Fish oil has been well researched and known for its many health promoting benefits. Omega-3, particularly EPA and DHA in fish oil has been linked to lowering inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, lowering blood triglycerides, improving skin, as well as making us smarter (improving brain function, learning, memory, cognition).
Research shows that fish oils may even increase muscle growth. This occurs not only by lowering inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity (two keys to a lean body and muscle growth), but also by stimulating the anabolic (building) pathway and lowering the catabolic (breaking down) pathway in muscle cells.
The Science behind Fish oil for Muscle Growth
To enable muscle cell growth, we need to shuttle required nutrients (including amino acids and glucose, stored as glycogen) into muscle cells. This occurs via insulin which binds to receptors on cells (including muscle cells) allowing nutrients to transport in. The more insulin sensitive you are, the more you can enable this. Insulin sensitivity is also important for fat loss. If you have insulin resistance you are likely to have a harder time burning fat.
One study, conducted on healthy 25-45 year old men and women found that supplementing with 4g fish oil per day (containing 1.86g EPA / 1.50g DHA) for 8-weeks resulted in considerable increase in muscle protein synthesis and greater insulin sensitivity.
Fish oil was found to improve insulin sensitivity as it becomes part of the cell’s lipid bilayer, allowing cell receptors to bind to insulin. DHA fatty acid in particular, was found to counter what’s known as ‘palmitate-induced insulin resistance’ (which decreases glucose uptake into cells), thereby improving insulin sensitivity.
The study found that fish oil supplementation increased activation of the motor pathway – which is integral to controlling an anabolic response and muscle cell growth in response to exercise. EPA fatty acid was also found to reduce the activity of muscle breakdown.
Another way in which fish oil can help build muscle is via decreasing chronic cortisol and inflammation. A study found that fish oil supplementation decreased chronic cortisol levels. Chronically elevated cortisol causes inflammation and protein degradation – effecting the ability to build and maintain muscle mass. Fish oil supplementation can also decrease the acute inflammatory response to intense exercise, resulting in less soreness and faster recovery from exercise.
Further studies found fish oil supplementation to have the same benefits in older men and women, thereby preventing and treating sarcopenia (age-related muscle catabolism).
All this of course must be taken into consideration with your overall dietary quality.
• Kamolrat, T., Gray, S. R., & Carole Thivierge, M. (2013). Fish oil positively regulates anabolic signalling alongside an increase in whole-body gluconeogenesis in ageing skeletal muscle. European Journal of Nutrition, 52(2), 647-57. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.laureate.net.au/10.1007/s00394-012-0368-7
• Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (Lond)2011;121(6):267-78
• Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition2011;93(2):402-12.
• Andersson A1, Sjödin A, Hedman A, Olsson R, Vessby B. Fatty acid profile of skeletal muscle phospholipids in trained and untrained young men, Am J of Physiological Endocrinology and Metabolism 279 (2000): E744-51
• Randall W. Bryner, Myra E. Woodworth-Hobbs, David L. Williamson, and Stephen E. Always, Docosahexaenoic Acid Protects Muscle Cells from Palmitate-Induced Atrophy, ISRN Obesity, Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 647348
• Yang, M., Wei, D., Mo, C., Zhang, J., Wang, X., Han, X., … Xiao, H. (2013). Saturated fatty acid palmitate-induced insulin resistance is accompanied with myotube loss and the impaired expression of health benefit myokine genes in C2C12 myotubes. Lipids in Health and Disease, 12, 104. http://doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-12-104