If losing body fat is your goal, it is important to realize that you don’t actually lose body fat or build muscle at the gym.
Weight training and cardiovascular training are just stimuli for change. Without the proper nutrition and recovery, changing your physique will be next to impossible.
In fact, one thing we continually remind our clients is this: You can’t out-train a bad diet.
It takes some approximately 30 minutes of cardiovascular work to burn 300 kcal. However, it only takes 20 seconds to consume a 300 kcal donut.
So unless you have 4-6 hours a day to devote to training, you are going to need to target your diet if you hope to build a killer physique.
Unfortunately, not all calories are created equally.
Eating a 2000 kcal diet consisting of cakes, cookies, breads and sugary drinks will produce a vastly different physique than a 2000 kcal diet consisting of lean proteins, vegetables, healthy fats and natural water.
Given how variable nutrient-gene interactions can be, it’s no wonder everyone is so confused when it comes to trying to lose fat.
But what if I told you there is a simple dietary habit that can transform whatever exercise you are currently doing into a much more effective one for losing body fat… got your attention yet?
For quite some time now, a number of trainers have been recommending fish oil for body composition. However, despite numerous coaches claiming impressive results using fish oil with their athletes and clients, research support for fish oil as a fat-loss tool has been lacking (in humans anyway, fish oil is some kind of wonder drug for rats).
Although it’s pretty well established that fish oil is be beneficial for cardiovascular health, brain function and inflammation control, it wasn’t until relatively recently that we’ve started to collect studies showing that fish oil can assist with body fat losses in humans.
A few years ago, a study out of Australia by Alison Hill and colleagues demonstrated just how effective fish oil can be.
Hill et al. investigated the effects of high dose fish oil consumption on blood lipids and body composition, in a group of overweight volunteers. The researchers placed their subjects into one of four treatment groups.
- A group receiving 6 g/day of safflower (a predominantly omega-6 fat)
- A group receiving 6/day of a tuna oil (a predominant omega-3 fat, including 1500 mg DHA)
- A group receiving the safflower oil + three 45 minutes exercise sessions per week
- A group receiving the fish oil + three 45 minute exercise sessions per week
These groups were studied for 12 weeks, which is a pretty standard length of time for an exercise and diet intervention. None of the participants received specific diet counseling other than regular check ups to ensure they were consuming their fish oil.
Additionally, the researchers tracked diet logs at regular intervals to make sure that all groups consumed a similar diet throughout the entire study period. So in terms of trying to control outside variables, the researchers did a pretty good job overall.
Somewhat surprisingly, the researchers selected a pretty poor exercise intervention from a fat-loss perspective. Subjects were only required to walk for 45 minutes, 3x/week at a low to moderate exercise intensity (75% of their theoretical maximum heart rate).
I’d argue this is pretty much the bare minimum you can do and still call it exercise, but that’s what they used in the study so we have to go with it.
And when the study was over, the researchers found that both fish oil groups experienced significant improvements in cardiovascular measures (i.e. improved blood lipid profiles and arterial compliance). Obviously these outcomes are tremendous and suggests that fish oil helps reduce your risk for a heart attack.
But that is old news.
What was really exciting about their findings was what happened with fat loss. Take a look at their results:
Hill et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 85:1267–74.
From these results we can draw several important conclusions:
- Fish oil, even a lame exercise intervention, can enhance fat loss
- However, taking fish oil alone (without regular exercise) does not magically burn fat
- A diet high in omega-6 fats impedes fat loss
- Exercise helps minimize the harmful effects of high dose omega-6 fat consumption
So based on this study (and others that have come out since then), it’s appears the combined effects of diet and exercise produce significantly better results than either approach alone.
Even though total fat loss was only 4 lbs in the fish oil + exercise group, remember this study didn’t entail any specific calorie reduction and consisted of a terrible exercise program. In light of those considerations, a 4 lbs loss of body fat is actually pretty impressive. One could reasonably conclude that even better results would be obtained by optimizing both your diet and exercise program.
My theory for why Hill and colleagues were able to show such an impressive fat loss result where other people have not is due to their use of a very concentrated dose of fish oil.
The dose of fish oil they used provided almost 2 grams of combined eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per day, with the DHA concentration contributing over 1500 mg!
Conversely, most fish oil studies use a relatively modest dose of 1-2 capsules per day. Given that most commercial fish oil capsules contain 180 mg of EHA and 120 mg of DHA, I believe the dose commonly studied is likely too low to assist with fat loss.
At present, it’s unclear whether EPA or DHA play a greater role in assisting with fat loss. Based on this study, however, it does appears as though DHA might be the key ingredient. So if we tried to get a 1500 mg dose of DHA from conventional fish oil capsules, we’d need to take 13 pills to provide the optimal fat loss dose, which is quite the number of pills!
Needless to say, not everyone seeking extra fat loss is going to be over-joyed with the prospect of ingesting 13 giant pills a day.
If popping pills isn’t your idea of a good time, you might benefit more from opting to grab a more concentrated liquid fish oil supplement. There are plenty on the market, but here are two you might consider grabbing as they provide a higher dose of DHA than most:
Now before anyone decides to start protesting that taking 13 fish oil pills a day is dangerous, consider that a 3-oz piece of salmon provides almost 600 mg of EPA and 1200 mg of DHA. There are countless populations around that world that consume fatty fish on a daily basis with no apparent ill-effects to health. In fact, regular fish eaters tend to be a lot healthier than your typical North American.
NB. If you are on blood thinning medication or have a blot clotting disorder, check with your physician before taking high dose fish oil.
So if building a bullet-proof heart and a slender physique seems like a good idea to you, starting making fish or a concentrated fish oil supplement part of your daily routine.
The only thing you have to lose are those few extra pounds around your midsection.