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Essential Fatty Acids for Bodybuilding Health

Importance of Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids are important for health and performance. The two fatty acids that are considered essential are alpha linolenic and linoleic. These two fats make up two families of fatty acids – the omega-3 family from alpha linolenic, and the omega-6 from linoleic. Seeds and grains are the source of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Sunflower, safflower and corn oils are excellent choices to increase your omega-6 intake. Omega-3 fatty acids can be derived from dark green leafy vegetables.

Essential Fatty Acids For Muscle

A diet high in omega-3 fatty-acid derivatives heightens mood and improves cognitive function. Omega-3 family fatty acids also involves insulin secretion and sensitivity. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids actually increase permeability of beta cells in the pancreas (where insulin is made), allowing for insulin to be released easier. This helps prevent over secretion of insulin. Since the muscle cells have a fat layer with insulin receptors, omega-3 fatty acids increase the cell’s insulin binding affinity and sensitivity, enhancing glucose transport. This charge results in increased glycogen storage and leads to fuller, harder muscle and increased energy storage.

EFAs & Joint Pain

Joint pain and inflammation are major concerns for many people, especially athletes and it can inhibit your ability to train and hinder your progress. In a study, omega-3 fatty acids were shown to decrease cyclooxygenase, decrease the enzymes associated with joint degradation, and decrease the cytokines (messenger chemicals) associated with inflammation. Studies also showed anticatabolic effects that omega-3s have on joint tissue. The anti-inflammatory effect of the omega-3 family is best achieved when the omega-3 fatty acids are derived from fish oils. Fatty acids in the cell membrane also give the body the ability to produce hormone-like substances called ‘eicosanoids’ that produce localised effects in any tissue or organ in the body. These ‘hormones’ preventing inflammation and help blood flow into and out of tissue, important to maximise nutrient delivery to growing muscles.

Dietary Fat, Cholesterol & Testosterone

Cholesterol is another hormone precursor manufactured from dietary fat in the body. Cholesterol is needed as the starting material for all steroid hormones (like testosterone) in your body. Cholesterol is also used in vitamin D production and in the formation of bile, used to emulsify fats. Cholesterol is required to manufacture corticosteroids, testosterone precursors, estrogens and progesterone. The formation of hormones is extremely important for muscle growth. Studies show that you must take in a minimum of twenty percent of your total calories from fat to maintain normal testosterone synthesis, with saturated fat being the preferred form. Fish oils are exceptionally high in the omega-3 derivatives EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fats are essential for neuorological development and brain function. These have also been shown to heighten mood. Levels of DHA decrease in the brain as we age.1

The Right Fats For Muscle Growth

Fat helps slow digestion of a meal, delaying the release and absorption of nutrients into the blood. This delayed response to a meal keeps blood sugar from spiking and insulin release stable. Slowing meal digestion prolongs the release of amino acids from a protein into the bloodstream, improving nitrogen retention and keeping you in an anabolic state. Fat also increases the release of CCK (cholecystokinin), a hormone-like cytokine that sends a message to the brain that the body is no longer hungry.2

Flaxseed Oil For Growth

Flaxseed is one of the oldest cultivated plants in history, and is one of the richest natural sources of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. Flaxseed is also high in omega-6, or linoleic acid. Fish oils, however have been shown to be 2.5 times as effective as flaxseed to reducing proinflammatory cytokines (any of a number of substances, such as interferon, interleukin, and growth factors, that are secreted by certain cells of the immune system and have an effect on other cells.) 3

Essential Fats For Muscle Development

If you slash fat in your diet or cut it out all together, you risk developing an essential fat deficiency. When this happens, the body has trouble absorbing the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The health of cell membranes is compromised because low fat diets are low in Vitamin E, an antioxidant which prevents disease causing free radicals from puncturing cell membranes. It also helps in muscle repair after exercise. Fat is also required to make the male hormone testosterone.4

Essential Fats & Fat Burning

With a high intake of omega-6 fat and a low intake of omega-3 fat, the fatty acid metabolism is altered in the body. The brain releases hormones and neurotransmitters that tell the body to hold on to fat and not to burn it. By raising the levels of omega-3 fats in your diet, you create a better fat burning effect5. Furthermore, recent research has found that when given a meal high in omega 3 fat, subjects showed an increase in energy burn7.

Why Take EFAs?

Fat is essential in your diet for many reasons, including the anti-inflammatory, hormone producing and insulin moderating effects as well as the digestive benefits. The total amount of EFAs required for good health is 6 to 10 percent of total fat intake, or 5 to 10 grams a day.6 Dietary fats, when used properly, are of great benefit, rather than a risk, as some people perceive. Some fats probably do clog our arteries, make us fatter, and accelerate our ageing, but many other dietary fats can offer protection against heart disease, free radical damage, and cancer, increase the metabolic rate and fat burning, increase muscle mass, and the production of hormones like testosterone.

1 Macrobolic Nutrition – Priming your Body to Build Muscle and Burn Fat by Gerard dente and Kevin J. Hopkins, p. 63
Ibid, p. 67
Ibid, p. 274
Power Eating by Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, p. 72
Ibid, p. 76
Ibid, p. 69
7 Matheson et al (2011), n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids increase thermic effect of food in men with metabolic syndrome. Can J Diet Pract Res, 72: 201-204


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