Supplements

What Is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)? | CLA For Weight Loss & CLA Benefits

If you’ve done some googling and found yourself down the rabbit hole of supplements, then you might be wondering, ‘what does CLA do?’. All these scientific terms can leave you feeling pretty confused about what they can actually do for you. 

So, we’re here to crack the code and help you understand what CLA is, how it works, and how CLA may benefit 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? 

In this article you’ll find:

what is cla

What is CLA?

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a type of essential fatty acid. 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). This supplement is also a naturally occurring trans-fat, which is a type of unsaturated fat. Unlike the processed man-made version of trans-fats, it’s thought to have health benefits associated with it.3

Summary: Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is an omega-6 fatty acid.

What are the benefits of CLA?

1. Fat burning potential

CLA is thought to help the body break down and burn more fat cells, as well as prevent 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

2. Enhanced muscle growth

More research needs to be carried out to show that this omega-6 supplement positively impacts lean muscle mass in humans. There’s some science showing potential in animals though, which is promising.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 results3.  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 this fatty acid 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

Summary: Although there are many theories about the potential benefits of CLA, more research in this area is needed. 

CLA for weight loss

Some have theorised that CLA can change body composition and facilitate weight loss by altering the metabolism. Most of its effects on 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

Want more weight loss advice? Read this next:

 

CLA dosage and duration

There’s no general consensus as of yet for the dosage of this supplement, when to take it, 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.  

The majority of the studies look at 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:

  • Beef  
  • Lamb  
  • Chicken  
  • Pork  
  • Cow’s milk  
  • Cottage cheese  
  • Cheddar cheese  

 Check out our latest chicken recipe…

Take home message

So, what does CLA do? Most people buy it for its potential weight loss properties. This supplement 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 this 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. 

FAQs

What is CLA?

A type of essential fatty acid, a subcategory of the omega 6 essential fatty acids. 

What are the possible benefits of CLA?

It’s been theorised to facilitate weight loss, aid muscle growth and lower cholesterol. 

When should I take CLA?

There’s no consensus on when is the best time to take CLA, however it is commonly taken with meals. 

How much CLA should I take? 

A common dosage is 3g per day. 

What foods contain CLA? 

Meats such as beef, lamb, chicken and pork or dairy products such as cow milk, cottage cheese and cheddar cheese. 

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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.


  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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

 

 



Claire Muszalski

Claire Muszalski

Registered Dietitian

Claire is a Registered Dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.

Talking and writing about food and fitness is at the heart of Claire’s ethos as she loves to use her experience to help others meet their health and wellness goals.

Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and loves the mental and physical boost she gets from regular runs and yoga classes. When she’s not keeping fit herself, she’s cheering on her hometown’s sports teams in Pittsburgh, or cooking for her family in the kitchen.

Find out more about Claire’s experience here.


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