Why do bodybuilders take omega-3?
Omega-3 fatty acids have become an increasingly popular supplement in the bodybuilding community. But why exactly are bodybuilders adding fish oil pills and other omega-3 supplements to their dietary regimens? There are several key reasons these essential fats can support muscle building and overall health for bodybuilders.
- An Overview of Omega-3s
- Key Reasons Bodybuilders Use Omega-3 Supplements
- Evidence Supporting Omega-3 Use in Bodybuilders
- Optimal Omega-3 Dosing for Bodybuilders
- Weight Loss Benefits Beyond Bodybuilding
An Overview of Omega-3s
Before exploring the specific benefits for bodybuilders, let's first provide a brief overview of what exactly omega-3 fatty acids are.
What Are Omega-3s?
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated essential fatty acid. There are three main types of omega-3s:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) - Found primarily in fish and fish oil
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - Also found mainly in seafood
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) - Found in plant sources like flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds
EPA and DHA are abundantly present in fatty fish and fish oil supplements. ALA is found in smaller amounts in plant-based foods and must be converted to EPA and DHA in the body.
Why Are Omega-3s Essential?
Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids because they cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from the diet or supplements. They are critical components of cell membranes throughout the body, especially in the brain, eyes, and heart.
Omega-3s have potent anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce systemic inflammation. They also support cardiovascular health, brain function, vision, joint health, and development. Given their broad range of benefits, it's easy to see why they are so important.
Food Sources of Omega-3s
The richest dietary sources of anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA omega-3s include:
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines
- Fish oil supplements
- Krill oil
- Algal oil
Plant foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and Brussels sprouts provide ALA omega-3s. But the conversion to EPA and DHA is very inefficient, with less than 10% converting.
Now that you have a general understanding of what omega-3s are and where they come from, let's explore why bodybuilders have made them a staple supplement.
Key Reasons Bodybuilders Use Omega-3 Supplements
There are several evidence-backed ways that omega-3 fatty acids support bodybuilders:
1. Helps Reduce Muscle Soreness and Damage
Intense strength training sessions cause microscopic tears in muscle fibers, resulting in muscle damage that needs to be repaired. This muscle damage is what causes the soreness felt for a couple days after a tough workout.
Omega-3s from fish oil have been shown to help reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness and damage. EPA in particular may attenuate the inflammatory response to muscle tears.
In one study, subjects taking fish oil for 30 days prior to engaging in strenuous elbow exercises experienced 25-55% less strength loss compared to placebo group. The fish oil also reduced arm swelling.
By aiding workout recovery, omega-3s allow bodybuilders to train harder more frequently without as much down time needed between sessions.
2. Increases Anabolic Hormone Response
Some research indicates omega-3 intake can boost the body's anabolic hormonal response to strength training. This includes key hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
In a study of young men, those who took fish oil supplements for 6 weeks in addition to weight training had significantly greater increases in testosterone and IGF-1 compared to weight training alone.
These anabolic hormones play important roles in building muscle mass by ramping up protein synthesis. Omega-3s help heighten the body's muscle building hormonal environment.
3. Improves Protein Synthesis
Beyond influencing anabolic hormones, omega-3s may also directly stimulate muscle protein synthesis – the process of building new muscle tissue.
One proposed mechanism is that the anti-inflammatory effects of EPA and DHA improve insulin signaling. Insulin is the main hormone responsible for shuttling amino acids into muscles to promote protein synthesis.
In one trial, giving omega-3 supplements to older adults stimulated muscle protein synthesis and inhibited protein breakdown after hyperaminoacidemic-hyperinsulinemic clamp.
4. May Increase Fat Loss
In addition to aiding muscle growth, omega-3s may also support bodybuilders in shedding excess body fat – an important goal during contest preparation.
Studies show EPA and DHA supplements can boost fat burning and increase mitochondria, the cell’s fat burning furnaces, in human skeletal muscle. Omega-3s also appear to shift metabolism more towards fat burning versus sugar burning during exercise.
One study found that athletes taking omega-3 fish oil supplements lost more body fat and gained more muscle than those on placebo over a 6-week training period.
5. Supports Cardiovascular Health
Bodybuilders aim to get lean without losing muscle. To achieve this requires hours of grueling cardio workouts on top of weight sessions. This intense exercise can take a toll on the heart over time.
Here omega-3s provide benefits as well. EPA and DHA from fish oil support cardiovascular function and health in numerous ways:
- Reduces inflammation affecting heart vessels
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves arterial elasticity
- Reduces resting heart rate
- Prevents arrhythmias
By supporting cardiovascular function, omega-3 intake allows bodybuilders to maintain the intense cardio regimens needed.
6. Aids Cognitive Performance and Mood
In addition to physical performance, bodybuilders need to be mentally sharp and motivated in order to maintain the extreme dedication required.
Omega-3s provide brain health benefits including:
- Enhanced memory and focus
- Faster mental processing
- Elevated mood and motivation
- Reduced depression and anxiety
These mental health benefits can support bodybuilders in optimizing their motivation and workout performance.
Evidence Supporting Omega-3 Use in Bodybuilders
In addition to the proposed mechanisms above, several studies provide direct evidence for the benefits of omega-3 supplementation in bodybuilders.
A 6-week study had experienced resistance trained athletes follow their normal workout program while taking either fish oil supplements or a placebo. Those taking the omega-3 fish oil saw significantly greater increases in muscle strength and size.
Another trial looked at the effects of fish oil supplementation in elite Olympic weightlifters over 5 weeks. The fish oil group had lower perceived soreness after intense training sessions compared to placebo group.
Multiple other studies have confirmed that omega-3 supplements like fish oil boost strength and muscle mass gains, accelerate workout recovery, reduce muscle damage, and improve body composition in trained weight lifters when coupled with resistance training protocols.
Overall, there is substantial evidence from clinical research backing up the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements by bodybuilders to augment their muscle building and performance goals.
Optimal Omega-3 Dosing for Bodybuilders
Given the benefits discussed so far, it's clear why bodybuilders have made omega-3 supplementation a staple. But how much EPA and DHA should bodybuilders aim to take daily for maximal results?
The most effective dosing range appears to be 1-2 grams of combined EPA/DHA per day, from fish, krill or algal oil sources. Taking 2-3 grams per day has been shown to have benefits without going beyond the safe upper limit.
Splitting the daily dose into smaller portions throughout the day may provide more consistent levels for better effects. Taking some omega-3s 30-60 minutes pre-workout and intra-workout can aid performance.
When buying fish oil supplements, be sure they are from a reputable brand that filters out contaminants like mercury and tests purity. Look for the IFOS 5-star rating.
Weight Loss Benefits Beyond Bodybuilding
While this article has focused on why bodybuilders specifically use omega-3s, fish oil and other EPA/DHA supplements can also benefit anyone looking to lose weight and burn fat.
Population studies show that consuming more omega-3s, especially from seafood sources, is associated with lower prevalence of obesity. And clinical trials demonstrate that fish oil supplements support fat loss.
Some of the mechanisms by which omega-3s may boost weight loss include:
- Increasing metabolic rate and fat burning
- Improving insulin sensitivity
- Reducing inflammation and oxidative stress
- Suppressing fat storing enzymes like LPL
- Increasing satiety from meals
For overweight or obese individuals, taking omega-3 fish oil, krill oil, or algal oil supplements at doses of 1-2 grams per day can aid weight loss efforts. Optimizing intake of these anti-inflammatory fats supports shedding excess body fat.
In summary, there are several compelling reasons why bodybuilders aim to optimize their intake of omega-3 fatty acids from supplements like fish oil:
- Accelerates post-workout muscle recovery
- Amplifies the body's anabolic hormone response
- Directly stimulates muscle protein synthesis
- Helps increase fat burning and reduce body fat percentage
- Improves cardiovascular health to sustain intense training
- Enhances mental focus and motivation
Multiple clinical studies confirm that taking 1-2 grams daily of EPA and DHA omega-3s from fish, krill, or algal oil enhances muscle building, strength gains, and body composition when coupled with a rigorous training regimen.
Beyond the benefits for bodybuilders, omega-3s can also boost fat loss and weight control for anyone looking to shed excess pounds by increasing metabolic rate, improving insulin function, and reducing inflammation. Given the range of demonstrated performance and physique enhancing effects, it’s easy to comprehend why omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has become a foundational practice in the bodybuilding community.