Muscle is incredibly adaptable. If you challenge it and push it passed what its used to, it adapts, it grows, and it gets stronger. If you don’t use your muscles, they’ll adapt to that too by getting weaker and shrinking.
Along with the physical demands, muscle is also quite sensitive to what you put into you body: your nutrition.
Increasing amounts of research tell us that the nutritional status of the muscle can influence how a muscle responds to adaptive stimuli. In other words, muscle in a person with a good diet will respond better to exercise compared to a muscle in a person with a bad diet.
What should you have in your diet to optimize the nutritional status of your muscles?
As more data comes in from the research community, we’re learning more and more about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids.
Research tells us the amount of omega-3 in muscle can have a significant impact on its metabolism and function.
More specifically, good stores of omega-3 in muscle can have a beneficial role in preserving and increasing muscle mass – especially in the elderly.
If you’re interested in preserving and building muscle, pay attention to this article. I’m going to tell you how omega-3’s work in muscle and how much you need in your diet to experience these beneficial effects.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids help preserve muscle
Muscle deteriorates when it’s not being used. This can happen for a lot of different reasons. Maybe you’re on vacation, maybe current circumstances make getting to the gym really hard, maybe you’re dealing with an injury of some sort, maybe you’re recovering from surgery. The list goes on and on.
One group of researchers looked at what recovering from esophageal cancer surgery did to people’s lean muscle mass and what supplementing with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) did to this process.
EPA is one of the most bioactive omega-3 fatty acid species.
The researchers conducting this study split the participants into two groups. One that had a standard diet during the operating procedure (the control group) and a second group who had a diet enriched with EPA (the test group).
They found that the test group – the group with the diet enriched with EPA – had a much greater preservation of lean muscle mass compared to the control group, suggesting EPA could play a role in preserving lean muscle mass.
Research suggests this muscle preservation effect occurs as a result of EPA’s ability to influence an immune system pathway called NFĸB (“NF kappa B”).
NFĸB is a protein complex that controls many processes within a cell. It’s involved in DNA transcription, the production of signaling molecules called cytokines, and cell survival. It plays a major role in regulating the immune response.
NFĸB is emerging as one of the most important players in muscle atrophy or muscle breakdown.
The activation of NFĸB in muscle leads to the breakdown of specific muscle proteins, it induces inflammation and fibrosis, and it prevents the regeneration of muscle fiber after it has been broken down or it has been injured.
It appears that EPA can prevent NFĸB from getting to the nucleus of the cell and performing its functions, essentially cutting NFĸB off at the pass. EPA prevents NFĸB from doing its job and prevents muscle protein breakdown, reduces inflammation, and creates an environment within muscle conducive of regeneration.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids help build muscle
Yes, it seems omega-3s can prevent muscle from being broken down. Omega-3s can also go one step further and aid in muscle building.
A group of scientists from the Center of Human Nutrition at the Washington University School of Medicine looked at the effect 8 weeks of fatty acid supplementation had on muscle protein production in healthy individuals. They found supplementation increased muscle synthesis in both young and middle-age adults.
This positive effect seems, at least in part, to be occurring through omega-3s ability to potentiate, or increase the power of, muscle’s response to muscle-building stimuli – like exercise.
Omega-3s may be doing this through mTOR (the mechanistic target of rapamycin). mTOR is a protein that plays vital roles in protein synthesis (i.e. muscle building). It is a central regulator of pathways that govern muscle building and muscle wasting.
Omega-3s activate mTOR to stimulate muscle growth, otherwise known as muscle hypertrophy.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation
Whatever supplement you choose, it’s important to note that muscle needs a minimum of two weeks to respond to dietary changes. That means you need to allow at least two weeks from the time you’ve altered your diet to start seeing or experiencing any of the beneficial aspects of that change.
What kind of fatty acid supplements should you look for or what kind should you incorporate into your diet?
The best responses seem to come from marine sources. We’re talking things like fish oils.
You can get fish oil supplements from many different places. At the bare minimum, whoever you get it from, it should have both EPA and DHA fatty acids. EPA we’ve already talked about. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is the other most bioactive fatty acid found in omega-3 fatty acid mixtures.
These two, EPA and DHA, are primarily responsible for the benefits of omega-3s, so you need to make sure they’re in your supplement.
A good supplement has at least 300milligrams of EPA and 240milligrams of DHA in it.
You don’t want your supplement to have any heavy metals in them. Good supplements will be third-party tested to make sure they don’t contain them.
If you’re not into supplements, good dietary sources of omega-3s that have a good EPA, DHA content is certain types of fish – anchovies, artic char, cod, mackerel, salmon, and sardines.
If you’re interested in maintaining muscle mass and/or building muscle, consider getting more omega-3s into your diet – either with a supplement or by increasing your dietary intake of certain types of fish.
If you’d like some help with omega-3 supplements and have more questions, please contact me. I’d love to help you out.
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Have a great week!