The Healthiest Performance-Enhancing Substance

Fatty Acids for Muscle, Strength, and Endurance

A legal ergogenic aid that’s actually healthy? Yes. You may even be using it already, but probably not enough. Here’s the science.

You already know that fish oil improves your health, shoring up your cardiovascular system, decreasing systemic inflammation, and increasing insulin sensitivity.

You might also know about studies showing how taking fish oil, or more specifically, omega-3 fatty acids, leads to better reproductive health – higher testosterone levels, more robust testicles, and an increase in the quantity and quality of sperm. (3) You might even know omega-3 fatty acids help with cognitive disorders, including depression. (1)

Here’s what you may not know: fish oil is an ergogenic aid for athletes. This is based largely on the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to change the functional capacity of muscle cells.

Modified Cell Membrane Fluidity

Athletes have used omega-3 fatty acids, either knowingly or unknowingly, to inhibit the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) pathway, which is associated with increased inflammation. Most athletes don’t know that these fatty acids, when introduced into cell membranes, also alter cell membrane fluidity, thereby modifying cell function and protein activities.

That means that together, those two mechanisms enhance training adaptations in athletes, including strength, power, endurance, and exercise recovery. Those are the findings of scientists from the University of Stirling who conducted a meta-study on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on sports performance. (5)

Omega 3s, Hypertrophy, and Strength

The main driver of muscle hypertrophy is increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS) brought about by exercise and proper nutrition (adequate protein). Omega-3s further sensitize skeletal muscle to this exercise and protein.

This concept was validated when Smith et al. showed that dietary omega-3s potentiated the response of MPS to amino acid infusion. Although they didn’t see any change in the basal rates of MPS, they observed post-prandial (right after a meal or infusion) increases in MPS, which is when it counts. They also noted an uptick in the activity of mTOR, a major regulator of muscle growth.

Similarly, the same scientists who compiled the meta-analysis found that 4 weeks of 5 grams/day of omega-3s stimulated focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a signaling protein that regulates MPS. They also found that while it takes about 2 weeks to see an increased incorporation of omega-3s into muscle cell membranes, the levels continue to increase after 4 weeks with no ceiling in sight.

Those test-tube analyses are fine, but let’s look at some real-world stuff. First up is a study involving omega-3s and older adults who underwent 6 months of either omega-3 supplementation (3.36 g/day EPA + DHA) or corn oil supplementation (Smith et al., 2015).

The omega-3 groups exhibited increased thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, and 1-RM strength. In contrast, the corn oil group exhibited no changes other than, I assume, weight gain, a damaged cardiovascular system, and additional inflammation.

Another study found that 2 grams of omega-3s a day increased peak torque with 90 and 150 days of supplementation. The omega-3-enhanced group displayed training-induced improvements in neuromuscular function and time delay between the onset of muscle activation and muscle force production in the biceps femoris and the vastus lateralis (the muscles got quicker).

Now, these last two studies were conducted on older people who couldn’t be classified as athletes. Oddly enough, there’s only very limited research on the role of muscle growth in actual athletes, despite the positive results seen in blood chemistry studies and studies using older individuals.

Omega-3s and Endurance Athletes

Omega-3 fatty acids positively affect endurance in several ways:

  1. Rodent studies show omega-3 fatty acids increase the expression of PGC-1 alpha, a key regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis. That means that fish oil leads to more mitochondria, and more mitochondria equates to increased ATP synthesis. That’s good because ATP is the energy currency of the cell.
  2. While human studies on omega-3s and mitochondrial biogenesis are still scarce, one study on obese individuals showed that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation stimulated the formation of more mitochondria (Laiflesia et al., 2016).
  3. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle, leading to increased carbohydrate oxidation, which reduces the amount of oxygen used to meet the demands of ATP production, thus leading to increased exercise capacity (Cole, et al., 2014).
  4. Eight weeks of omega-3 supplementation in cyclists led to reduced oxygen cost during a cycling time trial, as compared with placebo (Hingley, et al., 2017).
  5. Five weeks of omega-3 supplementation in Australian-rules football players led to significantly lowered heart rate during steady-state submaximal exercise (Buckley, et al., 2009).

Omega-3s and Exercise Recovery

As every lifter knows, repeated eccentric muscle contractions cause damage to muscle fibers, and muscle damage sure as heck impairs subsequent workouts or sports activity. However, because omega-3s increase the structural integrity of the muscle cell membrane and inhibit inflammatory actions, they subsequently improve recovery.

A number of studies have verified this theory. All found that varying dosages of fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids either reduced muscle damage over placebo or reduced muscle soreness over placebo.

Omega-3s and Concussions

Brain injury isn’t usually something that happens to lifters, but it’s a big issue in contact sports.

Studies involving the effect of fish oils on traumatic brain injury (TBI) are problematical with humans, but one study of American football players found that ingesting omega-3 fatty acids for a full season led to decreased concentrations of “serum neurofilament light,” a biomarker of head trauma.

There are, however, several pertinent rat studies. One of the pioneering studies of fish oil and TBI found that afflicted rats that were on a fish oil diet before and after induced injury could navigate a maze much faster than the placebo group. (Wang et al., 2013).

But Does Fish Oil Makes You Bleed Easier?

Surgeons always tell you to stop using fish oil before an upcoming procedure, the concern being that the omega-3s will “thin” your blood and they won’t be able to stop the bleeding. Similarly, athletes in contact sports are sometimes wary of fish oils, believing they’ll exacerbate bruising.

Contrary to all that, though, a systematic review of different populations, including athletes, found that omega-3 supplementation made no difference in bleeding rates. (Begtrup et al., 2017) If their findings hold up to the test of time, that means that fish oils, even though they reduce platelet aggregation, don’t affect bleeding rates after surgery. Similarly, any concerns about additional bruising appear to be unfounded.

The “Problem” With Fish Oil

While there are plenty of studies that show the effectiveness of fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids on sports performance and general health, there are also a number of studies that seem to show that fish oil doesn’t do squat.

Unfortunately, the latter, rather than the former, are the ones featured on local news programs. I contend that when fish oils fail to show positive effects, it’s because they used inadequate doses.

Remember that VITAL study that slammed fish oils and their supposed lack of effects on cardiovascular health? They used a measly 840 mg. a day of EPA and DHA (the two most biologically omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil). That’s only a third or fourth of the amount deemed most effective in preventing heart attack or stroke.

Regular people tend to under-dose themselves, too. They buy a fish oil product and don’t pay attention to anything but the number of capsules recommended on the label. There is, however, a huge range of omega-3 content and recommended dosages in fish oil capsules.

Take, for instance, the amount of DHA and EPA in a typical Costco, Kirkland brand fish oil capsule. A serving size contains a combined 250 mg. of EPA and DHA. Most people read the label and pop just one capsule.

Contrast that with a serving Biotest’s fish oil product, Flameout. Each serving has a combined 3,080 mg. of EPA and DHA.

Additionally, each serving of Flameout contains 352 mg. of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid found in high concentrations in the milk of grass-fed cows and valued for its fat-burning and tumor-suppressing properties.

Flameout also has processing standards that most other products can’t compete with at all:

  • Flameout is purified by molecular distillation and stringently tested for PCBs, dioxins, mercury, and other heavy metal contaminants.
  • Flameout incorporates a self-emulsifying delivery system to make the product virtually odorless and better absorbed so that it doesn’t result in a fishy aftertaste or “fish burps.”

Clearly, dosage matters, as does purity, quality, and a philosophy of intention, which in this case is making a product that gives the biologically active fatty acids it contains the best chance of doing what they’re physiologically capable of doing, whether it be improving health, increasing muscle protein synthesis, facilitating recovery, or improving sports performance.

Flameout undeniably represents all of that.




  1. Burhani MD et al. Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats. J Integr Neurosci. 2017;16(s1):S115-S124. PubMed.
  2. Gertsik L et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Augmentation of Citalopram Treatment for Patients With Major Depressive Disorder. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2012 Feb;32(1):61-4. PubMed.
  3. Jensen TK et al. Associations of Fish Oil Supplement Use With Testicular Function in Young Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Jan 3;3(1):e1919462. PubMed.
  4. Mischoulon D.Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. Harvard Health Blog. Oct 27, 2020.
  5. Philpott JD et al. Applications of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for sport performance. Res Sports Med. Apr-Jun 2019;27(2):219-237. PubMed.

I’ve taken fish oil regularly over the past decade, so I’m a believer. What do you make of recent studies implicating fish oil use in atrial fibrillation?

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Does cod liver oil count?

I believe all the health benefits of fish oil but whenever I take it regularly especially the doses TC recommends, I get nosebleeds. Does anyone else have this problem?

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They, like all studies that concern any ill effects to the heart, are concerning. I keep looking for further research to either confirm or disprove it. In the meantime, I don’t exceed recommended doses and I don’t eat a wheelbarrow of salmon every day.

Sort of. It’s cool because it also contains vitamins A and D, but you’re limited to the meager (comparatively) amounts of omega-3 fatty acids you’d get. Now, if you were comparing regular fish oil from sardines to regular fish oil from cod, I’d probably go with cod, but with Flameout and some other fish oil supplements, you’re getting concentrated omega-3’s; much higher amounts than you’d get from taking a tablespoon of pure cod oil.

Are you taking anything else that “thins” the blood? Keep in mind that a whole lot of supplements do that, so if you take multiple blood thinners at once, you’re prone to coagulation problems.

This is a conundrum. On one hand, this TC article claims that most fish oil supplements are under-dosed, and that studies showing their lack of effectiveness is because the dose is too low. For example, Flameout has ~3 g of the oils per serving, while something like Nordic Naturals has ~1 g.

But, on the other hand, recent high quality studies show that there is a 50% increase in atrium fibrillation when patients exceeded 1 g of fish oil per day. Flameout is 3x this amount. More is not always better, and I’d be interested to know if there are any studies that show taking these much higher amounts of fish oil are beneficial or if they expose individuals to even higher risks of atrium fibrillation.

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As I said, I’m waiting for more research before anything remotely conclusive can be said. However, if you’re wary about it, by all means use less.

I take rosuvastatin and synthroid, as well as Biotest Micellar Curcumin, P-Well and Rez-V

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Here’s a good read. When I worked in a surgical practice, we’d tell our patients to stop all herbals 2 weeks prior to surgery just in case. There’s a paucity of studies on this topic simply because there’s so much shit out there people take. It’s nearly improbable to test all the various supplements and endless combinations. If you notice this effect every time, well…that’s how YOUR body reacts.

Do you drink alcohol regularly?

Hi, thank you for your informative answer, I guess I’m just one of those guys who can’t take
fish oil. Also in answer to your question, I do drink regularly, does that have any bearing on
the discussion point?


Yes, alcohol is an anticoagulant. Way more so than any worries about fish oil, herbals, etc. It’s probably why it’s been associated with a slight reduction (pick your study. Many say null benefits) in cardiovascular disease/heart attacks.

I drank quite a bit in my 20s. Not daily but often enough. Had sinus surgery and was in recovery room an extra hour because I bled more then they anticipated. Whoops.

So, with you, the combination as mentioned in the article, adds up.

To anyone else reading this still, keep in mind the outcome of the trial being quoted. It showed a nearly statistically insignificant increased risk(risk, not direct causation)of incidental atrial fibrillation ONLY in individuals without CVD at baseline (direct quote).

This would seem worse because a lot of people are using fish oil for the potential protective effects. But to reiterate, the increased RISK was nearly insignificant in the end.

I’ll take a 0.6% increased risk as a fair tradeoff for the multitude of studied benefits of fish oil/omega 3’s.


Thank you for the information!