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Omega-3 for Muscle Strength & Growth

There was a time when seemingly every week a new health benefit for omega-3’s was reported. Nowadays, the positive supporting studies on omega-3 fatty acids have gathered such pace that there is no longer any contention among conventional or alternative medical practitioners about the need for omega-3’s in the diet. The debate now is more about what conditions/symptoms best benefit from omega-3 supplementation and the optimal dose. Up until just a few years ago, little attention had been paid to the effect of omega-3’s on muscle anabolism and strength development. This appears set to change with a recent series of studies showing fish oil supplementation can increase the muscle protein anabolic response to amino acids and insulin and improve muscle strength.

Omega-3's Anabolic Properties

Suggestions that omega-3 fatty acids may possess anabolic properties first surfaced at the turn of the century when a study published in 1999 showed that feeding rats omega-6 and omega-3 in their chow resulted in better nitrogen retention after burn injury than rats receiving only omega-6 or no essential fatty acids1. The next clue came about 10 years later when a study published in 2009 showed that mice with experimentally induced cancer showed improved lean mass when feed a mix of whey protein, leucine and fish oil2. Later in the same year a study in humans with esophageal cancer showed that prior feeding with the omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) resulted in preservation of lean body mass following a common surgery normally associated with significant loss of lean body mass in esophageal patients3.

Omega-3 Anabolic Properties Proven

Burns and cancer are among the most well recognised catabolic conditions. So with fish oil supplementation showing anabolic properties in a few studies – it was time for scientists to take a close look at omega-3’s anabolic properties. The breakthrough came in 2011 when a study was published in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing omega-3 fatty acids stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older adults4. The next step was to see if the same finding could be replicated in younger individuals. This turned out to be the case, with the same research group publishing another study later in 2011; showing that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids improved the anabolic response to insulin and amino acids (leading to increased muscle protein synthesis) in young to middle-aged individuals (i.e. 25-45y/o)5.

Omega-3 Boost Muscle Strength in Elderly

The most recent study to support the anabolic properties of omega-3 fatty acids was published in February 2012, again in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In this particular study, the researchers took a group of elderly female subjects and subjected them to a strength training program for 90 days. Subjects from one half of the group did strength training only, while the other half took 2 grams of fish oil per day in addition to strength training. Both groups benefited from the strength training, with an increase in muscle strength at the end of the study, however, the fish oil group had greater improvements in muscle strength and functional capacity6.

Omega-3 are Essential

These series of studies provide pretty sound evidence that omega-3 supplementation is important if you want maximise your anabolic response to your resistance training. With omega-3's already proven to be beneficial for a range of other organs (i.e. heart, eye, skin etc) supplementation really is a win-win for the average bodybuilder and strength training athlete. So what are you waiting for – buy your bottle today!

Hayashi N, Tashiro T, Yamamori H,et al. Effect of intravenous omega-6 and omega-3 fat emulsions on nitrogen retention and protein kinetics in burned rats. Nutrition. 1999;15(2):135-9.
van Norren K, Kegler D, Argilés JM, et al. Dietary supplementation with a specific combination of high protein, leucine, and fish oil improves muscle function and daily activity in tumour-bearing cachectic mice. Br J Cancer. 2009 Mar 10;100(5):713-22.
Ryan AM, Reynolds JV, Healy L, et al. Enteral nutrition enriched with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) preserves lean body mass following esophageal cancer surgery: results of a double-blinded randomized controlled trial. Ann Surg. 2009;249(3):355-63.
Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(2):402-412.
Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, 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.
Rodacki CL, Rodacki AL, Pereira G, et al. Fish-oil supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(2):428-36.

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