So in part 1 of “The Skinny on Supplements” I shed some light for you on how imperative protein is for all our clients, whether you are seeking to shed body fat or build muscle. Today’s blog is all about fish oil. Chances are if you have been active in the fitness circuit for any period of time, you’ve probably heard people talking about fish oil and just like any supplement out there, you need to know exactly what you are looking for and more importantly the “why” behind it. I hope to give you a little bit of the science behind what fish oil is, how it works within the body, how it helps with creating a lean body composition, and point you in the direction of what to look for in a high quality fish oil product.
Ok. So what is fish oil really? Well put simply, it’s oil… from fish! Hopefully I didn’t give you any earth shattering insight there, but the reason fish oil is significant is because of its high content of two essential omega-3 fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), along with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in things like flax and walnuts, fall under the category of “essential fats.” While EPA and DHA are considered key components of fish oil, they actually aren’t derived from fish at all. Algae are in fact where EPA and DHA originate, and fish consume high quantities of algae, so that’s where the high concentration of EPA and DHA come from!
So now that you understand what fish oil is we can talk about some of its amazing contributions to your overall health and wellness. Omega 3s are critical to good cardiovascular function, they boost your immune health, and are key players in healthy nervous system function and brain development. Even further, research has proven that low levels of DHA consumption is directly correlated with memory loss, difficulty concentrating, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mood associated problems.
Perhaps the most integral role of essential fats, and fish oil in particular, are their responsibility for cell health. All of our cells have a fatty membrane (some of you science majors know the technical term for this is the lipid bilayer). This membrane that surrounds all of our cells is semi-permeable, meaning it regulates what gets in and out of the cell. Here’s where the essential fats, or good fats, versus non-essential fats, or bad fats, comes in to play big time! The fluidity of that cell membrane is dependent on the fatty acid consumption in our diets. So if we are eating tons of saturated fats (which are solid at room temperature) that are found in things like vegetable oil, butter, and eggs, then that cell membrane becomes rigid; nothing good gets in and nothing bad can get flushed out! However if we consume enough omega-3s, then the cell membrane stays fluid and not only do things like neurochemicals (i.e. serotonin) get carried into our cells to make them happy, but fat deposits can be mobilized out of the cells, also making them happy! Additionally cells need these essential fats for cell repair and regeneration, keeping your body at a lower risk for cell mutation.
Because omegas 3s help mobilize fat cells, they also cause muscle cells to become more sensitive to insulin, which actually causes fat cells to shrink…. also known as losing weight and gaining lean muscle! With fewer fat cells in action, this may allow the body to focus on getting more nutrients to our muscle tissue. Finally, DHA and EPA are proven to increase your resting metabolic rate by increasing levels of enzymes that boost calorie-burning ability.
I don’t know about you guys, but I am so “fishing” excited right now! I mean fish oil sounds legit right??! Well just in case you zoned out on some of that “Bill Nye” stuff. I am going to just highlight some important information that I hope you can use. Omega 3s (i.e. fish oil) and omega 6s (i.e. vegetable oil) are fatty acids that we cannot make in our bodies and therefore we must consume. In today’s Westernized diet and era of processed food, we have no problem getting huge amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Most of us cook with plant based oils like olive oil or canola oil, and almost any food that comes in a package at the grocery store probably has plenty of omega-6 fats- after all that is what helps producers keep their product on the shelves longer! Because omega 3s and omega 6s compete with each other for space within the cell membrane it’s important to make sure we get as close to a 1:1 consumption ratio of them. Most Americans today are averaging about a 1:20 and even upwards of a 1:50 ration of omega 3s to omega 6s! Not surprising that most Americans today are battling the scales either… being able to maintain a 1:1 ratio of these fatty acids is more important to pay attention to than total consumption amounts of either.
Our recommendations first and foremost are to look for products that are sold by a reputable company. There are many companies out there that will try and sell you minimal potency products and even cut the fish oil with soy oil, which is bad for you but cheap for them! At our gym we sell the Barlean’s brand fish oil in capsule form. Whether you are more happy with taking a shot of fish oil in liquid form or you’d rather take a few capsules daily just go with something that makes sense for you, and that you don’t hate the taste of, otherwise you won’t stick with it! Be weary of cod liver oil, it’s no good, and stick with smaller fish sources like herring, sardine, or mackerel as they are lower on the food chain and won’t have the environmental toxins that some of the larger fish populations might have. You want to aim for 6-12 grams of total fish oil (or about 3-6 grams of EPA + DHA) per day. Check the EPA & DHA listed on the back of the product you are considering and make sure the total is at least 300mg per 1000 mg capsule so that it will be easy for you to get the suggested dosages. Watch those trans fats, as they will interfere with EPA and DHA within the body and try cutting down on some of the omega-6 rich vegetable oils, which negatively alter your fatty acid ratio! Coconut oil is a great alternative! Well friends, stay tuned for more to come on supplements and until then, happy fishing!!
Crystal “Light” Sain