Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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How fish oil can help bodybuilders gain muscle mass

If bodybuilders and other power athletes take a good daily dose of fish fatty acids they are likely to increase their muscle recovery ability. The wily Ergo-log crew came up with this speculation after reading about an animal experiment carried out at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Yesterday we wrote about a French study on humans in which women took three capsules of fish oil daily for three months. This supplement, the researchers discovered, halved the concentration of the protein PAI-1 [see structure of the inactive version here] in the women's blood.

How fish oil can help bodybuilders gain muscle mass
PAI-1 is a protein known mainly for its association with heart attacks. But the muscular obsessives at this web magazine regard PAI-1 as a protein that blocks muscle recovery.

If a daily fish oil supplement is enough to halve your PAI-1 level, wouldn't it also help your muscles to recover more quickly after training? That's not such a stupid question, is it? We don't have the answer, but if you read a 2005 article you’d be inclined to answer with a resounding 'yes'.

In the experiment cardiotoxin was injected into the muscles of mice. Cardiotoxin is a poison that destroys muscle cells. The researchers did their experiment with normal mice (wild type or WT), with genetically modified mice that could not manufacture PAI-1 (PAI-1 -/-) and modified mice that had no urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA -/-).

UPA is an enzyme that prevents the formation of blood clots and breaks down cell structure. If you produce enough of it, it gives protection against thrombosis. PAI-1, full name plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, blocks this enzyme.

The graph below shows how quickly the damaged muscles regained their strength. The muscles of the mice without uPA recover more slowly, the muscles of the mice without PAI-1 recover more quickly.

How fish oil can help bodybuilders gain muscle mass

You also see something similar if you look at the recovery of the muscle tissue. Especially after day 5, it is clear that the mice that lack PAI-1 have started to make more muscle tissue again.

How fish oil can help bodybuilders gain muscle mass

The absence of PAI-1 would seem to open up the way for uPA to do its work, the researchers think. The enzyme makes it possible for white blood cells to move through the damaged muscles to clear up the muscle cells that have been destroyed. At least, there are more macrophages in the muscles of the mice without PAI-1 than in the muscles of the other mice.

How fish oil can help bodybuilders gain muscle mass

Maybe, speculate the researchers, uPA stimulates growth factors in the muscle tissue. We, unhindered by such knowledge, suspect that this stimulatory action has something to do with immune cells. We base our surmise on the real-life stories of bodybuilders who, god only knows how, have managed to get hold of Interleukin-15, and as a result have attained gigantic proportions. Immune cells communicate with their surroundings through interleukins.

If you are a regular reader of science news you'll know that the idea that fish oil promotes muscle growth isn't so strange. It might explain for example why people with cancer retain more muscle tissue if they are given fish oil in addition to protein supplements. [Gut 2003;52:1479-1486.] It could also explain why cattle muscles break down less protein if they also contain large amounts of fish fatty acids. [J Physiol. 2007 Feb 15;579(Pt 1):269-84.]

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2005 Jul;289(1):C217-23.