Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn-3PUFAs) are abundantly found in fish oil, and are both highly lipolytic (i.e. they burn fat) as well as highly anabolic (i.e. they build muscle). One of the more interesting facts about fish oil is that it doesn’t hinder the body’s response to insulin, even though other forms of fat can clearly blunt the insulinogenic response from carbohydrates…and it not only fails to blunt the body’s anabolic response to insulin, but it actually seems to augment the anabolic response to the hormone. It also augments the anabolic response to amino acids. Although most bodybuilders eschew post-training fats, fish oil is the obvious exception, as it actually enhances the muscle-building response from both carbs and protein.
Taking some fish oil with your post-workout meal is a great idea for people on a low carb diet who still want to get the maximal anabolic response from their macronutrient intake. In fact, taking it with any protein meal is probably a great idea. Ideally we want drug-like effects from our nutritional supplements, and in the case of fish oil, we’re probably looking at a minimum of 5g/day to start, and probably closer to 15g/day to really get noticeable results. Stronger Faster Healthier makes a great liquid product, and if you’re looking for capsules (and you don’t care about taking a ton each day), Costco has the cheapest stuff around (Kirkland Signature Concentrate 400 Softgels will run you about $35 for a month’s supply at 15g/day).
Honestly, there’s a bunch of other beneficial effects that fish oil is responsible for (it’s anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, etc…), but mainly I’m concerned with its muscle-building effects. So I was thrilled when the following study was published, examining fish oil’s effects on muscle protein synthesis (note: this study itself examines Lovaza, the prescription esterified fish oil, but a prior study has already concluded that Lovaza was inferior to regular old fish oil for elevating omega3-fatty acids in the blood; hence it stands to reason that these results would actually be more pronounced with a non-esterified fish oil):
Clin. Sci. (Lond) 2011 Apr 19. [Epub ahead of print]
Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperaminoacidemia-hyperinsulinemia in healthy young and middle aged men and women.
Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B.
Increased dietary long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCn-3PUFA) intake stimulates muscle protein anabolism in individuals who experience muscle loss due to aging or cancer cachexia. However, it is not known whether LCn-3PUFA elicit similar anabolic effects in healthy individuals. To answer this question we evaluated the effect of 8 weeks of LCn-3PUFA supplementation (4 g·d-1 of Lovaza®) in nine 25-45 y old healthy subjects on the rate of muscle protein synthesis (by using stable isotope labelled tracer techniques) and the activation (phosphorylation) of elements of the mTOR-p70s6k pathway during basal, postabsorptive conditions and during a hyperinsulinemic-hyperaminoacidemic clamp. We also measured the concentrations of protein, RNA, and DNA in muscle to obtain indices of the protein synthetic capacity, translational efficiency and cell size. Neither the basal muscle protein fractional synthesis rate nor basal signalling element phosphorylation changed in response to LCn-3PUFA supplementation but the anabolic response to insulin and amino acid infusion was greater after LCn-3PUFA (i.e., the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate during insulin and amino acid infusion increased from 0.062 ± 0.004 to 0.083 ± 0.007 %·h-1 and the phospho mTORSer2448 and p70s6kThr389 concentrations increased by ~50%; all P < 0.05). In addition, the muscle protein concentration and the protein-to-DNA ratio (i.e., muscle cell size) were both greater (P < 0.05) after LCn-3PUFA supplementation. We conclude that LCn-3PUFA have anabolic properties in healthy young and middle aged adults.
And just for fun, here’s the second study I mentioned, showing that those expensive Lovaza fish-oil caps are less effective than generic brands that are available without a prescription:
Eur. J. Clin Nut. 2011 Feb;65(2):247-54. Epub 2010 Nov 10.
Enhanced increase of omega-3 index in response to long-term n-3 fatty acid supplementation from triacylglycerides versus ethyl esters.
Neubronner J, Schuchardt JP, Kressel G, Merkel M, von Schacky C, Hahn A.
Institute of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Am Kleinen Felde 30, Hannover, Germany. firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a debate currently about whether different chemical forms of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are absorbed in an identical way. The objective of this study was to investigate the response of the omega-3 index, the percentage of EPA+DHA in red blood cell membranes, to supplementation with two different omega-3 fatty acid (n-3 FA) formulations in humans.
The study was conducted as a double-blinded placebo-controlled trial. A total of 150 volunteers was randomly assigned to one of the three groups: (1) fish oil concentrate with EPA+DHA (1.01?g+0.67?g) given as reesterified triacylglycerides (rTAG group); (2) corn oil (placebo group) or (3) fish oil concentrate with EPA+DHA (1.01?g+0.67?g) given as ethyl ester (EE group). Volunteers consumed four gelatine-coated soft capsules daily over a period of six months. The omega-3 index was determined at baseline (t(0)) after three months (t(3)) and at the end of the intervention period (t(6)).
The omega-3 index increased significantly in both groups treated with n-3 FAs from baseline to t(3) and t(6) (P<0.001). The omega-3 index increased to a greater extent in the rTAG group than in the EE group (t(3): 186 versus 161% (P<0.001); t(6): 197 versus 171% (P<0.01)).
A six-month supplementation of identical doses of EPA+DHA led to a faster and higher increase in the omega-3 index when consumed as triacylglycerides than when consumed as ethyl esters.