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Animal study: olive oil is good for (old) muscles

A diet that is high in monounsaturated fatty acids – read olive oil – keeps elderly muscles in better shape than a diet that contains high amounts of saturated fatty acids – read the fats in processed foods, milk and meat. An animal study by French nutritionists that will be published soon in Clinical Nutrition points in this direction.

Nutritional factors in bodybuilding
The most important nutritional factor for strength athletes wanting to enlarge their muscle mass is of course kilocalories. Although it's not generally a problem in the affluent west, in other less fortunate areas of the world, a simple shortage of calories inhibits muscle growth in many strength athletes. The second factor is the amount of protein in the diet. And in the third place is… Well, what does come next?

Fatty acid composition, an increasing number of studies suggest. The body burns mono-unsaturated fatty acids more easily than saturated fatty acids; polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish stimulate the burning of fatty acids and help muscle cells to manufacture new protein. To name but a few.

The French study, which by the way was carried out by researchers at the INRA institute, confirms the importance of the fatty acid composition of the diet for muscle mass. In the study elderly rats, two years old, were given for a period of 16 weeks either ordinary feed [OC], feed containing extra olive oil [HFO] or feed containing extra palmitate [HFP]. Palmitate is a saturated fatty acid. It's found in palm oil, a substance we are overloaded with these days by the food industry.

During the 16 weeks the HFO and the HFP rats became fatter. Their muscle mass did not increase, but the researchers did see extremely interesting things happening in the rats' muscles.

If the researchers stimulated the rat's muscle cells with a high concentration of insulin or amino acids, the muscle protein synthesis increased noticeably more in the olive oil group than in the muscle cells of the palmitate group. The anabolic signal molecule mTOR became much more active in the muscle cells of the HFO animals.

Animal study: olive oil is good for (old) muscles

Animal study: olive oil is good for (old) muscles

Animal study: olive oil is good for (old) muscles

The mechanisms through which fatty acids are burned were working at a higher rate in the muscle cells of the HFO group, as the figure above shows. The researchers found three times less fat stored in the muscles of these rats than in the HFP rats.

Olive oil reduced the synthesis of inflammatory factors such as Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha and interleukin 1-beta in the fat and blood. These inflammatory factors ensure that cells become less sensitive to insulin.

The rats did not train and did not eat a high-protein diet. You wonder what would have happened if that had been the case.

Clin Nutr. 2011 Dec;30(6):799-806.

Your body burns unsaturated fat better after exercise 11.11.2010
Why you stay slimmer more easily with olive oil than with saturated fats 31.10.2010