As spring approaches and the temperatures rise, so too will your desire to shed a few pounds before you put back on the swimsuit. A long-term approach to weight loss typically involves a lifestyle change that means modifications to both your diet and exercise program. The overwhelming factor that controls your long-term ability to lose weight is the balance you maintain between the calories you consume and the calories you burn. Certainly, a number of other factors contribute to this outcome, but routinely studies come back to making sure you first have tilted the weight loss scales in your favor.
And before you say to yourself, "everyone knows that and I'm already doing that," consider that most people underestimate the amount of calories they consume by 25% to 30% (Lichtman 1992) and alternatively people overestimate how many calories they are burning when they exercise by 20% to 25% (Buchowski 1999, Walsh 2004). This creates a situation where people do not fully understand the true magnitude of the changes they need to make to facilitate weight loss. Having said all this, many people who go down the weight loss path consider specialized diets, drinks and various dietary supplements to help them achieve their weight loss goals.
A number of potential dietary supplements exist and some are suggested to help with weight loss by increasing the metabolic activity of your body and these are often referred to as stimulants or thermogenics. Many people are sensitive to stimulants, however, and as a result they look for non-stimulant alternatives. In this respect, conjugated linoleic acids have been a popular non-stimulant weight and fat loss alternative for several years (Whigham 2007).
For starters, conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) are a group of specialized fats that are found in the milk and meat of animals that ruminate. Rumination is a unique digestive process and cattle are the largest example of an animal that ruminates and also an animal that we consume both the milk they produce and meat. Research on CLA has explored a number of potential areas of benefit, but the research conducted on changes in body composition is of the greatest interest.
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A massive amount of research exists illustrating the impact of CLA on body composition changes in various laboratory animals. Mice are extremely responsive to CLA administration illustrating significant reductions in various fat stores (60% reductions!) found throughout their body (Park 1997, West 1998) while similar outcomes have been published using pigs and hamsters (de Deckere 1999, Dugan 2004, Simon 2005). A number of studies have been published in humans as well and a recent meta-analysis concluded that CLA administration was responsible for a modest but significant reduction in fat mass (Whigham 2007). Within this paper, a number of studies were analyzed and several general conclusions were made regarding how much CLA should be consumed per dose, how long it should be taken and what impact CLA use has on body-fat changes.
Impressive Human Research
Several large human studies over the course of several months have been published using CLA. For example, one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition had 180 male and female overweight study participants complete a double-blind, placebo-controlled study over a one year period (Gaullier 2004). Study participants were assigned to one of two CLA groups and a third group was assigned to a placebo. All study participants had their body composition measured using DXA, a superior method of determining body composition changes. The CLA daily dose was 3.6 grams of CLA and when CLA was administered, body fat mass was significantly lowered by 7% to 9% when compared to the changes seen in the placebo group. These changes occurred independent of any changes in diet or exercise.
Another study was published in the Journal of Nutrition and followed 134 study participants for a total of two years. The goal of this study was to determine the extent to which CLA use facilitated weight loss and changes in body composition in addition to determining if using CLA invoked any adverse events or negative changes in markers of health (Gaullier 2005). All study participants supplemented with 3.4 grams of CLA and as reported in the previous study and many others, significant losses of body weight and body fat occurred in both CLA groups after two years, but the majority of changes occurred during the first six months of the study. Adverse events and changes in health markers were closely monitored during this study and the authors concluded that CLA use was not associated with changes in adverse events. The study found that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) was reduced (Gaullier 2005).
A third study published in the British Journal of Nutrition had a large number (118) of obese adults complete a six month double-blind, placebo-controlled study that required study participants to ingest 3.4 grams of CLA or placebo each day (Gaullier 2007). No changes were made to the diets or exercise programs of all study participants as they were instructed to keep everything the same except the addition of their assigned supplement. After three months, CLA led to a significant reduction in body fat mass and these results were even greater after six months of taking CLA. Body composition was determined using DXA and three additional findings were made that are worthy of discussion.
First, in all study participants who consumed CLA, more fat loss was found to occur in the legs than in other parts of the study. Second, the men and women who had the highest body mass index levels (a marker commonly used to assess obesity status) actually lost significantly more fat mass than other study participants who had lower levels of obesity. Third, women tended to lose more fat than men did (Gaullier 2007). Again, the study authors reported that various safety parameters all remained within normal ranges and reported adverse events did not differ across the groups. (A quick note, it is tempting to conclude that CLA could be used to "spot reduce" or preferentially reduce fat from various parts of the body, but this is the only study using CLA to report such a finding and caution should be made when interpreting these results in that manner.)
Adding Exercise to the Mix
One question remaining from the previously discussed studies is "What happens if an exercise program is added?" Four studies have been published in this regard: one showed no effect of adding CLA (Kreider 2002) while three others showed a positive effect, but one of the three positive studies lacked necessary research control (Thom 2001) and won't be discussed. Canadian researchers had 67 subjects randomly ingest either CLA (5 grams/day) or placebo for seven weeks while completing a three-day-per-week resistance training program. A crossover approach was used and when CLA was provided greater increases in lean mass and greater losses of fat mass were found to occur when compared to the changes seen in placebo (Pinkoski 2006).
The same research group published a second study that required 69 study participants (52 men, 17 women) to ingest a combination of CLA (6 grams/day), creatine (9 grams/day) and whey protein (36 grams/day) or placebo while completing heavy resistance training. The study was conducted over a five week period and required each study participant to complete a 6 day per week resistance training program. The authors reported that when CLA was added to creatine and protein, greater increases in upper-body and lower-body strength were found in addition to greater increases in lean tissue mass. The authors concluded that the addition of CLA, creatine and placebo may be an effective combination to stimulate losses of fat mass and increases in lean mass (Cornish 2009).
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This article has attempted to highlight some of the studies published using CLA in humans over the last decade. A large majority of the studies conducted only supplemented for several weeks (6 – 12 weeks), but positive changes were found to occur through one year of CLA use. In a large majority of the published studies, 3-4 grams of CLA have been used as an effective dose (Whigham 2007). Pinkoski and Cornish both supplemented with higher amounts of CLA and reported meaningful changes in fat mass and lean mass (Pinkoski 2006, Cornish 2009). In their excellent review of the literature, Whigham reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that seemingly greater effects may occur with dosages up to around 6 grams/day (Whigham 2007). While the literature reports these potential positive outcomes, each person should understand that higher doses of CLA use may not be tolerated equally by all individuals and adverse outcomes may result, even though many studies using 3.4 grams of CLA for several months to a year have no reported no changes in adverse outcomes (Whigham 2007).
Several animal and human studies are available to support the use of CLA as a non-stimulant weight loss and body composition aid. ProSource Tonalin CLA contains the same combination of CLA used in all of the published studies and each capsule contains 1g of CLA. ProSource CLA also contains 100% Tonalin brand CLA, which has long been the gold standard in this category, and remains the most highly purified and potent form of this key weight-loss support supplemdent.
For those looking for a way to lose weight, CLA use has been shown in a number of studies to be effective. Two published studies reported that when combined with heavy resistance training, greater improvements in strength and body composition have been reported with CLA. Clearly, if CLA were to be combined with ProSource Creatine and any member of the NytroWhey protein family, along with resistance training, greater improvements in strength and body composition could result.
Are you stimulant sensitive, but looking to lose excess fat? What supplement strategies are you employing to achieve your goal? Let us know in the comments field below!