Essential fatty acids help facilitate muscle growth in a number of ways. One such way is through the formation of eicosanoids –molecules which exert control over bodily systems such as immunity and inflammation, and act as molecular messenger in the CNS (central nervous system). Eicosanoids can also be classified into prostaglandins, leukotrienes and thromboxanes. Prostaglandins are of the most importance to muscle growth. They:
- Increase sensitivity to insulin
- Help maintain normal levels of testosterone – the primary, male androgen hormone
- Increase the body’s secretion of growth hormone
- Increase the synthesis of protein in muscle cells
These functions are critical to achieving muscle growth during intensive training. In addition, EFAs powerfully affect the formation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. All the Omega-3s increase the breakdown of body fat; they also encourage the body to burn stored fat as fuel.
Beyond the immediately apparent effects on muscle growth and body composition, essential fatty acids help reduce inflammation, heal injuries, speed recovery and strengthen the immune system (important when engaging in repetitive movement with heavy weights and physical exertion that can weaken immunity); and improve sleep, concentration, stamina, increase blood-oxygen levels and improve cardiovascular function (all of which lead to more effective and intense workouts).
Research shows that to maximize muscle growth, decrease body fat and improve general health, men may consume between 3 and 3.5 grams of EFAs from all sources (food and supplements) daily; women may consume between 2.5 and 3 grams from all sources daily.
Essential fatty acids are found in foods and supplements. The downside of food sources is that many (fish and fully pastured – grass fed – cattle being exceptions) are higher in Omega-6 than Omega-3.
Supplementing with Optimum Nutrition’s Flaxseed Oil or Fish Oil remains the easiest way to get your daily recommended value of EFA’s.