Omega 3 for muscle recovery

By Michaela Carrick

  • Research has shown that Omega 3 fish oil benefits bodybuilding and other sports recovery.
  • Taking Omega 3 for muscle building will increase your recovery time after working out.
  • Muscle recovery is an extremely important stage of any training plan.
  • Omega-3 has many other benefits for athletic performance.
  • Omega-3 supplementation can improve muscle strength and function, reduce muscle damage and soreness, and improve the function of the heart and lungs
  • Taking Omega 3 for muscle building and recovery should be part of your daily regime.
  • Omega 3 boosts the effect of exercise

During exercise, our body is put under stress. This stress allows us to improve our fitness and stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Once the exercise has ceased, the body goes into recovery mode. Recovery mode involves the body’s adaptation to the stress it experienced during exercise. If the body does not fully recover, we are more at risk of injuries as our body has not adapted to the stress of exercise. Overall optimal stress recovery leads to improved physical strength and fitness.

MPS : MPB Ratio

Protein turnover is the balance of protein production and protein break-down in the body. When muscle protein synthesis (MPS) exceeds muscle protein breakdown (MPB), the body is in an anabolic state and builds muscle1. If MPB exceeds MPS, the body is in a catabolic state and burns muscle tissue. As humans age, our rate of MPS – muscle protein synthesis – slows down and our MPB – muscle protein break-down – increases due to muscle disuse2. This leads to muscle wasting and ultimately, sarcopenia. Resistance exercise, such as weight lifting, has been shown to stimulate MPS and there is evidence that protein supplementation reduces muscle loss3.

High-quality protein sources such as eggs, soy and Whey provide the essential amino acids required to promote maximum MPS4. For these reasons, a combination of resistance exercise and protein supplementation is suggested for building muscle and preventing muscle wasting4. Research has also suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may improve the response of muscle tissues to anabolic stimuli such as amino acid availability5.

Omega-3 supplementation can increase muscle protein synthesis, mainly by regulating the mTOR pathway6,7. The mTOR pathways is a very important regulatory pathway in the process of cell production and growth. By regulating this pathway, omega-3 can also reduce the activity of NF-κB and slow down muscle protein breakdown8.

Research also suggests omega-3 improves muscle anabolism through enhanced sensitivity to anabolic stimuli such as exercise, protein intake and increases in insulin levels in the blood that stimulate the synthesis of muscle protein. Cell research has shown the omega-3 fatty acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) specifically is responsible for omega-3’s anabolic effects.

One cell study reported cells treated with EPA had increased Muscle Protein Synthesis of 25%9.

Omega-3 and Muscle Recovery in Healthy Individuals

Randomised controlled trials conducted with healthy participants have reported positive results of omega-3 supplementation on MPS. In one study, healthy elderly patients received 1.86g EPA and 1.5g DHA daily for 8 weeks5. There was no significant effect on basal MPS reported but omega-3 was shown to increase the MPS response to insulin and amino acid infusion after the 8 weeks of supplementation. A follow-up study revealed this effect was not exclusive to the elderly, with the same effect of omega-3 supplementation being seen in young and middle-aged individuals5.

Recovery Post-Exercise

Besides promoting MPS, omega-3 has many other benefits for athletic performance. Omega-3 supplementation can improve muscle strength and function, reduce muscle damage and soreness, and improve the function of the heart and lungs10-12.

Omega-3s have been shown to play an important role in muscle function and strength.

  • Regularly eating fatty fish which provide omega-3 has been associated with increased grip strength. Each additional serving of fish consumed per week has been seen to increase grip strength by 0.43kg in men and 0.48kg in women10.
  • Daily supplementation with 1.2g omega-3 was reported to significantly increase walking speed and physical performance in postmenopausal women13.
  • A randomised controlled trial revealed that although exercise alone increases muscle strength, omega-3 supplementation amplifies this effect11.

Omega-3 supplementation may also be a potential method of preventing exercise-induced muscle damage – possibly reducing muscle recovery time12. Clinical trials investigating the effect of omega-3 supplementation on muscle soreness have reported significant reductions in muscle soreness in both the arms and lower limbs after exercise with supplementation14,15. One of these trials found a short supplementation period of only two weeks could reduce muscle soreness after bicep curls by 15%14.

To further enhance athletic performance, omega-3 supplementation can improve heart and lung function. Daily supplementation of 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA was reported to improve lung function test scores in healthy young male athletes16. Higher doses of omega-3 were reported to reduce blood pressure and lower heart rate during exercise in cyclists17,18.

The benefits of omega-3 supplementation for exercise performance is not just seen in athletes. One study investigated if omega-3 supplementation could improve muscle function of the elderly combined with resistance exercise. Forty-five subjects consumed 2g omega-3 and undertook a progressive resistance exercise program for 90 days. Muscle strength and neuromuscular function significantly improved with combined omega-3 supplementation and resistance exercise19.

Recovery from Illness and Surgery

Muscle recovery also plays a vital role in recovery from illness or surgery. In one study EPA was added to enteral feeds of oesophageal cancer patients, post-surgery20. Patients received 2.2g EPA daily for 26 days. Patients who received EPA in their feeds maintained all aspects of body composition after surgery, while patients who received standard enteral nutrition (EN) without EPA lost significant amounts of fat-free mass20.  Additionally, the EPA group had a reduced response to inflammatory markers TNF-α, IL-10 and IL-8. These findings suggest early supplementation of EN with EPA can be used as a protective measure against lean body mass post-surgery20.

From the research available, we know that Omega-3 supplementation can improve muscle function and recovery and has benefits for athletes, healthy individuals and those recovering from illness and injury.

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