Two Questions, Two Supplements

I get asked two questions a lot:

  1. If you could only take two supplements, what would they be?
  2. What core supplements should I put my spouse / parent / child / grandparent on?

My answers are the same for each question: a protein shake and a functional fatty acid supplement such as fish oil capsules.

My 60+ year old mother gets a protein shake because she's notorious for skipping breakfasts. My 7 year old daughter gets a small shake instead of an after-school cookie. My training partner gets three shakes a day because, well, his regular diet has about as much protein in it as Paris Hilton's atrophied excuse for a be-hind. So everyone I know gets a protein shake.

And fatty acids? Man, where do I even begin? Functional fatty acids (FFA) are even more important that protein powders, because while it is feasible to get adequate protein through diet alone, it's nearly impossible to conveniently get enough fatty acids through solid foods. Even the most anti-supplement dieticians I know pop a few fish oil capsules every day.

I started researching omega-3s and other fatty acids years ago, and it seems like every time I crack open a fresh batch of studies, more benefits are being discovered:

  • Want to practically beam with health and vitality? You need to supplement with fatty acids.
  • Want to live a long life and have a lot of life in those years? You need to supplement with fatty acids.
  • Want to be lean and muscular? You need to supplement with fatty acids.
  • Want to stay mentally sharp and perhaps even psychologically healthy? You need to supplement with... yeah, you guessed it.

We think functional fatty acids are so important, TC and I even feed them to our dogs. Yep, we feed this stuff to our hounds, yet some of you people reading this site right now, for some unfathomably reason, either don't use them or don't use them regularly!

What are ya, nuts?

There are actually people out there right now spending money on other health products before taking care of the foundational supplements like functional fatty acids. They're putting premium unleaded in a car with no tires!

With mountains of benefits, the low cost of usage, and reams of studies backing them up, why aren't fatty acids a part of every living human being's daily nutrition plan? I have two theories:

  1. While enormously beneficial, fatty acids just aren't sexy. There are no pro-bodybuilders or high levels athletes posing in magazines and claiming that functional oils got them to the top of their sport. And while functional fatty acids can improve your health perhaps more than any other nutritional supplement, you aren't going to gain 20 pounds of muscle in two weeks or lose 10 pounds of fat in five days using them.
  2. Most of the information about functional fatty acids out there – even some of it on this site – is about as exciting to read as the directions on a tube of Preparation H. There's so much science out there supporting the daily use of fatty acids that it's easy to get bogged down in it.

So I have two goals with this article: First, I want to give you a hard-on for FFA. Second, I want to cut through the deep science and just show you the cool benefits and potential benefits of these amazing substances.

So let's get to it!

Might as well start with the lookin'-good-nekid stuff! Long story short: fish oils (a prime source of the omega-3s known as DHA and EPA) and some other fatty acids can improve body composition!

Through several mechanisms of action, FFA can help you reduce excess body fat, particularly in the abdominal region. Heck yeah!

FFA are not only good for fat loss phases, they may even help you during a mass phase by reducing fat accumulation via the "deactivation" of some fat-forming enzymes. CLA, another fatty acid, has also been shown to prevent body fat accumulation (if you use enough of the correct isomers, which unfortunately didn't happen with early CLA supplements).

One study done by the Nutritional Physiology Research Group in Australia showed that omega-3 enriched fish oil combined with exercise provides significantly greater fat loss benefits than exercise or fish oil alone. And this study was performed on real live fat people, not chubby rats.

Basically, the omega-3 fatty acids switched on the oxidizing or fat burning enzymes. But here's the catch: they needed a driver – exercise. Combine fish oil supplementation with training and you get more fat loss than training alone. And where did most of this fat loss come from in the studies? The abdominal region! This is about as close as you can get to non-surgical spot reduction.

Next, omega-3s can increase insulin sensitivity, which leads to less fat storage and more fat release. Omega-3s also increase the heat of your cellular "furnaces," making these little organelles burn up more energy. Not only that, omega-3s allow the body to burn fat at times when fat burning is normally inhibited, like after a carby meal.

Okay, excited yet? Personally, my nipples are hard.

Here's another: Inflammation, besides potentially killing your sorry ass, can also screw up how your body handles carbs. Since fatty acids can reduce inflammation, you may be able to achieve a lean state easier through this mechanism. Omega-3s may also decrease hunger and boost your metabolic rate because they increase the amount of leptin produced by your body.

I'd use FFA daily just for the above benefits, but we're just gettin' started!

In human studies of CLA, participants gained some muscle along with losing some fat. Researchers theorize that some type of "nutrient partitioning" effect occurred. In other words, calories that might originally be stored as fat were being partitioned into muscle with the help of CLA. Pretty cool.

Other possible muscle gain related effects of fatty acids are what might be called "roundabout benefits." For example, if you're getting too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 (read 99% of the Western world), then this can be very pro-inflammatory. For the weight trainer and athlete, that could mean more instances of tendonitis and bursitis, longer bouts of muscle soreness, and further aggravation to existing injuries, all of which make it a little difficult to train hard, huh?

Fatty acids should help lengthen athletic career longevity, enhance recovery, and even help improve blood flow. At the very least, most people who supplement with functional fatty acids report that their joints start feeling a whole lot better, which is one of the benefits offered my some steroids.

Put all that together and you create an environment supportive of hard training and subsequent muscle gain!

You know what really gets in the way of building a muscular, lean body? This guy:


It's funny, but tell someone that the latest Miracle Muscle Magic Fuel 6000 might help him build muscle a little faster and he'll be all over it like a fat kid on pie. Tell him that another supplement has been shown over and over again to have benefits that will lead to a longer, healthier life... and he'll yawn. Yawn like he's watching the Winter Olympics.

I understand. Back in my 20's I was nine feet tall and bulletproof. Now that I'm in my 30's I realize that I'm merely seven feet tall and mildly flame retardant. So I'm starting to pay attention to this health stuff. You should too.

Again, I don't know where to begin. The health benefits of functional fatty acids are abundant, overwhelming even. So let's start with the big stuff: heart disease and cancer. These population thinners, in one form or another, wipe out about 50% of us. Take those odds to Vegas.

One of the biggest causes of the number one killer – diseases of the heart – is inflammation. Yep, that same ol' bugaboo that can screw up your training and recovery. Get a whole bunch of omega-3s in your diet and what can you reduce and control? You guessed it – inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids make the blood less likely to form clots that cause heart attacks. They can also protect against irregular heartbeats that cause sudden cardiac death. Omega-3s can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease through these mechanisms too: decreased triglyceride levels, decreased growth of atherosclerotic plaque, improved arterial health, and lower blood pressure.

What about the Grim Reaper's other favorite henchman, cancer? Well, omega-3s might be able to zap existing cancer cells by starving them of linoleic acid. They can also upregulate the genetic material necessary for the destruction of cancer cells andblock adhesion of cancer cells to other healthy cells.

CLA may also be important here. In animal studies, CLA seemed to literally erase certain types of tumors. In human studies, subjects using CLA showed a marked decrease in triglyceride levels and a significant drop in fasting blood sugar levels. CLA may also bind to receptors the same way as some anti-diabetes drugs. It's even been shown to reduce arterial plaques by 30 percent.

I could go on, but I'm sure this "silly" stuff about a trivial topic like life extension is boring you, so let's move on.

Attention span waning? Maybe you need to take some fish oil for that! Let's go straight to the bullet points:

  • Some recent research has shown that taking a daily fatty acid supplement may boost the effectiveness (or even replace) antidepressants in some people. Depressed people who added omega-3s to their treatment showed less anxiety, fewer sleeping problems, less overall sadness, and fewer sexual problems.
  • Even for non-depressed people, FFA may offer mood elevating properties.
  • Other research has shown that a daily dose of FFA can dramatically improve the behavior of unruly children and help develop their concentration and language skills.
  • FFA have been shown to reduce tension and stress in adults.
  • The "mood stabilizing" effects have such potential that omega-3s have been used in the treatment of bipolar disorder.
  • After seeing some hopeful results, researchers are now studying how FFA can be used in the treatment of postpartum depression and in the recovery process of meth addicts.
  • FFA may help improve memory.
  • FFA may also help in the treatment of Alzheimer's, ADHD, and autism.
  • Researchers in Scotland have found that people who take FFA score 13% higher on IQ tests. Just think, members of Congress might even hit the triple digits if they took fish oil!
  • Since asthma, like heart disease, is also a disease characterized by inflammation, functional fatty acids could help.
  • FFA help improve digestion and elimination.
  • FFA may help increase sex drive.
  • FFA can help in the treatment of dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain).
  • Omega-3s in fish oil protect the eye from two serious eye diseases: age-related macular degeneration and dry-eye syndrome.
  • FFA have been shown to prevent heart damage caused by smog.
  • FFA may help boost the immune system.
  • FFA supplements were found to protect the skin from harmful UV rays and reduce sunburn.
  • FFA have been shown to do the dishes without complaining, save you a bunch of money on your car insurance, and swallow.
  • Yeah, I made that last one up. Duh.
  • The anti-inflammatory effects of FFA may provide some relief for asthmatics who suffer from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB).
  • One study showed that a daily supplement of FFA makes arthritis medicine unnecessary for many patients.

I could go on and on in this category, but I think you get the idea: this is powerful stuff and the potential benefits are enormous.

So you want to get more functional fatty acids into your body now, huh? Good. Here's what to do:

Diet: To boost your intake of fatty acids, eat more walnuts, spinach, flax seeds, and omega-3 enriched eggs. Seaweed is a good source too, but, um...yeah.

What about the obvious source – cold-water fish? Well, to reap the benefits of fish oils, you'd have to eat quite a lot of fish every day. You'd make Flipper envious. And given the mercury toxicity issues involved, that might be a little risky. I wouldn't worry about eating tuna or salmon a couple of times per week, but several times per day? Not gonna happen.

Supplements: To really benefit from functional fatty acids, you're going to need to supplement with them. No surprise here, but I recommend Flameout®.

Bullet-pointed, short attention span, cool stuff:

  • Flameout® is highly concentrated. You only need about four capsules instead of ten or more as with a lot of fatty acid supplements. With 2200mg of DHA and 880mg of EPA, Flameout™ contains about 8 times the DHA and about 2.5 times the EPA content of most plain fish oil supplements. (Remember, every other fatty acid product we're aware of has much more EPA than DHA, and that's bad news for men because men need more DHA in their diets. While women can reap enormous benefits from Flameout™, it was designed for men.)
  • Flameout® also contains the proper, potent isomers of CLA: 212 mg. of CLA trans-10, cis-12 and 180 mg. of CLA cis-9, trans-11.
  • Flameout® is clean, pure, and pharmaceutical grade. In fact, you'd need a prescription to get this kind of stuff in some parts of the world.
  • You can pick some up right HERE.

There are some supplements out there that might help you stay healthy and reach your physique and performance goals. The supplement industry makes billions off these products, even the ones with sparse scientific evidence backing them up!

To me, concentrated fatty acid blends like Flameout™ represent a whole new category of supplementation: the lifelong staple. Yes, even more foundational than a multivitamin and protein powder.

Make functional fatty acids your core supplement choice!

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram