Bodybuilders will likely maintain careful diets and follow a strict workout routine to pursue their muscle-building goals. There is a wide range of supplements and dietary guidelines that may help bodybuilders on this journey. One such supplement they may consider is fish oil.

Fish oil is a popular nutritional supplement and a potent source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids may help protect against heart and inflammatory diseases. Its supporters also suggest that they may help boost muscle strength and improve physical performance.

In this article, we discuss fish oil and its potential benefits for bodybuilders. We also look at possible risks and suggest other bodybuilding supplements people may wish to consider.

A person performing bodybuilding exercises while possibly using fish oil.Share on Pinterest
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Fish oil is a nutritional supplement harvested from fatty fish, including sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring.

Manufacturers can use many different methods to harvest fish oil, but most techniques typically involve a four-stage process that involves cooking, pressing, filtering, and centrifuging the final product.

Fish oils contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These are
essential fatty acids that the body cannot make for itself. The three primary omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and its metabolites docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

While vegetables and other plant foods may contain ALA, the body cannot use it as readily as DHA or EPA. As fish is a rich dietary source of both DHA and EPA, people may consume fish to boost levels of these omega-3 fatty acids. Those who do not consume fish on a regular basis may consider taking fish oil supplements.

These fatty acids may play various essential roles in the body, including:

  • cell membrane function, structure, and signaling
  • nervous system regulation
  • blood pressure control
  • blood clotting
  • glucose tolerance
  • inflammatory processes

In addition, these fatty acids may also influence skeletal muscle metabolism and functional response following exercise.

Fish oil may provide a variety of potential benefits for bodybuilding. This may include the following:

Reduces muscle soreness

When a person exercises intensely or uses a new routine, they will likely feel muscle soreness and stiffness later or the following day. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common issue that researchers suggest has links with microscopic tears in the muscles and inflammation.

Due to strenuous exercise routines, bodybuilders are likely to experience DOMS. While massages may help, a 2017 study suggests that fish oil may help alleviate muscle soreness. Another 2017 study also notes that DHA and EPA supplements may help reduce muscle damage after exercise.

Improves workout quality

The EPA and DHA present in fish oil may help boost athletic performance. During or after heavy workouts, the anti-inflammatory properties of these omega-3 fatty acids may protect against the decline in strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

In a small 2018 study, men taking 2,400 milligrams (mg) of fish oil, which contains 600 mg of EPA and 260 mg of DHA, daily for 8 weeks experienced less muscle swelling than those taking a placebo.

In a small 2019 study, men on an energy-restricted diet took 4,000 mg of fish oil that contained 2,000 mg of EPA and DHA. The results indicate that supplementation with these fatty acids may maintain or even improve lower body muscle strength.

However, research is somewhat limited, and further evidence is necessary to support whether fish oil supplements facilitate muscle growth or preserve muscle mass.

Prevents muscle loss due to aging

Everyone naturally loses muscle mass as they age, which doctors call sarcopenia. Once people reach 30 years of age, research suggests that muscle mass decreases by 0.1–0.5% every year, and even more after they reach 65 years of age.

A 2015 study indicates that PUFAs may help slow this natural decline in muscle mass and function in older adults. The study also notes that fish oils may be beneficial for preventing sarcopenia and maintaining physical independence in older adults.

Older individuals may find it more challenging to build muscle. This is because their body does not respond as well to resistance training and protein intake. However, the anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil may counter this effect in some populations.

Fish oil may also enhance the muscles’ sensitivity to protein and resistance training. A 2017 study suggests that supplementing 4,200 mg of omega-3s containing 2,700 mg of EPA and 1,200 mg of EPA increased the synthesis of new muscle protein in older adults.

However, while these results suggest potential benefits for older bodybuilders, more research is necessary to confirm if fish oil helps build and maintain muscle.

Although fish oil is a natural and popular product, people should explore the possible risks before beginning a new supplementation regime.

While research is inconsistent, some studies suggest a potential link between omega-3s and prostate cancer. A 2013 study indicates an increased prostate cancer risk among men with higher blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids.

There may also be unpleasant mild side effects of fish oil use. These may include:

DOMS is a painful consequence of bodybuilding, and fish oil appears to reduce the symptoms. However, its effect on strength and muscle size is not fully understood.

Whether someone should supplement with fish oil or not depends on their circumstances. Generally, taking fish oil can be beneficial because it may help with several health conditions, such as improving heart health.

When considering dosage, there is no absolute rule on the level of omega-3s someone needs. Many studies use amounts between 1,000–5,000 mg. The European Food Safety Authority state that people can take EPA and DHA supplements at a combined dose of up to 5,000 mg daily.

However, due to potential side effects, guidelines recommend starting with a low dose before increasing to a more typical amount.

There is a range of dietary supplements that claim to enhance bodybuilding performance. These include:

Alternatively, eating a diet rich in protein and other nutrients from eggs, fish, meat, dairy products, vegetables, beans, and pulses may help individuals reach their bodybuilding goals.

Fish oil is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Bodybuilders may find supplementation with fish oil beneficial as it may help reduce DOMS and increase muscle strength and range of motion. However, further research is still necessary to support these claims.

While side effects are often minor, recommendations state that people consider the potential link between fish oil and prostate cancer.

With this in mind, it may be best to consult with a doctor before taking supplements. Additionally, some people may not require supplements and may instead experience sufficient fish oils from their diet.