Omega 3 Beneficial for body composition?

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Omega 3 fatty acids (also called n3 fatty acids) are so-called polyunsaturated fatty acids. Numerous health benefits are attributed to it, both physical and mental. But what about the influence on body composition (muscle growth and fat loss)?

Key points:

1.   Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, which you mainly find in fish.

2.   Omega 3 has several scientifically proven health benefits.

3.   In theory, Omega 3 could also have positive effects on body composition (muscle growth and fat loss).

4.   However, research does not yet show a convincing link between omega 3 supplementation and bodybuilding purposes.

5.   Nevertheless, it certainly does not hurt to take a lot of omega 3, even if it is ‘only’ for health purposes.

6.   Take 200 to 500 milligrams per day, preferably from whole foods, such as fish, otherwise through dietary supplements.

TYPES OF OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS

There are different types of omega-3 fatty acids. The best known are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is a vegetable omega-3 fatty acid. EPA and DHA are mainly known as fish fatty acids. Omega 3 is therefore not the same as fish oil, although the terms are often used interchangeably.

ALAs are essential fatty acids that we really need to get through our diet. The body produces EPA and DHA from ALA itself, but that does not produce enough EPA and DHA.

WHAT IS OMEGA 3 IN?

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in many foods, including fatty fish (EPA and DHA), some eggs (EPA and DHA), vegetable oils (ALA), seeds and certain nuts (ALA), and in green leafy vegetables (ALA). See further this list.

Fish cannot make EPA and DHA themselves, but get them from algae. Nowadays, EPA and DHA can also be obtained directly from algae. This is mainly used in supplements (pills, capsules and softgels)

WHY IS OMEGA 3 HEALTHY?

Omega 3 consumption has many potential health benefits supported by the scientific literature, including:

  • combat depression and anxiety;
  • fighting inflammation;
  • fighting autoimmune diseases;
  • improving eye health;
  • improving many risk factors for cardiovascular disease;
  • reducing symptoms of ADHD in children;
  • reducing the symptoms of the metabolic syndrome;
  • improving bone and joint health;
  • good for the skin.

Mind you, there are also many health claims for which there is insufficient scientific basis. See also the overview on Examine.com.

OMEGA 3 AND BODY COMPOSITION

Omega 3 supplements have also become increasingly popular among strength athletes in recent years, who hope to build more muscle mass and/or lose more fat mass with the substance.

That is certainly not illogical. Coach and podcast host Eric Texler explains how omega 3, in theory, can help improve body composition:

  • Recovery: fighting infection with EPA and DHA can help improve muscle recovery after hard weight training;
  • Muscle Protein Synthesis: enrichment of EPA and DHA in muscle tissue itself can increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis and decrease the factors that regulate the breakdown of muscle protein synthesis;
  • Fat loss: fish oil can potentially alter fat oxidation and energy expenditure, which can help burn fat mass.

LITERATURE

If we look through that literature, we come across a number of reviews regarding omega 3 and body composition.

The first is a review by Rossato ea (2020) in which muscle growth expert Brad Schoenfeld also participated. The result: there is too little research to state that omega 3 supplementation has any positive effects on muscle growth. Schoenfeld about that:

Based on the review of existing research, I’d be quite confident that any beneficial effects, if they do in fact exist, would be nothing more than modest.

A second review, by Lewis et al. (2020), selected 31 relevant studies. The review reports tentative positive effects of fish oil supplementation for athletes on issues such as cardiovascular health, reaction time and muscle recovery. There appear to be no significant effects on strength training performance.

A third review, by Tachtsis et al. (2018), concludes that supplementation doses ranging from 2 to 5 grams per day improve anabolic signaling efficiency and may positively influence the activity of satellite cells, especially after exercise.

A fourth review, by López-Seoane ea (2022), shows a positive effect of omega 3 on muscle growth or maintenance, but only in individuals who do not exercise. This positive effect did not materialize in trained subjects, according to a fifth review, also by López-Seoane et al (2022).

A sixth review, by Shichun Du et al (2015), shows that omega-3 supplementation has no significant effect on another aspect of body composition, namely fat loss.

Finally, a seventh review by Cornish et al. (2022) examined the influence of omega 3 on muscle mass in older subjects. No effect was found. Coach Layne Norton about that:

While they may have some merit for people who lack a diverse diet rich in fatty fish and omega-3 fatty acids, taking omega-3 supps purely in hopes of putting on more muscle is not supported by this research.

CONCLUSION

The available research does not show convincingly whether omega 3 has a beneficial effect on body composition. It is established that consumption of omega 3 is necessary for good health. According to Eric Texler, that is reason enough to get a lot of omega 3. Any positive effects on body composition, such as muscle recovery, are at the very least a welcome bonus.

Texler recommends getting 200 to 500 milligrams of omega 3 daily. You should preferably get it from normal food, such as fish, because there may be more substances in fish that provide the beneficial effect. Eating fish is therefore better than swallowing fish oil capsules.

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