. E., da Silva, M. R., Camacho, A., Marcadenti, A., & Lehnen, A. M. (2015). A review on effects of conjugated linoleic fatty acid (CLA) upon body composition and energetic metabolism. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0097-4
- Salas-Salvadó, J., Márquez-Sandoval, F., & Bulló, M. (2006). Conjugated linoleic acid intake in humans: a systematic review focusing on its effect on body composition, glucose, and lipid metabolism. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 46(6), 479–488. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408390600723953
- Whigham, L. D., Watras, A. C., & Schoeller, D. A. (2007). Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(5), 1203–1211. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.5.1203