Years ago, nobody wanted to know anything about them. To get lean, people assumed they had to avoid them like the plague. Now, science has shown them to be an integral part of not only fat metabolism but also creating a premium physique that excels in any type of athletic performance.

I’m talking about fats. In particular, good fats.

In this series of articles, I’m going to identify exactly what are the right fats you need and highlight their benefits – fats that promote faster recovery, better muscle gains and more efficient fat metabolism. First cab off the rank is CLA.

CLA – the body-shaping lipid

CLA 1000 - Conjugated Linoleic AcidConjugated linolenic acid (CLA) was discovered by accident in 1978 at the University of Wisconsin while looking for mutagen formations in meat during cooking. CLA, found naturally in many animal products, consists of positional and geometric isomers of the omega-6 essential fat.

As a supplement, CLA is well documented in research to improve fat loss and body composition in both overweight and non-overweight individuals. CLA not only promotes more efficient fat metabolism, this compound also possesses a prominent anti-catabolic-effect.

The powerful effects of CLA have been demonstrated clearly in one long-term study that  involved 180 adults. Over a six month period, participants received either 3.4 grams of CLA each day or a placebo.

Interestingly, the researchers reported that CLA’s impact on body composition was evident 8 to 12 weeks into the study. By the end of the 6 month study, the effect on fat mass was around 2 kilograms compared to the placebo. While 2 kilograms doesn’t sound like much, that still the equivalent to eight packs of butter.

Additionally, lean body mass in the CLA-treated group increased by 0.4 of a kilogram.

What makes these body composition changes even more impressive is the fact no structured exercise training took place during the six-month trail. The highlight was the site-specific fat loss observed in this study.  Fat loss via CLA supplementation appeared to be specific to the upper leg and abdomen areas, the “problem” areas for most people. CLA could be considered the body-shaping lipid.

Fat loss via multiple pathways

CLA’s unique properties are based on this compounds conjugated double bonds at carbon atoms 10 and 12 or 9 and 11. Unlike other supplements purported to enhance fat loss, the mechanisms of CLA’s benefits have been well-studied.  CLA’s effects on the biochemical path ways that lead to better fat metabolism and fat loss appear to be multi-faceted.

See Also:
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Firstly, under normal circumstances, when dietary fat is not used for energy, it is taken up and stored in fat cells. The enzyme lipoprotein lipase is responsible. CLA has been shown to inhibit this enzyme. Instead of being stored, the triglycerides are diverted to the muscle cells and utilized for fuel. CLA appears to inhibit fat storage.

Secondly, within muscle, CLA promotes the activity of another enzyme, carnitine palmitoyl transferase, which is responsible for the metabolism of fat for fuel. Aside from reducing the potential to store fat, some studies report CLA ensures more fat is utilized as a fuel source during exercise.

Thirdly, two independent microarray analyses indicate that CLA affects the uncoupling protein genes in white adipose (fat) tissue. When stimulated, uncoupling proteins create a nutrient partitioning effect which enables cells to release more calories as heat. This theromogenic effect is a hallmark of more efficient fat metabolism.

An effective dose

Based on the research, just 3-4 grams of CLA per day can improve body composition by speeding fat metabolism while preserving lean muscle tissue.

Yes, some foods do contain CLA. On average, the rich sources contain approximately 7 milligrams of CLA per gram of fat. However, to get the amount of CLA in one softgel capsule of AST Sports Science CLA 1000, you would have to consume over 64 grams of fat! That makes supplementation with CLA 1000, a smart move.

The Research:

Conjugated linoleic acid and obesity control: efficacy and mechanisms. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004.
Dietary conjugated linoleic acid and body composition. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and obesity. Public Health Nutr. 2007.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid Induces Uncoupling Protein 1 in White Adipose Tissue of ob/ob Mice. Lipids. 2009.

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Performance Enhancing Fats – Part 1: CLA

by Paul Cribb Ph.D. CSCS. time to read: 3 min