Conjugated linoleic acid, also known as CLA, has long been prized in the health and fitness community. Gym goers swear by it for fat loss, enhanced exercise performance and mass gains. Some of these claims are proven by science. A quality CLA supplement can make weight loss easier and help you get the most out of your workout.
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CLA is a supplement that may help burn fat and improve your workout. But the research is mixed. Talk with your doctor before adding any supplements like CLA to your routine.
What Is CLA?
It's no secret that trans fats affect health and well-being. These compounds alter your blood lipids, leading to a higher risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association states that trans fatty acids may contribute to diabetes, stroke and elevated cholesterol levels.
There's one exception, though. Conjugated linoleic acid, a trans fatty acid that occurs naturally in meat and dairy, can actually improve your health. This natural compound is marketed as a weight loss aid and performance enhancer.
The role of CLA in bodybuilding and exercise is subject to debate. According to a 2015 research paper published in Nutrition & Metabolism, CLA pills may help reduce body fat and temporarily boost testosterone levels when used as part of a resistance training program. Some studies point out that CLA may improve body composition and reduce muscle loss, while others show little or no effects.
CLA and Weight Loss
Conjugated linoleic acid is heavily promoted as a fat burning agent. Most studies, though, have been performed with animals. Researchers suggest that CLA may aid in weight loss by inhibiting fat production, increasing fat burning and suppressing appetite.
A 2017 research article featured in PLOS ONE assessed the effects of 10,12 CLA, a compound used in weight loss supplements. This fatty acid has been shown to increase energy expenditure, fat oxidation and subcutaneous white fat browning in mice with obesity to a greater extent than caloric restriction. The downside is that it worsened hepatic steatosis (a buildup of fat in the liver) and had no effect on insulin response and glucose metabolism; caloric restriction, on the other hand, improved these markers.
Read more: The 7 Principles of Fat Loss
Another study, published in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry in 2015, found that CLA combined with exercise may reduce inflammation and improve appetite control by decreasing leptin and insulin levels. Scientists point out that CLA supplements work best when combined with regular exercise. They not only curb hunger but also increase protein synthesis and help reduce fat mass and body weight.
Does CLA Improve Exercise Performance?
A growing body of research confirms the role of CLA in weight loss. This supplement is popular among fitness models and female athletes for good reason. In 2015, PLOS ONE published a study showing that CLA combined with a high-protein, low-calorie diet leads to a faster reduction in body fat levels compared to diet alone; the study was conducted on recreationally-trained women over the course of three weeks.
Whether you're a pro athlete or a fitness enthusiast, you want to stay lean and make the most out of your gym time. A quality CLA supplement can help, especially when used as part of a balanced diet and exercise program. You'll find it easier to maintain your weight, burn more calories in the gym and have greater energy.
A recent study, published in the journal Lipids in 2016, suggests that CLA not only aids in fat loss but also enhances muscle metabolism and physical performance. At the same time, it suppresses protein breakdown, which may help improve muscle strength and quality. CLA isn't a miracle pill, but it can bring you closer to your fitness and weight loss goals.
CLA Benefits Are Controversial
Without a doubt, CLA is one of the most widely researched yet controversial supplements on the market. For every study that confirms its benefits, there's another well-documented study claiming the opposite. Therefore, you have to take these findings with a grain of salt.
In 2015, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition assessed several studies on CLA benefits and potential uses. Some indicate that it has little or no effect on body fat mass, physical performance and inflammatory markers and that this supplement is not more effective than exercise alone. Others have found that it does support fat loss and may increase the fat-burning effects of exercise.
The review also highlights some of its potential side effects. CLA may increase triglycerides and bad cholesterol while reducing good cholesterol levels. Furthermore, it may negatively alter glucose metabolism and promote inflammation.
Read more: The 12 Most Overrated Supplements
Should You Take CLA Pills?
Most times, CLA benefits outweigh the risks. If you're in good health and stay active, this supplement is unlikely to cause any harm. Most side effects were reported in people with existing conditions, such as diabetes, obesity or metabolic syndrome.
The health benefits of conjugated linoleic acid go beyond weight loss. According to the journal Nutrients, CLA has anti-atherogenic properties. In clinical trials, this supplement has been found to protect mice from atherosclerosis while improving their blood lipids and gut flora composition.
A 2015 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology shows that CLA may inhibit the progression of atherosclerosis. This supplement may also stimulate bone formation and prevent postmenopausal bone loss, improve insulin resistance and reduce oxidative stress. Researchers point out, though, that not all of the health benefits reported in animal models apply to humans.
Natural Sources of CLA
Dietary supplements are not the only sources of CLA. This fatty acid occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, especially meat and dairy. Beef, lamb, cheese, yogurt, butter and sour cream are just a few to mention.
Fresh ground beef, for example, provides 52.9 milligrams of CLA per serving. Lamb contains a whopping 73.7 milligrams of CLA per serving. There are 98.7 milligrams of conjugated linoleic acid in one serving of condensed milk and 78.7 milligrams in one serving of sour cream.
Read more: Foods That Are High in CLA
Some plant-based foods contain this nutrient too, but in smaller amounts. One serving of sunflower oil delivers 5.5 milligrams of CLA. The same quantity of safflower oil has 9.7 milligrams of conjugated linoleic acid.
CLA Dosage and Recommendations
Your body cannot produce this nutrient on its own, so you must obtain it from food or supplements. According to WebMD, there is no standard dosage for CLA. In general, those who wish to lose weight should take anywhere from one gram to 3.4 grams per day.
Most types of meat and dairy foods that contain CLA are high in fat. If you go overboard and consume them in large amounts, you may experience adverse effects. Eating too much red meat, for instance, has been shown to increase the risk of premature death by 13 to 20 percent, as Harvard Medical School notes.
Read more: CLA Supplement Dosage and Safety
If you're not sure how much CLA you need, talk with a medical professional. Even the highest quality CLA supplement can have side effects or interact with some medications, including anticoagulants and antihypertensive drugs.
Is This an Emergency?
- University of Michigan Health System: Conjugated Linoleic Acid
- Heart.org: Trans Fats
- Designs for Health: CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Pros and Cons of Cla Consumption - an Insight From Clinical Evidences
- PLOS ONE: Metabolically Distinct Weight Loss by 10,12 CLA and Caloric Restriction Highlight the Importance of Subcutaneous White Adipose Tissue for Glucose Homeostasis in Mice
- The Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry: Serum Levels of Appetite-Regulating Hormones and Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines Are Ameliorated by a CLA Diet and Endurance Exercise in Rats Fed a High-Fat Diet
- PLOS ONE: Subcutaneous and Segmental Fat Loss With and Without Supportive Supplements in Conjunction With a Low-Calorie High Protein Diet in Healthy Women
- Springer Link: Impact of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) on Skeletal Muscle Metabolism
- NCBI: Effects of Conjugated Linoleic Acid/N-3 and Resistance Training on Muscle Quality and Expression of Atrophy-Related Ubiquitin Ligases in Middle-Aged Mice With High-Fat Diet Induced Obesity
- Biomed Central: A Review on Effects of Conjugated Linoleic Fatty Acid (CLA) Upon Body Composition and Energetic Metabolism
- Wiley Online Library: Effects of Conjugated Linoleic Acid Supplementation on Serum C‐Reactive Protein
- MDPI: 10,12 Conjugated Linoleic Acid-Driven Weight Loss Is Protective Against Atherosclerosis in Mice and Is Associated With Alternative Macrophage Enrichment in Perivascular Adipose Tissue
- Wiley Online Library: Atheroprotective Effects of Conjugated Linoleic Acid
- NCBI: Conjugated Linoleic Acid Prevents Ovariectomy-Induced Bone Loss in Mice by Modulating Both Osteoclastogenesis and Osteoblastogenesis
- NCBI: Conjugated Linoleic Acid Improves Glycemic Response, Lipid Profile, and Oxidative Stress in Obese Patients With Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Dairy Nutrition: How Much CLA Is Enough?
- WebMD: Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
- Harvard Medical School: What’s the Beef With Red Meat?
- RxList: Conjugated Linoleic Acid