The world of bodybuilding is no stranger to supplements that claim to assist in one’s journey toward a strong and lean physique. If your goal is to maintain muscle mass while keeping your body fat percentage low, you might have heard of CLA, Conjugated Linoleic Acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. Today we will dig into the details of CLA, its potential benefits, and whether CLA bodybuilding supplements are right for your specific journey.
What is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)?
Conjugated Linoleic Acid, better known as CLA, is a naturally occurring polyunsaturated fat that contains omega-6s, which have been linked to having positive effects on the cardiovascular system. 
The human body does not produce CLA by itself. However, one can naturally increase their intake of CLA by eating grass-fed beef and dairy. Increased levels of CLA are one of the commonly noted benefits of the popular bulletproof coffee trend.  For those that cannot or choose not to ingest animal-based products, it can also be found in safflower oil, though at lower dosages than beef.
While an increase in fat in the diet is often delightful (increased cream and butter intake, yes please!), it is not always feasible in certain stages of bodybuilding diets, particularly during periods of caloric deficit. In these cases, supplements are a great tool to ensure micronutrient needs are still met during those cutting phases.
How CLA Benefits Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding is a sport that emphasizes growing strong muscles while maintaining a low body fat percentage. For many in the sport, this means they often go through cycles with their exercise and diet programming. Seasons of life can be spent in caloric surplus with heavy weight training protocols to increase overall muscle mass and speed up periods of growth.
These periods are often followed by cutting phases where caloric deficits are introduced, and training may start to emphasize cardio or work that is higher in volume and lower in weight. It is a common frustration in the industry to worry about losing hard-earned muscle when in these cutting phases.
For those that are wanting to keep as much muscle mass as possible while also leaning out their physique, supplements can be added to a dietary regimen to help reach those goals. CLA has shown the possibility to aid in both fat loss and muscle retention in these periods of caloric deficit.
Who Should Take CLA Supplements?
CLA is a supplement that could benefit adult men and women in many stages of their bodybuilding and fitness journey. It can be particularly beneficial to those looking to actively cut body fat without worrying about losing significant amounts of muscle mass.
It is a safe supplement to take long term, without the need for cycling on and off, as many fat loss stimulants often suggest. While anyone can benefit from CLA, those in caloric deficits will likely see the most tangible benefit from adding it to a supplement regimen.
CLA Dosage for Bodybuilding
Researchers have found 3000 milligrams (3 grams) to be the minimum effective dose for healthy adults, and upwards of 6000 milligrams (6 grams) can safely be taken long-term. For healthy adults that weigh over 165 pounds, 3500 milligrams would be a more accurate minimum dose.
Best Time to Take CLA Bodybuilding Supplements?
CLA will have the highest efficacy if it is taken throughout the day, so your body has access to it continually. It is commonly recommended to be taken with meals three times a day.
Results are most often seen after one month of continual usage, and it is safe to be taken long-term to continue reaping the rewards of including it in your diet. If a dosage at midday isn’t feasible or is too cumbersome, it’s recommended to split the dose between morning and evening to aid in the body’s absorption.
Side Effects of CLA Supplements
CLA is overwhelmingly considered safe, but no supplement is without side effects. The most commonly reported issues are nausea or upset stomach. This can be remedied by ensuring you always take your supplements with a well-rounded meal to improve their digestion and absorption.
These stomach issues can also be exacerbated by low-quality supplements that use filler agents, so ensure you’re buying from companies that use reputable and high-quality beef or safflower sources.
Research as a whole is lacking for this supplement, so it is not recommended for children or for women that are pregnant or breastfeeding. There is a possibility that it can impact how the human body processes sugar. Thus those with insulin sensitivities, like diabetics, should exercise caution. Finally, overconsumption can negatively impact the liver, so ensure your dosage stays in a healthy range. 
Should You Take CLA for Bodybuilding?
While research on CLA is somewhat limited, it is a supplement that is deemed to be safe, mainly because it is naturally occurring. The available research thus far is also very promising as a whole.
For those seeking to trim excess fat without losing muscle mass, it is a great option to explore adding to your stack. Consider adding it to your regimen during a fat loss phase, and record your progress compared to previous cuts to see if it provides benefits to your overall fitness journey.
Best CLA Bodybuilding Supplements
Life Extension CLA
Life Extension makes a high-quality CLA supplement that comes in handy 1000 mg softgels, making them easy to break up into 3 doses for the highest efficacy.
Sports Research Store Vegan CLA
For those that are plant-based, Sports Research Store makes a vegan CLA supplement. Their CLA comes from safflower oil rather than dairy, so it is acceptable for those on vegan or vegetarian diets. They also use third-party testing to ensure high quality.
GNC Total Lean CLA
For those concerned about gluten, GNC’s Total Lean CLA is a great option that is certified gluten-free. So you get all the benefits of CLA in your diet without worry of additional side effects from potential gluten contamination.
Whether you are looking to maintain your current weight or if you are approaching a fat loss phase, CLA is an excellent supplement to consider adding to your stack. While research is lacking as a whole, it is a supplement that is naturally occurring, very safe, and with few side effects, making it a great choice to experiment with to help you reach your goals.