Last updated on June 21st, 2018
Conjugated Linoleic Acid, or CLA for short, is a fatty acid that has taken the supplement world by storm.
If you’d believed the manufacturers’ exaggerated claims five to ten years ago, you would have thought CLA could literally melt fat from your body.
Of course, no-one is silly enough to believe all of the claims made by those who would profit the most from their gullibility.
Okay, maybe some people are.
But when a product or ingredient receives such widespread and consistent attention, it’s definitely worth investigating further to see if there’s any weight to it.
For fat loss, CLA should theoretically help because it targets a specific receptor that regulates fat burning, amongst other things.
CLA has potential to act synergistically with Fucoxanthin, although viable human studies have not been carried out.
Quite a few scientific studies have been carried out using CLA with human subjects to determine its potency with respect to fat loss. So, one would think there is adequate evidence to prove it one way or another.
We had a look at the evidence to see for ourselves.
CLA for Fat Loss
Conjugated Linoleic Acid should increase fat burning by something called the PPAR alpha receptors, according to the science.
Over twenty intervention studies have focused on CLA’s ability to induce increased fat burning activity in the human body.
Just less than half of those demonstrated a statistical significance in support of the fat loss claims.
However, more than half showed that there is no effect at a statistically significant level.
Perhaps more telling is the fact that the studies supporting the fat loss claim did not yield impressive results. Ingredients like caffeine and synephrine, for example, are much more powerful.
To add insult to injury, the results are unreliable as well. That is to say that while statistical significance may have been recorded, some people in the study gained weight while others lost weight.
CLA appears to abhor consistency between studies and even within them.
Nevertheless, it is not a failure by any stretch, and we would have to summarize it by saying it may work for some and not others.
The best cases seem to result in a body fat reduction, albeit of weak potency, over a long period of time (3 months or more).
CLA for Lean Mass Retention
There are lots of people who believe in CLA (there wouldn’t be such a massive market if there weren’t) and many of those are more interested in the lean mass preservation claims.
That is the preservation of muscle and bone tissue, and specifically during a cutting, or “leaning out” phase of a bodybuilding effort.Did You Know: Many bodybuilders swear by CLA, believing it burns fat and preserves lean mass during a cut cycle, but the scientists still aren't sure.Click To Tweet
How To Use CLA
From the scientific data available, it appears to be more advantageous to take CLA with meals but timing seems to be on an as-and-when basis.
If you are taking the maximum effective dose – about 6.5 grams per day – then splitting it up into 3 separate doses with your three main meals seems more manageable in terms of pill swallowing and absorption.
Also, the higher the dosage the more likely gastro distress is to happen. This doesn’t really happen at smaller doses.
CLA is a fatty acid, but is available in powders for pills and pre-workouts, and liquid capsules.
Three grams (3000mg) per day split into 3 equal doses of 1000mg, with food, is a good place to start.
Anything lower than this will just result in less effect.
Up to 6 grams per day is recommended, but should be worked up to, while monitoring for gastrointestinal distress.
CLA Side Effects
With higher doses there is the risk of some gastrointestinal discomfort, and greater likelihood of impromptu trips to the toilet.
Keep it simple buy taking 3 separate doses with 2 meals over the course of the day.
It probably comes down to whether you are one of the people who are sensitive to its effects.
A lot of people swear by CLA’s ability to retain lean muscle mass while they are on a hard cutting cycle.
The science doesn’t really support it when you weigh the pro versus con clinical trials, and those studies that do support it aren’t super impressive.
We’ve seen this before in a bunch of supplements. Perhaps where there’s a will there’s a way, but cold scientific reason has a purpose, and it’s not to pander to manufacturer sales, or the gut feelings of bodybuilders.
Science just says what it says. And on CLA, the jury is still out.