Flax Oil vs Fish Oil
Fish oil wins, unless you use organic flax oil that has algae-derived DHA (details at the bottom).
Flax oil (from flaxseed) and other vegetarian foods, including broccoli and walnuts, are rich in an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). This is beneficial for vegetarian bodybuilders because ACA helps muscle growth.
ALA is naturally produced in the body, and helps us collect energy and nutrients from the food we eat.
Some experts say as long as you’re healthy, the body can produce all the ACA it needs. Others say we need to get a certain amount from our diet. In any case, it’s recommended that you get your nutrients from whole foods, not supplements, whenever possible. Spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, potatoes, walnuts, hemp, and chia seeds are good whole food vegetarian sources of ACA, as well as canola and soybean oil.
Fish oil has ACA, but it also has omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which offer valuable cardiovascular benefits.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for optimal health. We need them for numerous normal body functions, such as building cell membranes in the brain. Omega-3s are also associated with many health benefits, like protection against heart disease. New studies are identifying more potential uses for a wide range of conditions, including cancer.
The decline of nutrition in our diet over the past century has created a noticeable DHA deficiency in many people. Numerous studies show that this is at least in part to blame for the rising incidence of inflammation, heart disease, psychological disorders (e.g. depression), and poor neurodevelopment.
From Examine.com’s, “Can I eat flax seeds instead of fish or fish oil for omega 3s?“:
Omega 3 fatty acids in flax seed (as well as in Hemp Protein) are found in the form of Alpha-Linoleic Acid (ALA). Not only is ALA not sufficient to supplement on its own, but ALA has to be converted by the body into a usable form, and the ratio of conversion from unusable form to usable is rather poor, somewhere in the range of 5-15%. Omega 3 supplements in the form of EPA and DHA are what the body tends to use for many of the benefits associated with Fish Oil.
For vegetarians and vegans, supplementing with DHA from algae can “markedly [enhance] the DHA status (of serum and platelets)” and “[provide] for the formation of substantial EPA”. Supplementation of ALA and/or GLA is not enough.
Fish Oil vs Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Fermented cod liver oil wins.
With fermented cod liver oil, you get all the benefits of fish oil, except with a higher concentration of nutrients, and they’re more absorbable to the body.
Most manufacturers of fish oil and cod liver oil supplements use a high heat process to extract the oils, being the cheapest and fastest method.
The problem is, this process diminishes and/or destroys valuable nutrients, including vitamin A and D, and denatures the omega-3s. To counteract this, the manufacturers usually then fortify the fish oil supplement with synthetic vitamins. These vitamins are suboptimal and substantially less bio-available.
To be fair, if the fish oil is fresh, it tends to keep most of its potency.
Fermenting the cod livers avoids this entirely by allowing the fat-soluble vitamins and oils to separate from the rest of the liver in a cool temperature process. This preserves the natural nutrient content, as well as making the nutrients more bio-available to our bodies.
If you’re a pescetarian or flexitarian and want a high quality product, I recommend Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil. It was developed by Dr. Weston A. Price, who traveled the world studying the health of different cultures. He identified cod liver and high vitamin butter oil act as catalysts to help the body absorb and utilize minerals. Such substances were available in the diets of the healthiest societies he studied.
Take Away Message
Flax oil, fish oil, and fermented cod liver oil all contain APA, which aids in muscle growth.
All three are beneficial for bodybuilders, but vegetarian bodybuilders don’t eat fish products and have to opt for flax oil.
High-quality fermented cod liver or flax oil* with algae-derived DHA are the most beneficial options.
*Organic flax oil that has algae-derived DHA (we recommend this).
In general, I don’t advocate supplements, however in this case, I recommend that vegetarian bodybuilders take flax oil with DHA. Other important points to consider:
- Although there are opposing claims, it’s fair to say that the average person’s body can’t produce sufficient amounts of ACA. Certainly someone actively pursuing fitness will have more nutritional needs, and should consider supplementation.
- EPA and DHA are by far the most beneficial of the omega-3s. Get at least one gram of EPA and DHA each day, but not much more than 6-7 grams.
- In terms of diet, EPA and DHA are primarily available in fish and algae. ALA is available in plant-based sources, such as flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp.
- The conversion of plant sources of ALA, such as flax oil, to DHA is poor in healthy people and even worse in vegans and vegetarians, who are especially prone to be poor converters.
- Fish oil is more vulnerable to chemical oxidation, and it can be harmful if not manufactured with high standards. Spend the extra cash and get high-quality, it’s worth it.
The Bottom Line for Vegetarian Bodybuilders: Buy organic flax oil that has algae-derived DHA (we recommend this).