What is CLA?
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is an omega-6 essential fatty acid derived from the meat or dairy of ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and goats. It was first recognised for its potential to protect against cancer, heart disease and support the immune system, but more recently it’s better known for its ability to aid fat loss and increase lean mass (muscle). The sport supplement industry pounced on CLA’s apparent ability to mobilise fat stores and promote muscle formation....and for good reason too! CLA has the ability to shift the body’s preferred energy source from carbohydrate to fat, meaning in theory, fat stores are metabolised from the outset of exercise resulting in reduced fat stores (Gaullier, Halse, Hoye, Kristiansen, Fagertun, Vik et al. 2004).
How it CLA works
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) (2010) state that CLA has been seen to exert antioxidant properties (reduce risk of cancer and heart disease), has the potential to lower serum lipid levels (fat in blood vessels) and causes a preferential shift to fat burning during both exercise and rest! CLA is thought to promote fat burning in many ways, including:
- Inhibition of lipoprotein lipase, the enzyme needed for the formation of fat stores
- Promoting fat cell apoptosis (destruction of fat cells)
- Prevention of fat storage under the skin
- Ability to increase the production of the enzyme acyl-CoA oxidase, a major player in the oxidation of fat (burning fat for energy) and the formation of health promoting polyunsaturated fatty acids
The reported benefits of CLA in relation to strength and muscle gains are associated with its ability to increase ‘uncoupling protein- 2’, which is a protein in muscle that helps energy production. It is thought that this can help to promote muscle synthesis and improve capacity to train (Llewellyn, 2009). It should be noted that studies do support the reported positive effects of CLA, but this is only in recreational athletes. It is anticipated that these benefits would likely transfer to elite athletes too, but more research is needed to categorically support this.
Should you be consuming a CLA supplement?
In order to consume the requisite amounts of CLA in order to exert a benefit, one would need to consume approx 5-6g a day. In order to ingest this everyday you would have to eat rather a lot of ruminant derived meat or dairy (cow, goat or sheep), which could encompass an excessive intake of saturated fat, proven to increase the risk of heart disease and elevate LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. CLA is a relatively risk free, easily ingested, convenient and affordable supplement, which could significantly improve your training results in relation to increasing lean muscle mass and reducing body fat. So if tone, definition and possible gains in muscle size are your goals, CLA may well be a trick you’re currently missing!
Gaullier., Halse., Hoye., Kristiansen., Fagertun., Vik., & Gudmundsen, (2004). Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation for 1 year reduces body fat mass in healthy overweight humans. Am J Clin Nutr; 79:1118 – 1125.
Kreider, R, B., Wilborb, C, D., Campbell, B., Almada, A, L., Collins, R., Cooke, M et al, (2010). ISSN exercise & Sport Nutrition Review: Research & Recommendations. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition. 7: 1550-2783.
Llewellyn, W, (2009). Sport Supplement Reference Guide. Conjugated-Linoleic Acid (CLA). Military trail: Molecular Nutrition LLC of Jupiter.
Greenwood, M., Kalman, D, S. & Antonio, J. (2008). Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercise. Conjugated Linoleic Acid. New Jersey: Humana Press.