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Essential Fatty Acids Benefits

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Bodybuilding and Fitness Newsletter 6/12/2019

How Essential Fatty Acids Can Help You

If you’re like most people, you want to build bigger, stronger or at least very toned muscles while also keeping fat gains to a minimum. To do that, you know you need to train hard and eat lots of protein, and you probably avoid eating a lot of fat. But did you know that some fats are essential for maintaining your health and gaining lean mass?

While it may seem counterintuitive to eat FAT for health and muscle, the truth is that you will never be your best if you don’t have your fat-eating game plan laid out correctly.

Here is what you need to know.

What Are Essential Fatty Acids?

Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fats that your body requires for survival, but which it cannot manufacture from other substances. Technically, there are just two EFAs: linoleic acid (LA) and α-linolenic acid (ALA).

Both of these are polyunsaturated fats, which means that they have “room” for two or more additional hydrogen atoms in their chemical structure. The polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, unlike the saturated trans, solid fats which can pose health problems.

Of the two EFAs, linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid, while α-linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid, designations which further specify their chemical structure but which also help determine their effects in the body (see below).

While LA and ALA are the only truly essential fats, there are others that many experts consider to be best obtained through your diet. Among those are the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, which CAN be manufactured in the body but are deficiencies for many Americans.

What Can Essential Fatty Acids Do for You?

Before even considering the bodybuilding benefits of EFAs, it’s important to know that they are absolutely vital for proper function of your energy systems and nerve impulses, and they play a direct role in how you handle physiological stress.

In particular, omega-3s have powerful anti-inflammatory effects that can help you ward off illness and disease, keep your joints healthy, and aid you in recovering from exercise more quickly.

As you can imagine, anything that improves your recovery has the potential to bump up your muscle gains, too, but the EFAs do more than that for bodybuilers.

For example, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found in a 2011 study that supplemental omega-3 polyunsaturated fats — ALA — improved the anabolic response to amino acids and insulin in healthy men and women, both young and old. Another, related study found similar results when older trainees took omega-3s, but no anabolic response when using corn oil as a placebo.

Beyond the lab, bodybuilding experts have observed increases in lean mass, decreases in fat mass, and reduced inflammation when working with trainees who use supplemental EFAs.

Get ‘Em Right

There is little doubt, then, that certain fats can improve both your health and muscle gains, but you can’t just start eating lard and think you’re doing something good for your body.

As mentioned above, saturated fats are generally not your best dietary friends, though small amounts can help you maintain hormone levels without sacrificing your health. You definitely want to avoid trans fats, though, which are man-made and have been implicated in a whole host of health problems.

When it comes to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, most Americans fall heavily toward the omega-6 end of the intake spectrum thanks to the use of various vegetable oils in so many products. This is not ideal since your body uses the same enzymes to convert omega-3s and omega-6s into usable fats. The more enzymes used for omega-6s, the less available for omega-3s, which are anti-inflammatory. The result is a body chemistry that leaves you ripe for inflammation and, eventually, illness or injury.

What all this means is that you should aim for a roughly equal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon, halibut, and oysters, as well as fish oil supplements and even flaxseed. Your omega-6 intake should come from whole plant sources like olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

Whether you’re taking in 10% of your calories from fat or 50%, you need to get your fill of these healthy acids, but you should talk to your doctor to make sure your plan will get you to the right level and won’t cause you any health problems. Muscle gains await if you eat your fat the right way.

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