Fish oil is commonly taken to promote heart, brain, eye, and joint health.
But bodybuilders and other athletes also use this popular dietary supplement because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Some people believe that it can increase muscle strength, improve range of motion, and provide numerous other benefits.
Hence, you may be wondering if fish oil can aid your exercise routine.
This article will tell you whether you should be taking fish oil for bodybuilding.
Fish oil is extracted from the tissues of fatty fish such as salmon, herring, halibut, and mackerel (1).
It is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered essential as you must get them from your diet. Your body cannot make them by itself.
While there are several types of omega-3 fatty acids, the two found in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (2).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating at least 227 grams of fish per week due to its fatty acid content (3).
You can also get omega-3s from plant foods like pine nuts, walnuts, and flaxseeds, but these offer a less active form – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – than fish (4).
Fish oil, which is obtained from oily fish, is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Fish oil can provide numerous benefits to bodybuilders due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Can reduce muscle soreness
It is common to feel sore after exercising.
In fact, some people feel sore and stiff 12–72 hours after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. This is known as delayed muscle soreness (DOMS), which can be caused by inflammation in your muscle cells (5).
DOMS commonly affects bodybuilders and can affect exercise motivation and performance (6).
While massage can help relieve symptoms, fish oil can also help curb muscle damage and inflammation after resistance exercise (7, 8).
In a randomized study, 21 men performed biceps curls daily after 8 weeks of intake of 2,400 mg fish oil (with 600 mg EPA and 260 mg DHA). Fish oil inhibited the development of DOMS and prevented temporary muscle strength loss compared to a placebo (9).
Similarly, a 14-day study found that women who took 6,000 mg of fish oil daily (containing 3,000 mg of EPA and 600 mg of DHA) significantly reduced the severity of DOMS after biceps curls and knee extensions compared to a placebo (10). .
Can improve training quality
Some research suggests that the EPA and DHA in fish oil can improve exercise performance.
This is because their anti-inflammatory properties can prevent or reduce decreases in strength and range of motion due to intense exercise.
In one study, 16 men took 2,400 mg of fish oil (containing 600 mg of EPA and 260 mg of DHA) daily for 8 weeks and then performed 5 sets of 6 biceps contractions. They maintained muscle strength throughout the exercise and experienced less muscle swelling than those who took a placebo (11).
Another 8-week study of 21 men gave similar results. Consuming the same amount of fish oil daily reduced the temporary loss of muscle strength and range of motion after exercise (9).
In addition, a 6-week study of 20 resistance-trained men after a low-calorie diet for weight loss showed that daily supplementation with 4,000 mg fish oil (containing 2,000 mg EPA and DHA) maintained the lower body or even increased muscle strength (12).
As such, fish oil can help maintain muscle strength alongside a diet that is a regular part of bodybuilder’s training.
Nonetheless, additional research is needed into the effects of fish oil on muscle size and strength (13, 14).
May support muscle health as you age
Aging is linked to the progressive loss of muscle mass. After age 30, muscle mass decreases by 0.1–0.5% per year – with a dramatic increase in loss after age 65 (15).
As you age, it becomes more difficult to maintain and build muscle, in part due to a decreased response to both strength training and protein intake (16).
Interestingly, fish oil’s anti-inflammatory properties can increase your muscles’ sensitivity to protein and resistance training, which allows for greater increases in muscle size and strength as you age (17).
For example, a 16-week study showed that daily supplementation with 4,200 mg omega-3 fatty acids (containing 2,700 mg EPA and 1,200 mg EPA) significantly increased muscle growth after exercise in older adults compared to younger adults (18).
Other studies also show that fish oil can increase or maintain muscle mass in older adults – especially when combined with resistance training (19, 20, 21).
Although these results show benefits for middle-aged and older bodybuilders, more research is needed.
Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, fish oil can prevent or reduce muscle soreness, inhibit temporary loss of strength and range of motion after exercise, and improve muscle sensitivity in older adults. However, more studies are needed.
Fish oil appears to be most effective at reducing DOMS, which is a common occurrence among many bodybuilders.
However, there is insufficient evidence of the effects on muscle size or strength (22, 23).
Still, it may be worth taking fish oil for your overall health – especially if your diet doesn’t include sources of omega-3s – as this oil has been linked with numerous benefits such as improved heart health and less inflammation (24).
If you choose to take it, bodybuilders are recommended 2,000-3,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day.
The EPA and DHA levels in fish oil supplements vary depending on the type of fish and processing method. So read the nutrition label and serving size carefully.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, EPA and DHA food supplements are generally well tolerated and can be safely taken in combination doses of up to 5,000 mg daily (25).
Commonly reported side effects of fish oil include an unpleasant aftertaste, belching, heartburn, stomach upset, and diarrhea (2).
Although the scientific evidence supporting the use of fish oil for bodybuilding is currently limited, if your diet lacks food sources of omega-3 fatty acids, consider adding it.
Fish oil is rich in the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA.
These fatty acids can have several benefits for bodybuilders, such as less sore muscles and less severe DOMS. They can also support muscle strength and range of motion, although more study is needed.
Fish oil supplements, in particular, are relatively safe and can improve other aspects of your health as well.