Exercise- or athlete-specific benefits of fish oils
Fish oil (EPA/DHA) is widely available as a standalone nutritional supplement and is one of the most accepted general health supplements available. There is not the slightest doubt that taking fish oil through diet or dietary supplements has numerous health benefits. Fish oil supplements are incredibly useful for the general population. What about bodybuilders and athletes?
The feedback on its use as a sport supplement also tends to be positive. Therefore, it’s almost certain that bodybuilding and fish oil go hand in hand. It is widely used by athletes and bodybuilders to improve cardiovascular fitness and protect wellness. The beneficial effects of fish oil on cardiovascular fitness sometimes translate into performance improvements in athletes, particularly those competing in endurance-focused activities.
Bodybuilders also sometimes favor fish oils for reducing body fat mass and improving muscle definition. While enough people do report tangible ergogenic effects with fish oil supplementation to consider this a positive trend, there is also a strong population of users discounting such activities. The reason for this discrepancy remains unclear, but may relate to particular sets of circumstances in which fish oil is able to impart beneficial effects on exercise performance.
What is exactly fish oil in the first place?
The two most commonly recognized dietary fats are omega-3 and omega-6. We call them essential fatty acids (EFAs). Despite their similar sounding names and structure, they can have widely different food source, functions and benefit.
Fish oil is just that: a fluid rich in omega-3 fatty acids that is harvested from the tissues of cold water oily fish. These include: salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. We’re often using other fish species like tuna, swordfish, pollock, cod, catfish, flounder, grouper, shark, and others for harvesting fish oil.
While several types of omega-3s exist, the two found in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the third and the most common omega-3 fatty acid mostly found in plant foods like linseeds (flax seeds), linseed (flax) oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, rapeseed oil and soybeans.
However, your body needs to convert ALA into EPA or DHA before it can use it for something other than energy. Unfortunately, this conversion process is inefficient in humans. This is the main reason why plant sources aren’t nearly as powerful as fish oil. The high concentration of omega-3s (EPA & DHA) found in oily fish is due to the algae they consume, which produces the oils.
What are the health benefits of fish oil?
Researches are showing that people who consume fish oil are happier, less impulsive, and healthier than others.
Amazing reported benefits of fish oil include:
- Reduces inflammation
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces triglycerides
- Improves plasma lipid profile
- Slows vascular plaque development
- Reduces incidence of arrhythmia, heart attack, sudden death and stroke
- Reduces postpartum and other forms of depression
- Improves memory, numerous cognitive and behavioural functions
- Reduces vision loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease risk
- Reduces joint pain and inflammatory response in autoimmune diseases
- Improves neuron cell wall flexibility and enhance regeneration after damage
What are the claimed benefits of omega-3s for bodybuilders, athletes and regular exercisers?
The results of many studies suggest that fish oil supplementation is associated with improvements in both strength and aerobic performance. Clearly, decreasing muscle pain due to inflammation and improving blood flow during exercise can both positively affect athletic performance. However, although limited amount of research that has been conducted on general population is promising, there is still some uncertainty regarding its effects in athletic populations. Exercise- or athlete-specific benefits of fish oils are not clear due to inconsistencies in the scientific literature. It is therefore not out of place to accept the following claims with a dose of reserve.
Here’s why fish oil and bodybuilding like each other:
Reducing exercise-induced inflammation & speeding up muscle recovery
Because fish oil reduces inflammation in the body it is good for the bodybuilders because it helps promote muscle recovery which can be important in the body building process. Anti-inflammatory properties are making fish oil an important part of post-workout nutrition.
Physical stress triggers the release of harmful compounds known as tree radicals that can penetrate the protective membrane of any cell in the body, leading to cell damage and a consequent inflammatory response. While the body has defense mechanisms to deal with acute inflammation, severe injury or extreme exercise stress can lead to chronic inflammation and the activation of nerves responsible for the sensation of pain, thereby compromising recovery.
It is currently thought that the benefits of omega-3s originate, in part, from two compounds appropriately named protectins and resolvins that are derived specifically from EPA and DHA; these compounds protect the structural integrity of cell membranes and fight tissue degradation, resolve inflammation, and significantly downgrade pain.
Making muscle cells more insulin sensitive
Fish oil, in addition to its health benefits to the brain, helps in making the muscle cells more insulin sensitive, which helps to absorb greater amount of glycogen and amino acids into the muscle cells.
Better aerobic endurance
Research shows promise for several other potential performance benefits. One of these is the following – increased blood and oxygen flow to working muscles, including the heart, as a result of reduced blood viscosity or thickness of blood, thereby aiding aerobic endurance.
Fat burning properties
Fish oil can help burn fat by blocking the enzymes that your body relies on to store fat.
Fish oil isn’t necessarily going to help you build muscle at an accelerated pace directly, but indirectly it will help support the quality of your workouts. Most importantly, supplementing with fish oil will enhance your overall health, which is key to pursuing workouts over a longer period of time.
Fish or fish oil supplements?
The question is, should we rely on a healthy fish-containing diet to provide us with the fatty acids we need, or should we supplement our intake with fish oil food supplements? There is no scientifically robust answer to this; however, the fish oil manufacturers persuade us otherwise.
Fish, not fish oil supplements, is the preferred source of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Supplements of 2 grams a day of EPA or more than 3 grams of fish oil interfere with blood clotting and cause prolonged bleeding times. In mice, fish oil supplements impair immune resistance to flu viruses. Supplements also lack the other beneficial nutrients that fish provides. Some fish oil supplements also taste fishy and people often complain of a lingering or repeating taste for hours after taking them.
Finally, fish oil supplements are made from fish skins and livers, which can accumulate toxic concentrations of dioxins and other industrial contaminants from polluted waters. Mercury contamination is also a problem in the flesh of both freshwater and saltwater species. For supplements, newer processing methods can rid fish oil of most contaminants but not all supplements are refined in this way. In addition to contamination, fish liver oil naturally contains high levels of the two most potentially toxic vitamins, A and D. Lastly, supplements of fish oil are expensive— we purchase them in addition to food, whereas fatty fish replaces other protein foods that would have been purchased instead.
Most bodybuilders eat fish regularly, and fish are a great source of omega-3’s. If you don’t like fish, omega-3 capsules are available at health food stores. When you fish oil supplements don’t shop for bargains, shop for the best. Omega-3s are delicate molecules. It’s easy to damage them during preparation. There is a difference in quality and purity between brands.
Hints for buying fish oil supplements
There are many sources online and offline where you can buy fish oil. Unfortunately, not all fish oil supplements and capsules are of the same quality. You want to watch out for fish oil products that contain any harmful substances like chemicals and heavy metals. Impurity free fish oil is the best and healthiest you can buy. Look in the product descriptions or on the box labels; find supplements that state that they are concentrated. What does concentrated mean? It means that it has the greatest amount of Omega-3 per serving size.
Summing up: Fish oil and bodybuilding
When we’re talking about fish oil we’re actually talking about omega-3 fatty acids. Although there are many valuable plant sources of omega-3, they aren’t nearly as powerful as fish oil. Fish oils are sources of both EPA and DHA, both of which have anti-inflammatory effects. Knowing that, it’s no wonder that fish oil has been flying off the shelves recently.
Are omega-3 fatty acids really bodybuilder’s best friend? Should you take fish oil supplements (omega-3s) for bodybuilding purposes? Omega-3s (fish oil) may be particularly beneficial for athletes as they help increase the delivery of oxygen to muscles, improve endurance and may speed recovery, reduce inflammation and joint stiffness. Fish oil supplements (for the omega-3 fatty acids) are fine too, but you won’t need these if you eat fish several times a week. Natural sources are always preferred over supplements. One thing is sure – fish oil and bodybuilding are inseparable friends.