Whey protein and fish oil favorably impact muscle

Whey protein has many health-promoting effects—most notably its ability to augment muscle protein synthesis. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have also been shown in a large number of studies to promote health, and especially to reduce risk factors for heart disease. In addition to the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil, there has been a line of research suggesting that it may contribute to an anabolic effect in muscle. Until recently, the two have never been studied in combination.

To test the interaction of fish oil and whey protein, researchers had a group of healthy men supplement with either 5 grams of fish oil or a control fat source (coconut oil) for 8 weeks. At the end of this period, they ingested 30 grams of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise in order to determine the anabolic response in muscle.

At rest, ingestion of whey protein resulted in a marked increase in the rate of muscle protein synthesis in both the fish oil group (2.8-fold) and the coconut oil group (2.3-fold). After exercise, ingestion of whey protein resulted in an even greater increase in the rate of muscle protein synthesis in both the fish oil (3.6-fold) and coconut oil (3.2-fold) groups. Although the increase was numerically greater in fish oil, it was not statistically different than coconut oil. The fish oil group did show a dramatic doubling of omega-3 fatty acids in skeletal muscle after the 8 weeks.

Previous research has clearly linked increased levels of highly unsaturated fatty acids in muscle membranes with improved health, especially insulin sensitivity. This research confirms that whey protein is a potent anabolic stimulus, and that fish oil supplementation improves the fatty acid profile of skeletal muscle without compromising this anabolic effect. Regular use of whey protein and omega-3 fatty acids are two evidence-based nutritional strategies to improve muscle status and overall health.

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