By Andrew Jagim, PhD ProSource
Although fish oils may not be the first supplement that leaps to mind when you think of piling on muscle mass, experienced bodybuilders have long valued essential fatty acids (EFAs) for their unique combination of fitness-supporting benefits. The savvy athlete knows that true gains spring from a firm foundation of overall wellness, and in that area, the versatile EFA sure fills the bill. If we dive into the literature and look at the physiological mechanisms at play, it becomes more and more evident that fish oils should be a staple of your supplement stack.
Fish oils contain essential fatty acids; essential in that our bodies cannot produce them naturally and need to rely on outside sources to assimilate them. Unfortunately, most Americans simply don’t consume enough fish, particularly the deep-sea cold-water fish that are the best source of this invaluable nutrient. This is why it is especially important to look for additional sources of these critical oils, and fish oil supplements offer just that. Fish oil supplements are a great way to add these essential fatty acids in concentrated doses to support optimal health and performance.
The Value of Omega-3s for Bodybuilders
The two main essential fatty acids in fish oils are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These healthy fats exert their effect by enhancing the integrity of cell membranes throughout the body, which includes enhancing skeletal muscle cell function. They also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties which can come in handy during periods of intense training, particularly during a hypertrophy phase when you might be incorporating a lot of high-volume work into your regimen.
Any kind of intense, brutal, beat-down of a workout will lead to an acute inflammatory response in the body which can be perceived as soreness and pain. Sometimes the soreness and pain may even be limiting your recovery from training and hindering your ability to get back in the gym. Anyone who has stepped out of bed the day after an intense workout has experienced this effect firsthand. The anti-inflammatory nature of EFAs helps to reduce the production of some of the factors responsible for inflammation (much like NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, but without the negative side-effects to the stomach and gastrointestinal system).
Ultimately an anti-inflammatory support supplement may help you to maintain a higher training volume without any nagging aches and pains, while making it easier for you to train harder and take your muscle growth to the next level. For example, researchers found that when untrained males supplemented with DHA for a month, they experienced improvements in markers of muscle damage and inflammation following a strenuous bout of exercise (1). In fact, one study found that when individuals participating in a strength-training program supplemented with fish oils, they experienced an improvement in muscle strength and function when compared to a control group (2). Another study found an improvement in the muscle protein anabolic response following protein ingestion (3). Together this would set the stage for muscle development as well as provide you with the benefits of an anti-inflammatory.
In addition to their anti-inflammatory and anabolic properties, fish oils have also been linked to a wide variety of health benefits. For example, improvements in bone health and healthy cholesterol levels have all been observed following fish oil supplementation. In 2007 researchers found that EFA intake, specifically DHA, was associated with an increase in bone mineral density and bone growth in men. This would be extremely beneficial for athletic populations whose skeletal system is continually put to the test. In addition adults over the age of 35 could also benefit from this, as typically that is the age where declines in bone mineral density start to occur.
Last but not least, research has shown that fish oil supplementation when combined with exercise has been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels (4). Participants in a 2007 study experienced a reduction in clinical markers of health including lowered triglyceride levels and an improvement in HDL cholesterol levels. Fish oils are truly one of the more versatile and valuable supplements you can take!
Choose a Superior Fish Oil Supplement
Fish oil typically comes in concentrated softgels that can be taken daily. When choosing a fish oil supplement it’s important to look for one that contains a high amount of EPA and DHA on the label. As we mentioned previously, those are the two most important ingredients. ProSource’s Omega 1250 is a perfect example of what a high quality fish oil supplement should look like, as it contains 300 mg of DHA and 450 mg of EPA, derived from the highest-quality deep-sea, cold-water fish oil sources.
Another great source of healthy fats is ProSource’s Omega Fusion, which contains an ultra-purified complex of Omega-3, 6, and 9 essential fatty acids in an innovative liquid format that comes in a tasty Lemon Pie flavor. Omega Fusion also contains an antioxidant blend, including Vitamin E and a fat-soluble form of Vitamin C.
Timing of supplementation won’t matter as much as your total intake throughout the day. You may even want to ramp up your intake during periods of heavy training when exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation may be occurring to a greater degree.
So if you are looking to reduce the inflammatory response following an intense workout or you just want to improve your overall health, fish oils may be just what you are looking for. With their wide array of benefits, low cost and convenience (compared to the difficulties of getting enough through your regular diet alone), fish oils are a great addition to anyone’s supplement regimen.
Use supplements as directed and with a sensible nutrition and exercise regimen. Read all product labels and warnings thoroughly before use. These statements may not have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
1. DiLorenzo, F. M., C. J. Drager and J. W. Rankin (2014). “Docosahexaenoic Acid Affects Markers of Inflammation and Muscle Damage after Eccentric Exercise.” J Strength Cond Res. Epub date: July 14, 2014. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.
2. Rodacki, C. L., Rodacki, A. L., Pereira, G., Naliwaiko, K., Coelho, I., Pequito, D., & Fernandes, L. C. (2012). Fish-oil supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 95(2), 428-436.
3. Smith, G. I., Atherton, P., Reeds, D. N., Mohammed, B. S., Rankin, D., Rennie, M. J., & Mittendorfer, B. (2011). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clinical science, 121(6), 267-278.
4. Hill, A. M., Buckley, J. D., Murphy, K. J., & Howe, P. R. (2007). Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(5), 1267-1274.