Every second of every day, muscle protein is being broken down (catabolism) and made (anabolism) in distinct processes. counterbalancing and seemingly distinct processes are both influenced by exercise and nutrition. Measurable gains or losses in body muscle is reflective of what is happening in muscle daily over an extended period of time (e.g. weeks). Algebraically, net gains in muscle means that more muscle protein building (synthesis) has occurred than protein breakdown resulting in a net gain in muscle protein.
So, how what impact does fish oil have on muscle protein synthesis? Fish oil omega-3 fats seem to be important in optimizing muscle protein synthesis according to recent studies out of Washington University and the University of Nottingham.1 In one study, healthy younger and middle-aged men and women were provided fish oil supplements and their muscle protein production was assessed before starting and then after 8 weeks of supplementation. One of the main findings of this study was that supplementation of fish oil significantly increased muscle protein production in response to eating protein and carbohydrate. Subsequent study found this to the case in older individuals as well.2
A leaner body, one with a lower percentage of body fat (fat mass) is a primary goal for most people who exercise regularly and play sports. While further research is needed, some data from university studies suggest that taking a gram or more of fish oil can help keep children leaner during development or support leaning efforts by adults.3,4 In one study where overweight adults walked for 3 days/week at 75% their predicted maximal heart rate and received 1.5 grams of combined EPA+DHA for 8 weeks.5 After 4 weeks those receiving the fish oil lost more body weight and fat than those not receiving the supplement. Furthermore, research suggests that omega-3 consumption during energy reduction exerts positive effects on insulin resistance in young overweight individuals.6 These research studies indicate the benefit of fish oil supplementation by people interested in building or maintaining muscle mass and maintaining a leaner body.
1. Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 2011 Sep;121(6):267-78.
2. Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):402-12.
3. Hill AM, Buckley JD, Murphy KJ, Howe PRC. Combining Fish-oil Supplements with Regular Aerobic Exercise Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Am J Clin Nutr., 85:1267-1274 (2007).Golub N
4. Golub N, Geba D, Mousa SA, Williams G, Block RC. Greasing the wheels of managing overweight and obesity with omega-3 fatty acids. Med Hypotheses. 2011 Dec;77(6):1114-20.
5. Thorsdottir I, Tomasson H, Gunnarsdottir I, Gisladottir E, Kiely M, Parra MD, Bandarra NM, Schaafsma G, Martinéz JA. Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content International Journal of Obesity (2007) 31, 1560–1566.
6. Ramel A, Martinéz A, Kiely M, Morais G, Bandarra NM, Thorsdottir I. Beneficial effects of long-chain n-3 fatty acids included in an energy-restricted diet on insulin resistance in overweight and obese European young adults. Diabetalogia. 2008 Jul;51(7):1261-8.