There’s a ton of fancy supplements out there for allegedly building muscle, but people tend to overlook one of the most basic ones, omega-3 fish oil.
Omega-3 takes advantage of some fundamental cellular mechanisms involved in muscle growth and recovery.
- It improves the health and functioning of cell membranes; the fatty insulation that surrounds our cells, and regulates communication with other cells and what comes in and out of the cell.
- It influences inflammation and immune cell function.
Both of these are integral for muscle health. Consider that excess inflammation degrades muscle. Meanwhile, a lack of insulin sensitivity (which is influenced by cell membrane health) will make building muscle more difficult, as the cell is LESS likely to answer when muscle building signals come a knockin’ (insulin transports protein into the cell which stimulates muscle growth).
So, this is where things get interesting:
Studies show a significant increased muscle protein synthesis in both young and older subjects after eight weeks of 4 g of omega-3 daily administration.
Similarly, six months of supplementation (3.36 g/day) resulted in an increased muscle mass (+3.6%) and strength (+4%) in older people.
Another study showed that seven days of 3 g/day of omega-3 supplementation decreased post-exercise muscle damage and soreness.
How can this be possible?
DHA, one of the components of omega- 3, seems to increase lipid oxidation and insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle, as well as stimulate glycolytic capacity. What all this means is that O-3 can probably improve athletic performances by making muscle cells more RECEPTIVE to necessary nutrients, such as glucose and amino acids.
Recovery from Training
During exercise training, you produce oxidative stress as a byproduct of muscle breakdown and oxygen consumption. Oxidative stress happens alongside inflammation, and both of these can lead to the degradation of muscle if left unchecked (but also impairs recovery and performance).
Ultimately, via immune cell regulation and anti inflammatory properties, high quality and high potency fish oil can facilitate recovery allowing for greater volume to be used in training.
Indeed, several studies have shown beneficial effects to muscle recovery and training adaptations. One study showed that omega-3 attenuated the loss of muscle strength and range of motion, blood markers of inflammation like TNF-alpha, and markers of muscle damage.
What About Neuromuscular Recruitment?
This part is super cool.
Consider that NEUROMUSCULAR adaptations, connections between nerves originating in the brain and muscle, are integral for muscle force production. And central and peripheral nerves involved in these connections are literally comprised of Omega-3 (N-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
A 21-day omega-3 supplementation regime in humans was reported to enhance muscular strength and neuromuscular recruitment following exercise training programs. This is likely because DHA is an essential component of cell membranes, which are important for neuronal pathways (involved in force PRODUCTION).
Fish oil could be the most important supplement to buy from a reputable manufacturer, as the majority of products are either oxidized and/or contain too LITTLE EPA and DHA.
How Do I Incorporate This into My Healthy Lifestyle?
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Smith et al., Clin. Sci. 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1042/CS20100597
Smith et al., Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.105833
Jouris et al., J. Sports Sci. Med, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24150614
Lewis et al., J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr.2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0089-4
Mickelborough, J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr., 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0073-z