There are many reasons to get the right amount of omega-3 fish oil in your diet. The fish oil fats, EPA and DHA, can help fight stress, promote a healthy physique, and accelerate recovery from training. They are essential for basic wellness, but most people don’t realize two key elements fish oil intake:
As beneficial as fish oil is, it needs to be consumed in the correct ratios with other fats. More is not better. If you’re not reducing your intake of other more inflammatory fats, you won't be taking full advantage of omega-3 fish oil.
Second, it’s smart to think about dietary fat within the context of the other two macronutrients, protein and carbs. Adding fish oil to a crappy diet or unhealthy lifestyle may help but it’s not a magic bullet that will solve your problems.
#1: Fish oil may help you lose body fat if you’re overweight.
Getting adequate fish oil in your diet may help you lose body fat, especially if you’re overweight. First, fish oil is anti-inflammatory and may reduce stress, which are two factors that can help you improve body composition.
Second, the fatty acids EPA and DHA in fish oil increase insulin sensitivity. Insulin regulates blood sugar use, either storing it as fat, or using it to replenish muscle glycogen (the muscles’ energy source).
If you have poor insulin sensitivity—something that is common if you are overweight—you will have a very difficult time losing fat. Of course, besides getting enough fish oil, exercise and eating a lower carb diet will also improve insulin sensitivity. And to lose fat, it’s necessary to make sure you create a calorie deficit.
Research shows fish oil can reduce body fat. For example, a recent meta-analysis that used only RCTs found that most studies showed that overweight subjects reduced waist circumference and lost an average of 1.3 pounds of body fat compared to controls.
If you’re trying to lose body fat, ensuring you get omega-3 fish oil in your diet is a smart move.
#2: Fish oil increases protein synthesis and increases muscle mass.
When you increase insulin sensitivity, it’s a good bet you’re going to improve protein synthesis in the muscle as well. Insulin regulates the passage of nutrients, hormones, and chemicals into muscle cells. So it is with fish oil.
Research shows that taking a few grams of fish oil a day increases protein synthesis by as much as 30 percent, producing a significant muscle building effect. Fish oil enhances both the mTOR pathway that produces muscle growth and muscle cell membrane signaling. Bodybuilders use fish oil to promote muscle recovery and elderly adults are being given omega-3s to treat sarcopenia, which is the debilitating loss of muscle that occurs with aging and diseases such as cancer.
Whether you’re trying to pack on muscle or preserve muscle as the years go by, getting enough fish oil in your diet will help make it happen.
#3: Fish oil lowers cortisol and counters mental stress.
One of the most fascinating benefits of getting enough fish oil in the diet is how it reduces our experience of stress.
Normally when you suffer anxiety, your heart rate and blood pressure increase and your nervous system gets activated, leading to the release of catecholamine hormones. Fish oil reduces the heart rate and sympathetic nervous system response to stress. It's also been shown to lower cortisol.
Scientists theorize that fish oil inhibits adrenal activation and reduces neurovascular reactivity—a combination that may be behind how fish oil promotes heart health.
Getting enough fish oil in your diet is a no-brainer if you’re stressed out or have high cortisol.
#4: Fish oil lower triglycerides and protects the heart.
What’s cool about omega-3 fish oil is that it is a great way to protect the heart because it has a number of cardiovascular benefits. First, there’s strong evidence that fish oil can reduce triglycerides (the amount of fat in your blood) by 15 to 30 percent, which can lead to less inflammation in the arteries of the heart.
Second, fish oil lowers heart rate and blood pressure, particularly when you’re stressed out, both of which are key for preventing heart disease.
Finally, because fish oil can promote optimal body composition and insulin health, it aids secondary factors that lower heart disease risk.
People with high triglycerides, high blood pressure, or heart disease may benefit from getting omega-3 fish oil in their diets.
#5: Fish oil improves recovery to intense exercise.
Athletes and people who are in shape have several reasons to take omega-3 fish oil. Along with helping you recover faster, fish oil improves the immune response.
The immune system is a vast network of cells that defend against invading pathogens while helping return your body to homeostasis after a physically challenging workout. Fish oil improves natural killer cell activity and muscle cellular health after intense exercise. Fish oil also reduces waste production after muscle damaging eccentric exercise, which could reduce post-workout muscle soreness (DOMS).
Fish oil may be useful for anyone who is under extra stress, such as when training at high altitudes, in extreme temperatures, or without complete recovery.
#6: Fish oil reduces inflammation, improving joint function, digestion, and bone health.
Inflammation is very damaging to the body, directly increasing disease risk and delaying recovery from injury. It is why we feel pain in our joints as we age. It’s a primary factor in heart disease. And it gets in the way of everything from proper digestion to body composition.
Of course, fighting inflammation needs to be a multi-faceted project. This means that besides using fish oil, you should take other actions that are anti-inflammatory as well such as working out regularly and eating a whole foods diet with plenty of vegetables. You also want to avoid inflammation-causing things like running around overwhelmed or drinking excessively.
Fish oil will help you move and feel better by lowering inflammation and improving cellular health.
#7: Fish oil improves skin, protects from sunburn, and makes your hair smooth.
Fish oil can make over your appearance, improving hair and eye health. It also protects skin and can give you a better complexion. Additionally, improving your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is a strategy that can protect against sunburn and skin cancer.
The key is to eat fewer foods high in omega-6 fats, such as vegetable oils like soybean, corn, safflower, and canola. You should also avoid processed foods in favor of healthy fats like nuts and avocado. Then, you want to make sure your getting your omega-3s by eating fatty fish frequently or supplementing with fish oil.
Getting a near even ratio of omega-3 fish oil to omega-6 fats will improve skin, hair, and eye health.
#8: Fish oil improves athletic performance.
Fish oil improves blood flow, which pays off in better athletic performance. Better blood flow is a key factor in athletes who need as much oxygen and nutrients to reach their muscles to power long-duration, intense exercise.
Fish oil also improves reaction time and quickness. Scientists think fish oil improves the message from the brain to the muscles to help you react faster.
Emerging evidence suggests fish oil improves testosterone levels, supporting muscle mass gains and boosting athletic performance. Research is in the early stages so this is not established yet, but omega-3 supplementation in animals improved androgen synthesis. Interestingly, another fat that is not an EFA, conjugated linoleic acid was found to increase hormone release in female animals.
Either way, it’s certain that optimizing fat intake by getting a variety of fats from whole sources is key for hormone balance. Adequate intake of both saturated and monounsaturated fat are the strongest predictors of testosterone levels in healthy men, indicating that optimizing your overall diet is step one. Then you can fine tune by making sure your omega-3 and -6 ratios are right.
Fat is a key but often overlooked part of any serious athlete’s diet. Improve your performance by giving it and the omega-3 fats as much attention as you do to protein and carbs!