When you think about the benefits of fish oil, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the nutrient’s potential impact on reducing inflammation? Or perhaps it’s heart health in general? Or maybe you’ve heard there’s some science that pairs omega-3 for brain health and cognitive function?

The fact is that fish oil is being studied for all kinds of health benefits (here’s 11 right here) but there’s one that you may not be familiar with, especially if you’re not a gym rat or a workout fanatic.

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For the moment, though, let’s assume you’re an amateur athlete or someone who is passionate about fitness. Or maybe you’re someone who finds your morning run meditative or your zoom cycling class a great way to start your day. In other words, you’re someone who should be interested in the potential benefits of fish oil as they relate to your muscles—muscle growth, muscle performance, muscle recovery—all muscle-related benefits that could support your workout—or sports—of choice.

Today’s blog focuses on how fish oil can support muscle growth and recovery—both of which are important for competitive athletes as well as for those enjoying a body-strengthening workout on a regular basis. But first, a bit of an overview of omega-3 fatty acids.

 

What’s the Connection Between Omega-3s, Fish Oil, and Fish?

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids, sometimes abbreviated as PUFAs, and along with monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), they’re generally recognized by scientists and medical experts as the “healthy” or “good” fats.

The two main omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and fatty fish are the richest sources of EPA and DHA. These nutrients are found in the oily part of the skin and tissues in fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and more. That’s one important reason why fatty fish are healthy foods, highly recommended by health specialists.

You may see an omega-3 dietary supplement labeled as a fish oil supplement when its main ingredient is oil from fatty fish, which is extracted, then refined and processed and packaged into capsules. On the other hand, some people prefer to get their fish oil in liquid form, while others opt for fish oil available in a prescription drug.

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Not all omega-3 supplements contain EPA and DHA. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is another omega-3 nutrient, one that’s found mostly in plant oils and suitable for vegetarians.

And not all omega supplements are 3s. There are also omega-6s, omega-7s, and omega-9s, all of which are sourced from plants, nuts or seeds. You’ll also find combinations of the different numbers in supplements, and even those omega-3 supplements don’t contain EPA and DHA, all have some health benefits. Although some health experts advise that omega-3s EPA and DHA offer the most research-backed, beneficial results. Learn more here.

Fish oil may not be right for everyone. Talk with your doctor about the omega-3 option that is right for you. Find out more here.

 

Why is Muscle Growth Important in Fitness and Athletic Performance?

Muscle growth can be as simple as it sounds—when your muscles get bigger. But science is rarely simple, and as this article notes, the increase in muscle mass has a scientific name attached to it: muscular hypertrophy.

Building your muscles supports fitness and athletic performance goals. In fact, healthy muscles not only work well for you during your sports and workout activities, but they also come in handy during day-to-day chores, like cleaning your house or gardening.

Certain types of exercise—known as strength training or resistance training—are  recommended for increasing your muscle cells, the foundation of muscle growth. For example, there’s weightlifting, whereby you challenge your muscles with repetitive and increased levels of resistance using weights. Other props that can be helpful in resistance training include stretch bands, resistance bands, weight machines or heavy boxes. Sit-ups, push-ups, squats are other ways to build muscles without the props.

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And don’t discount the importance of adding cardiovascular exercise to your routine. While strength and resistance training are touted as the primary way to increase muscle growth, strength and performance, this piece points to a study that suggests aerobic exercise can increase skeletal muscle mass, especially as a balance to advanced age muscle loss. (And that’s not even addressing all the other important benefits of aerobic workouts.)

It’s best to get some initial (at the very least) advice from a trainer who can offer tips on how to build muscle and avoid making movements that can cause injury.

Not surprisingly, diet plays a role in muscle growth. Most notably a diet high in protein is known to serve-up benefits for building and maintaining muscle mass. For example, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends an overall daily protein intake 1.4—2.0 grams (g) per kilogram of body weight per day. Read more here.

That same article lists foods that are both protein-rich and nutrient-dense to aid in your nutritional and training goals, including lean meat (e.g., beef like sirloin or ground beef) and poultry (chicken or turkey breasts or thighs) and pork chops or tenderloin, seafood (such as salmon), dairy products (including milk), and more. And, as the post notes, some supplements, including whey protein powder (or shakes) and creatine could also be considered.

 

Can Fish Oil Support Muscle Growth?

While not all the research is conclusive, some research finds that fish oil may support muscle growth.

For example, a meta-analysis pooling findings from 10 studies in an elderly population found moderate evidence of beneficial effects from omega-3s on muscle mass, especially for those study participants taking supplements at more than 2 g/day. Further, the authors observed that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may improve walking speed. The authors also advised that appropriate supplementation of omega-3s may have benefits on muscle mass (and performance) among the elderly.

Here’s another example of some positive results. Resistance training helps build muscle mass. This recent study looked at the effect of fish oil supplements on resistance training in a healthy population of 21 male and female participants (between the ages of 18 and 40 years old) who completed a 10-week progressive resistance exercise training (RET) program. The participants in this randomized controlled trial (RCT) were divided into two groups: those who supplemented with 4.5 g/day fish oil (FOS) and those given a placebo (PL).

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After 10-weeks, blood EPA+DHA levels substantially increased in the fish oil group but did not change in the placebo group. Similar between-group changes in lean body mass, fat mass, and percent of body fat were observed. Absolute and relative 1 repetition maximum bench press was significantly higher in the FOS group compared to PL, whereas absolute 1 repetition maximum barbell back squat was similar between conditions. Relative 1 repetition maximum barbell back squat was higher in the FOS group.

These results led the authors to conclude that when combined with RET, fish oil supplements improve absolute and relative 1-repetition upper-body and relative 1-repitition lower-body strength to a greater extent than that observed in the PL group of young, recreationally trained adults.

Additionally, blood fatty acid status was determined via fatty acid dried blood spot as muscle and blood EPA+DHA content are highly correlated.

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What About Fish Oil and Muscle Recovery?

When it comes to muscle recovery, it’s fish oil’s anti-inflammatory effects that are theorized to help your muscles recover faster, specifically by reducing muscle soreness and associated pain after your muscles have endured a strenuous workout.

This randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 32 college-aged resistance-trained males, sought to identify a dose for fish oil supplementation that would optimize muscle recovery. The study population was supplemented daily with either 2, 4, or 6 grams of fish oil or placebo for ~7.5 weeks.

Following 7 weeks of supplementation, pre-exercise (PRE) performance assessments of vertical jump (VJ), knee extensor strength, 40-yard sprint, T-test agility, and perceived soreness were completed prior to a bout of muscle-damaging exercise and repeated immediately post (IP), 1-, 2-, 4-, 24-, 48-, and 72-h (H) post-exercise.

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The results identified 6 grams of fish oil as the dosage that optimized the recovery of jump performance and muscle soreness.

While previous studies have hinted at a benefit for fish oil to help reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery, this study showed that you may need a pretty high dose to achieve the best results.

However, is it possible that taking omega-3 fish oil supplements at lower doses for periods longer than those studied in this RCT might lead to similar benefits? More research would be helpful in identifying beneficial doses for muscle recovery in different situations.

In this blog post, the authors ask this question in reporting on the afore-mentioned RCT: does this mean you need to consume 6 g of fish oil per day? Their answer explains that several other studies have shown benefit [on muscle recovery] with lower doses of omega-3 fish oil, the difference being the study population. The blog indicated that the other studies were conducted among amateur or untrained athletes rather than trained athletes, with the latter potentially needing the higher dose to combat their more strenuous workouts.

 

How Much Omega-3 is Needed to Support Fitness Goals?

This question is not easily answered as it depends on your personal demographics, level of athleticism, personal fitness goals and more. It’s also important to understand that it’s not just the dose of fish oil supplements that you’re taking, but whether that fish oil is sticking with you. In other words, what are your omega-3 blood levels? The only way to determine that is through testing, whether it’s an at-home test (such as those offered by us here at OmegaQuant) or through a lab test ordered by your doctor.

In a previous blog, we reported on a research paper that highlighted the benefits of evaluating nutrition biomarkers in athletes. The authors of the paper favorably compared blood biomarkers versus subjective tools for athletes, advising that “blood biomarkers offer an objective approach to prioritizing the efforts of practitioners.”

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We were especially interested in the authors’ enthusiasm for how a simple prick of the finger can establish a baseline of omega-3 EPA and DHA levels, thereby empowering athletes (and all individuals) and their health advisors to choose a path forward to reach optimal omega-3 levels.

Bottom line: Remember, the best way to determine whether you’re getting enough omega-3 EPA and DHA is to regularly test your blood levels to ensure you are in—and stay in—the sufficient or optimal range for omega-3s. You’d be surprised by how many people, including professional athletes, amateur athletes and casual fitness enthusiasts, are falling short in this essential nutrient. Know your numbers! Learn more here.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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