CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is a naturally occurring fatty acid that is found in a number of foods. Fatty acids are the basically the building blocks of fat, in the same way that amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Other types of fatty acids are linoleic acid (Omega-3) and linolenic acid (Omega-6).
CLA is found in large quantities in many foods such as dairy, beef, veal and turkey. Most people probably get at least a gram a day from their normal diet. For example, cheese has between 3 and 7 milligrams of CLA per gram of fat. Considering that the benefits of CLA supplementation aren’t seen until you take around 4 grams, that would be a lot of cheese to eat.
I’m dieting and exercising, why would I take fat?
Well CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid that is found in a number of food, so it would be unlikely that you could avoid it. However contrary to popular belief, not all fats are bad. Studies have shown that CLA may actually be effective at supporting fat loss and increasing lean body mass by altering the way the body uses and stores energy.
During strenuous exercise the body produces many different catabolic (muscle wasting) hormones, cortisol being the most abundant. It now appears that CLA has potent anti-catabolic effects. So it’s possible that CLA might help promote muscle growth by minimizing catabolism.
CLA has also been shown to have powerful antioxidant capabilities. Antioxidants help to control compounds known as “free-radicals”, which flow through your system causing damage to your cells and generally wreaking internal havoc. Some studies showed that CLA provided better antioxidant properties than both beta-carotene and Vitamin E. In another study it appeared that CLA helped the nutrient transport system across muscle-cell membranes. So basically CLA helps increase muscle growth by increasing the nutrient flow into muscle cells.
Can I just take fish oil?
Studies have shown that when compared to fish oils, CLA is the only one observed to provide any of the above benefits. Although linoleic acid can be converted to conjugated linoleic acid to some extent in the digestive process, the amount created is basically insignificant. You would need to take way too much fish oil to be able to convert the CLA you need, and would probably end up getting sick anyway.
Also, taking too much linoleic acid can lead to the production of arachidonic acid, which can lead to a decrease in the production of hormones called eicosanoids. These hormones basically control the production of all other hormones in the body, including testosterone and growth hormone.
How much should I take?
Studies that have shown CLA to promote muscle growth have used approximately 1% of the total mass of their diet. So if you estimate that a 180 pound person eats around 500 grams of food per day, you can multiply 500 grams by .01 to arrive at 5 grams. Since you generally consume a gram of CLA in your daily diet, it would be safe to say that supplementing with an additional 4 grams would be sufficient. However this is just a guideline as some people will need less and some will need more.
The good news is that CLA has no know side effects. It is a naturally occurring compound in many foods and extensive research has shown no toxicity or any adverse effects.