Complete Guide To Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) For Health & Performance
From the first time that most of us ever picked up a weight we were told that we should eat foods that are high in protein and low in fat. In fact, most of society is under the assumption that they should eat as little fat as possible because it is the only way to stay lean. Fat has kind of gotten a bad reputation in the past but not all fat is bad. There are certain fats that your body requires in order to build muscle, burn fat, and remain healthy. These fats are called Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs for short.
These types of fat are considered essential because they must be obtained through diet and cannot be synthesized within the body. The human body uses these fats for many biological processes and many of these processes are integral to getting the most results from your training and diet. So how do you know which fats you should be getting, what they do, and how much you should be getting? That is simple…. Just keep reading!
What Are The EFA’s?
There are two families of EFAs. These are omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. These fats are considered essential since they cannot be synthesized by the body. Omega 9 fatty acids are necessary but are considered “non essential” because the body can manufacture modest amounts of them provided there are enough EFAs present.
It is important to consume an ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. The ideal ratio is between 4:1 and 3:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 but the average person has an intake somewhere between 10:1 to 25:1. Even serious lifters tend to have a largely skewed ratio of omega fatty acids. This will not only slow down growth, repair, and fat loss immensely, but also lead to a number of health problems.
- Alpha Linolenic Acid (LNA)
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Although all 3 types of omega 3’s are important LNA can be converted to both EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are the omega-3’s your body requires but ingesting LNA will ensure that needs are met.
- Linoleic Acid (LA)
- Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA)
- Dihomogamma Linoleic Acid (DGLA)
- Arachidonic Acid (AA)
Just like LNA can be converted to other omega-3’s, LA can be converted into the other omega-6 fatty acids.
Role Of EFAs In Muscle Growth And Fat Loss
So how do EFAs exactly help with your muscle growth goals? They actually work through a number of different pathways to help build muscle. One way that EFAs lend a hand in the muscle growth process is through their process in the formation of eicosanoids. LNA and LA are metabolized into eicosanoids. Eicosanoids can be further classified into leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and thromboxanes.
Although leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and thromboxanes all serve important processes within the body, prostaglandins are of particular importance to bodybuilders. This is because prostaglandins serve to:
- Elevate growth hormone secretion
- Increase muscle cell protein synthesis
- Increase insulin sensitivity
- Help maintain proper testosterone levels
Each one of these functions will directly lead to enhanced muscle growth for hard training lifters and bodybuilders.
EFAs will not only help in the process of muscle growth though. EFAs will have a profound effect on fat formation and metabolism. LNA, EPA, and DHA have all been shown to increase lipolysis (body fat breakdown) and decrease lipogenesis (body fat formation). This combination of less fat being formed and more fat being utilized for energy will lead to a very beneficial effect on body composition.
These benefits are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full health and bodybuilding effects that EFAs can have. Along with the above EFAs have the following benefits and functions.
- Decrease inflammation
- Strengthen immune system
- Enhance stamina
- Allow more frequent training without over training symptoms
- Speed recovery
- Lower high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Speed healing of injuries
- Improve sleep
- Improve concentration
- Treat arthritis
- Improve skin conditions
- Diffusion of oxygen into the bloodstream
- Improve cardiovascular function
- Enhance absorption of fat soluble vitamins
Obviously, that is a long list. This just serves to prove that the importance EFAs simply cannot be ignored. Having an EFA deficiency will not only lead to a whole whole host of health problems but will severely interfere and short change muscle growth and fat loss.
How Much Do You Need?
To although the official acceptable intake of Omega-3 intake is currently set at 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women. Research suggests that a higher intake can be beneficial. Here are the recommended intakes to promote optimal muscle growth, fat loss, and health.
- Men – 3-3.5 grams per day from all sources
- Women – 2.5-3 grams per day from all sources
- Men – 9-14 grams per day from all sources
- Women – 7.5-12 grams per day from all sources
Best Sources Of EFAs
EFAs can be ingested from food or in supplement form. Either way works well but one thing to keep in mind is that most foods are high in Omega-6 but low in Omega-3. For this reason many find it useful to use a supplement. Here are the best sources of essential fatty acids:
- Fish oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Sesame seeds
- Some dark leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach,mustard greens, collards, etc.)
- Canola oil (cold-pressed and unrefined)
- Whole eggs
- Flaxseed oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Pistachio nuts
- Sunflower seeds (raw)
- Olive oil, olives
- Borage oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Chestnut oil
Choosing An EFA Supplement
EFA supplements are not only useful to make sure daily requirements of essential fatty acids at met but also make it easy to make sure intake of omega-6’s do not become out of proportion with omega-3’s. For this reason it is wise to look for a supplement that contains a 3:1 ratio or higher of omega-3 to omega-6.
Fish oil, flaxseed oil, and EFA blends all make great choices for supplements. They will come in both capsule and oil form. There are pros and cons to both. Capsules are far more convenient than oil and do not have the taste that many people do not like. Oils on the other hand offer the benefit of being a bit more cost effective and can be mixed with things such as protein shakes or oatmeal. The important thing is to find what would work best for your lifestyle and personal preference.
When it comes to muscle growth protein will always be the superstar of the show by gathering all the attention, but now you know that fats play a vital role in the process of muscle growth and fat loss. So while protein works in the spotlight EFAs will go to work behind the scenes.
You work too hard training and following your diet to have all of your efforts thwarted simply because you failed to take in enough healthy fats. So take your fish oils, eat your almonds, and drink your flax oil because this will put you on the path to the body you always wanted.