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10.05.2010


Medical study: protein builds more muscle mass with fish oil

Medical study: protein builds more muscle mass with fish oil
DHA
EPA
Take 5-8 fish-oil caps daily, and you'll get more muscle out of your protein shakes. This is the message if you read between lines of a 2003 medical study. An international research group gave protein supplements to two hundred people in hospital with cancer of the pancreas. The supplements worked better when N-3 fatty acid EPA was added to them.

Many cancer patients lose weight and therefore also muscle mass because the illness combined with the medicine they take make them too nauseous to eat. This weight loss doctors call it cachexia weakens the patients and reduces their chances of survival. The researchers looked at whether they could do something about this by giving the patients protein supplements manufactured by Abbott Laboratories.

The supplements came in 237 ml cans, each of which contained 16 g protein. The researchers tried to get their subjects to drink 2 a day, but on average the patients only managed 1.4 cans a day.

The control group drank cans containing only protein. The experimental group drank protein shake to which 1.1 g EPA had been added. The researchers also added antioxidants that protect the N-3 fatty acids from oxidising in the body. These included vitamin A, C, E and selenium.

The energy content of all cans was 310 kcal.

Before the experiment started the subjects were losing about 2 kg weight per month. This amount was considerably reduced when they started taking the protein supplements.


Medical study: protein builds more muscle mass with fish oil


But even more significant is the subjects' development of lean body mass.


Medical study: protein builds more muscle mass with fish oil


The addition of EPA to the protein just about doubled the increase in lean body mass [and so also the increase in muscle mass]. The stimulatory effect of the N-3 fatty acids is clearer if you look at the relationship between the number of cans that the subjects drank and the increase in their lean body mass.

The first figure below shows the results for the patients who took the ordinary supplement. The figure further down is for the patients who drank the EPA enriched mixture.


Medical study: protein builds more muscle mass with fish oil

Medical study: protein builds more muscle mass with fish oil

Medical study: protein builds more muscle mass with fish oil


Extra protein in combination with fish fatty acids stimulates muscle building, the study shows. So is the same true for strength athletes? Going on what recent research has taught us about N-3 fatty acids, you'd be inclined to say yes.

Here's another calculation. The test subjects took an average of 1.5 g EPA/day. A cheap 1000 mg fish-oil capsule contains 180 mg EPA. If it's only EPA that stimulates muscle building, then you'd need to take 8 fish-oil capsules a day. But the same fish-oil capsules also contain 120 mg DHA. If DHA works as well as EPA (and we think that it does), then 5 fish-oil capsules a day would be enough.

Source:
Gut 2003; 52: 1479-86.