fish oil

Is Fish Oil Great for Mass Gaining?

The Many Benefits of Fish Oil

Fish oil is grossly underestimated as an anabolic supplement, plus it makes you healthier and smarter…

There’s no limit to the benefits that omega-3 bring to health. Now, it seems they even help you pack on more muscle in addition. They do this in two ways: they upregulate anabolic pathways in the muscle, while also downregulating catabolic pathways at the same time.

The Science of Anabolic Fish Oil

The muscle-building properties of omega-3 were explored in two studies. The first one was performed on a group of 25-45 year old males (1)  who were supplemented with 4 gr of fish oil a day for 8 weeks. This study was conducted by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri. This dosage provided 1.50 gr of DHA and 1.85 gr of EPA, and the researchers looked at its effects on protein synthesis. In layman’s term, this is called muscle-building, as proteins are the building blocks of muscles. The results was a significantly enhanced anabolic response to amino acids and greater insulin sensitivity. These have been shown to be derived from an increased activation of the mTOR pathway. This pathway is one of the most important signalling mechanism in the body for protein synthesis and cell growth.

The other study (2), performed by the same group of researchers, applied a similar protocol to a group of older adults, with the same results. So it appears that fish oil is anabolic no matter how old you are.  This is good news for elderly folks, who often lose muscle mass to the point of being frail. Omega-3 supplementation could thus be a way to fight against age-related muscle catabolism, a phenomenon called sarcopenia.

Although there is little conclusive evidence at this point, some clues point to the fact that other mechanisms may also play a role in this fish oil/muscle anabolism connection, such as fatty acid concentration a in the cell membrane. As this phenomenon also affects insulin sensitivity, it lends credence to my personal belief about insulin sensitivity. In order to start gaining muscle mass, you must first get lean (which increases insulin sensitivity).

It’s all about the Omegas

Fish oil also appears to be anti-catabolic, meaning that it spares muscle. The body is in a constant state of building and destroying tissues, and muscle is no different in this regard. This balance of anabolism (building) and catabolism (destroying) must be tipped toward anabolism if you want to gain muscle mass. Slowing down catabolism in regard to anabolism is the second part of the equation, but it’s one seldom considered.

The advantage of fish oil is that it seems to be doing both, as it has been shown to decrease the activity of the system that mediates muscle degradation, called ubiquitin-proteasome system. EPA is the fatty acid that reduce the activity of this system significantly. Hence an EPA-rich supplement might be more adequate to reduce catabolism.

Key Action on the Muscle Cells

There seems to be a specificity to which fatty acid is required for a given goal though, as DHA has been shown to be more present in type-2 muscle fibers (3). DHA also counters palmitate-induced insulin resistance (4), as does oleates from olive oil. So a balanced fat intake might be key to take full advantage of the fish oil in your diet and supplement regimen.

A 4gr/day intake has been studied and I’m not aware of studies that used a higher dosage, but the intake I recommend in my Metabolic Analytics seminar, although geared more for fat loss, should more than cover for this muscle-building effect.  And it also underscores the fact that insulin sensitivity seems to be at the core of many muscle-sparing and muscle-building mechanisms and that nutritional strategies that targets insulin management will have an impact on total muscle mass. And that’s not mentioning the many other health benefits of fish oil.

Think you can do without your fish oil for a total physique overhaul?  Think again!

Enjoy the new growth,

Coach Charles R. Poliquin

Some of my favorite brands of fish oil

ATP-Lab’s Omega-3 Liquid

ATP-Lab’s Omega-Blast (rich in DHA)

Designs For Health OmegAvail

Designs For Health OmegAvail Ultra DHA


  • Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, et al. 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;121(6):267-78
  • Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition2011;93(2):402-12.
  • Andersson A1, Sjödin A, Hedman A, Olsson R, Vessby B. Fatty acid profile of skeletal muscle phospholipids in trained and untrained young men, Am J of Physiological Endocrinology and Metabolism 279 (2000): E744-51
  • Randall W. Bryner, Myra E. Woodworth-Hobbs, David L. Williamson, and Stephen E. Always, Docosahexaenoic Acid Protects Muscle Cells from Palmitate-Induced Atrophy, ISRN Obesity, Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 647348