Athletes are very interested in taking fish oil for bodybuilding and improved exercise performance. However, research on the purported effects of this supplement is mixed. More studies need to be conducted on possible side effects.
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Some studies indicate that fish oil reduces inflammation associated with workouts and improves the muscle-building effects of exercise, but others conclude the evidence is insufficient to support these benefits.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), states the Mayo Clinic. Dietary sources of DHA and EPA are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and trout. Nuts and seeds contain an additional omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. The supplements come in liquid or pill forms.
While some people take fish oil for its bodybuilding effects, others take it to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as to reduce blood pressure and triglycerides. Others take the supplement to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Some research supports the notion that fish oil offers blood pressure, triglyceride, and rheumatoid arthritis benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When taken as directed, fish oil supplements are considered safe. Side effects include nausea, bad breath, indigestion, rash and loose stools. High doses can raise the risk of bleeding and possibly cause a stroke.
Fish oil interacts negatively with vitamin E and certain medications. It isn't known if people with allergies to fish or seafood can safely take fish oil. Check with your doctor before starting on the supplement.
Fish Oil and Bodybuilding
A February 2013 study in Nutrients found that bodybuilders and athletes take fish oil supplements in response to multiple different health claims. These include reduced inflammation and muscle damage, along with reductions in body fat and increases in lean body mass. The pills are also purported to decrease the breakdown of glycogen in the muscles.
The Nutrients study reviewed the body of research exploring the effects of fish oil on athletic performance. It found omega-3 supplements might reduce recovery time between workout sessions and decrease the inflammation response in muscle tissue. Based on the data, the researchers hypothesized that fish oil supplements can improve the anabolic, or muscle-building, effects of exercise.
Preliminary findings suggest the supplements increase the synthesis of testosterone, a hormone that plays a role in muscle gain and athletic performance. However, the authors of the Nutrients study cautioned that the elevated testosterone levels might have an unhealthful effect on the heart. Further research is needed to determine the side effects, they concluded.
Do You Need Fish Oil?
The review in Nutrients supports some of the purported benefits of fish oil in athletic performance with the caveat of recommending further research on possible side effects. On the other hand, a January 2017 study published in Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental came to a different conclusion. After reviewing scientific literature, the authors found the results conflicting. They said that insufficient evidence supports the use of fish oil for sports and athletics.
Harvard Health reports that the evidence on fish oil for the heart is also mixed. Although the institution doesn't dispute the benefits of eating food sources of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, it questions the value of taking the supplements.
Fish oil pills aren't capable of producing the same effect as the wealth of nutrients derived from eating fish. Fish oil pills only provide DHA and EPA. They don't offer any of the accompanying vitamins, minerals and other beneficial components that come from fish consumption, which may be important catalysts. Rather than taking fish oil for a workout, it might be a good idea to just include fatty fish in your diet.