However, what is often overlooked when recovery is discussed is the beneficial effect certain fats can have. Muscle recovery is dependant upon more than just protein synthesis and cellular repair. Indeed, recovery is also contingent upon hormonal restoration, oxygen regulation, immune system integrity, prostaglandin production and cardiovascular health.
In fact optimal recover will not occur if any of these processes fall short. Certain fats can beneficially assist each of these processes, and resultantly provide the environment for optimal muscular recovery.
Of course saturated and trans-fats (fats derived from animals and fats that have been chemically altered respectively) are to be avoided due to their deleterious effect on health and recovery. What the body needs are beneficial fats, called essential fatty acids (EFAs for short).
These are like the name suggests, essential, and particularly so for muscle recovery. The term essential fatty acids refers to two kinds of fatty acids that the body cannot manufacture on its own and must get from the diet. "Fatty acid" refers to the composition of the fatty acid molecule, which is a water-insoluble chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms, attached to an acid group, which is also composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms.
The two essential fatty acids are the Omega-3 (called alpha-linolenic acid), the most desired form for bodybuilders due to their tissue and joint re-building properties, and Omega-6 type (Called linoliec acid). Flaxseed oil, walnut oil and fish contain omega-3 while omega-6 are found in corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil.
Omega-3 and 6 are termed unsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids are used for many of the bodies metabolic and hormonal functions and they will not be stored until they have been used for these functions.
Saturated fats on the other hand are stored and used for energy. Saturated fats come from animals and are to be avoided. The worst type of fat from a bodybuilders point of view are trans-fats as they are nutritionally inert and have been shown to significantly raise low density lipoprotein levels thereby increasing the risk of heart disease.
Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil (hydrogenation). This increases the shelf life and stability of foods like margarine. Good advice for one wanting to promote muscle gain, would be to stay away from these, and indeed the aforementioned saturated fats. Instead, concentrate on EFAs, particularly omega-3.
Functions Of EFAs:
EFAs form structural components of membranes and, as such, keep foreign molecules, viruses, yeasts, fungi, and bacteria outside of cells and the cellâ€™s proteins, genetic material, enzymes and organelles (small organs), inside.
They also help regulate the traffic of substances in and out of our cells via protein channels, pumps, and other mechanisms. EFAs perform similar functions in membranes that surround organelles within our cells.
The following are some of the more important functions of EFAs:
- Regulate oxygen use, electron transport, and energy production-our cellsâ€™ most important moment-to-moment processes: oxygen is important for many of our bodies functions. The carrying of nutrients around the body and the metabolizing of foods are two of importance for bodybuilders.
- Assist electric charges that produce the bio-electric currents important for nerve, muscle, and cell membrane functions, and the transmission of messages along neural pathways: Muscular coordination and the firing of as many muscle fibres as possible (during a set) are important in the gym as is muscle relaxation out of the gym.
- Help form red blood pigment (haemoglobin) from simpler substances: Haemoglobin ensures that oxygen is carried around the body. Sufficient haemoglobin levels are important for bodybuilders as this will ensure that oxygen and nutrients reach the muscles, where they are needed. Also, waste products (including carbon dioxide and lactic acid), will be removed with greater efficiency if haemoglobin levels are sufficient.
- Keep juice-producing (exocrine) and hormone-producing (endocrine) glands active: Exocrine glands secrete chemicals into a duct which carries the chemical to the target tissue or organ (Gall bladder and sweat glands are two). The manufacturing of bile in the gall bladder is important as bile breaks down cholesterol, which is then taken to the liver for removal. Sweat gland function assists the expulsion of toxins from the body and ensures that the body does not overheat during training.
Endocrine glands secrete hormones into extra-cellular space which then diffuse into the bloodstream (ductless glands: pancreas, thyroid, pituitary and gonads are the main ones). The pancreas assists blood sugar stability. The thyroid helps to govern protein synthesis, fat metabolism, carbohydrate metabolism, heart rate and ventilation rate and the actions of the nervous system. The pituitary gland controls many of the bodies hormonal processes and the gonads store and disperse testosterone.
- Help keep joints strong and lubricated: Together with calcium, Vitamin C, D, K, and boron, EFAs improve mineralization of the bones.
- Are precursors of prostaglandins (PGs): PGs are three families of short lived, hormone-like substances that regulate blood pressure, platelet stickiness, and kidney function. A delicate balance between PGs with opposing functions, in part determined by omega-6 and omega-3 intake, determines the health of our cardiovascular system. A healthy cardiovascular system clearly is of importance to bodybuilders.
- Help transport cholesterol.
Help generate electrical currents that make our heart beat in an orderly sequence.
- Enhance peroxide production thus helping to build the immune system: EFAs make hormone-like eicosanoids. These regulate immune and inflammatory responses. Omega-3s can slow auto-immune damage due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Protect genetic material. Omega-3 has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and EFAs regulate gene expression.
- Improve digestion. Poorly digested foods tie up the immune system and can cause gut inflammation, leaky gut, and allergies. EFAs improve gut integrity, and decrease
EFAs & Eicosanoids
Following an intense training session the muscles require the formation of eicosanoids (hormone like autacoids; auto=self, akos=healing) before the healing process can commence.
Ecosanoids, hormone like substances, are derived only from essential fatty acids (arachidonic acid in omega 3) in foods or supplements. There are many different types of ecosanoids, prostaglandins being the most common.
Sources Of EFAs
While EFAs are like vitamins in their essentiality, they differ in other respects. They are required every day in amounts many times larger than vitamins (grams as opposed to milligrams). Further, EFAs deteriorate rapidly when exposed to light, air and heat so should be stored away from these elements. Given that EFAs need to be taken in larger doses, a supplemental form is ideal. The best EFA sources are:
Fish (ideally cold water fish: salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout) provides the best source of omega-3. Omega-3, as mentioned, is the most important for bodybuilders as it counters muscular inflammation, thereby promoting recovery, and also helps with fat loss. Also omega 3 provides eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
These acids are responsible for the beneficial effects of omega 3 but sometimes are not produced in sufficient amounts due to a lack of alpha-linolenic acid in the diet (EPA and DHA are made from alpha-linolenic acid). If this is the case, fish can supply exogenous EPA and DHA. Often it is impractical to eat large amounts of fish. In this case, fish oils in supplement form will provide a concentrated dose of omega 3 with high bioavailability.
Evening primrose oil (EPO) will provide omega 6. EPO is converted into Gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is then turned into diho-mogamma-linoleum acid which is turned into arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid manufactures prostaglandins (prostaglandins explained above).
Flax seed oil provides a concentrated dose of omega-3. Flax seed oil also provides a number of vitamins and minerals in addition to protein.
Essential fatty acids, as shown, are indeed essential for many of our bodies processes and they should not be overlooked as an important part of ones recovery plan.
The many functions of EFAs directly impact the bodies ability to recover as the body will only reach an optimal level of recovery if all of the building blocks are in place- meaning that cardiovascular, hormonal, immune, and muscle function are contingent, to a large degree, upon EFA status. Whether in food or supplemental form EFAs should be included in ones training regime if results are desired.