In recent years, few supplements seem to have gotten more mainstream attention and recommendations than fish oil.
The list of benefits associated with fish oil (or really the omega-3 fatty acids it contains) seem both amazing and damn near endless, while its list of potential side effects seem virtually nonexistent.
For this reason, it feels like every doctor, nutritionist, dietitian, trainer, strength coach and nutrition savvy person on the planet is recommending fish oil supplements these days.
The thing is, when a supplement becomes this popular, questions and confusion usually follow. For example:
- What is it?
- Are the benefits real and scientifically proven?
- Is it really safe? Are there any side effects at all?
- How much fish oil should I take per day?
- How much total omega-3 or EPA & DHA should I take per day?
- How many capsules do I need to reach the optimal daily dosage?
- When and how should I take them?
- What brand is the best?
- Is it a supplement that I should truly be taking?
Well, let’s end all of that confusion right now…
What Is Fish Oil?
If I can exaggerate slightly for a second, it’s probably the closest thing we have to a miracle pill.
It’s pretty much the only supplement that I (and most experts) recommend to everyone… no matter what your goals are (losing fat, building muscle, etc.).
Hell, it doesn’t even matter if you workout, pay attention to your diet, or care about improving the way your body looks or performs in the first place. You should still be taking it. Here’s why…
In the most basic sense, fish oil is just the oil found in fatty types of fish (like salmon, for example).
As I mentioned before, fish/fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are the essential fatty acids that the typical diet is nearly ALWAYS greatly lacking.
You know how there are so called “good fats” and “bad fats?”
Well, the EPA and DHA found in omega-3 are the great fats.
Fish oil supplements just so happen to be the most abundant and convenient source of it.
What Does It Do? What Are The Benefits Of Fish Oil?
The short version? Fish oil improves your body’s ability to do damn near everything!
The long version? I don’t even know where to begin.
Alright, let’s first start with the benefits that help us build muscle, lose fat and basically improve the way our bodies look.
Building Muscle and Losing Fat
In the general sense, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil supplements play a direct or indirect role in pretty much every single one of the processes taking place inside your body when you’re trying to build muscle, lose fat, maintain muscle, recover from workouts, etc..
Will fish oil actually burn fat or build muscle by itself? No. But, it most definitely will play a role in those processes and help improve your body’s ability to make them happen.
For example, two separate studies I’ve seen both reached similar conclusions: people lose more fat when they combine proper diet and exercise WITH a fish oil supplement, as opposed to people who just eat right and exercise correctly WITHOUT fish oil.
Those same omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) have also been shown to promote fat oxidation, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve calorie partitioning.
As I’ve briefly mentioned before, “calorie partitioning” refers to how your body uses (or “partitions”) calories. Meaning…
- When you create a caloric surplus (which is required for building muscle), will those excess calories be used to build muscle (GOOD), or will they just be stored as body fat (BAD)?
- When you create a caloric deficit (which is required for losing fat), will your body burn your stored body fat for energy (GOOD), or will it burn muscle tissue for energy instead (BAD)?
That’s calorie partitioning, and fish oil helps improve it in the right direction (less fat, more muscle).
In addition, fish oil supplements may also increase thermogenesis (meaning you’ll naturally burn more calories per day), have an anti-catabolic effect (meaning it prevents muscle break down), have an anti-lipogenic effect (meaning it reduces fat storage), and serve as an anti-inflammatory.
If you thought those benefits impressed you, hold on. We’re just getting warmed up…
Overall Health and Function
In terms of the overall health and function of the human body, fish oil’s list of benefits is even bigger. Much, MUCH bigger.
Specifically, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been shown to:
- Reduce the risk of heart attack.
- Reduce the risk of stroke.
- Lower blood triglyceride levels.
- Reduce the risk of dangerous abnormal heart rhythms.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Decrease inflammation.
- Reduce joint stiffness.
- Lower cholesterol levels.
- Slow the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques.
- And more…
In addition, fish oil has been shown to help improve or prevent the following:
- Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
- Heart Disease
- And more…
Still want more benefits? Ok.
Fish oil may also help improve and enhance mental clarity, concentration and memory.
Some people report an improved mood and overall sense of well being when taking it.
Better skin and hair is another common effect that’s often heard.
And if you dig deep enough, you’ll find people who will tell you that taking fish oil supplements lessened their back pain, improved their vision, helped their eczema and basically had some degree of impact in fixing or improving countless other similar issues.
Like I’ve said before, no supplement is truly required. However, I’m sure you can clearly see why fish oil is the closest thing there is to a “must have” supplement.
Does It Really Work?
The amount of actual scientific/medical studies done on fish oil is pretty huge, and the majority of its proposed benefits are legit and proven.
And the benefits that might not be 100% proven yet? Most of them still look quite promising.
So yes… more so than nearly all other supplements in existence, fish oil works.
Is It Safe? Are There Any Side Effects?
Fish oil supplements are pretty much as safe as it gets.
Again, you have to realize that it’s just the oil that’s found in fish. It’s not some crazy fat burner/muscle builder type product or anything like that.
Yes, its benefits are impressive, but it’s almost more of a food than it is a supplement. I mean, do you ask what the side effects are before eating some salmon? I didn’t think so.
So, for the average healthy person, it’s virtually 100% safe as long as you’re not exceeding the optimal daily dosage (more on that in a minute).
Really, the only “side effects” I’ve ever heard of is a “fishy aftertaste” or “fishy burps.” But, as long as you are using a high quality brand (more on that later), you won’t ever have this problem.
I will also mention that if you are pregnant, allergic to fish or iodine, or already have any kind of known health issues (or are taking any medications for them), you should obviously check with your doctor first just to be sure.
The funny thing is, even in those cases, your doctor could actually be the one recommending the fish oil in the first place.
For example, most pregnant women are already taking fish oil as recommended by their doctor (it’s extremely beneficial for the brain development of the baby), and many people with (or at risk for) heart disease also have doctor’s orders to take it.
When and How Should It Be Taken?
Fish oil supplements should always be taken with a meal, not on an empty stomach.
If you’re taking more than 1 capsule per day (which you would always be doing in order to reach the optimal fish oil intake), you should spread it out throughout the day.
You know, like one capsule in the morning, one in the afternoon, one at night or something like that.
How Much Fish Oil Should I Take Per Day? How Many Capsules?
Well, in order to answer that, you’d first need to know what the optimal fish oil dosage is per day to actually get all of the benefits you just heard about.
Once you know that, you’d just need to figure out how many capsules of your specific brand you’d need to take to reach that optimal dosage.
So, based on all of the research and recommendations I’ve seen, here’s what appears to be best…
Optimal Daily Fish Oil Dosage: between 1-3 grams of combined EPA and DHA per day.
Note that we’re NOT talking about grams of “total fat” here. We’re talking about the combined grams of “EPA” and “DHA.” (This will make more sense when you look at the back of a bottle.)
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are the “ingredients” in fish oil supplements that provide all the benefits.
For this reason, the optimal fish oil dosage should be based specifically on them, not the total amount of fat, fish oil or omega-3 contained per serving.
An Example Of How Many Capsules Per Day
Here’s an example of what I mean using Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, which is the brand I personally use (and will highly recommend in a minute).
This specific brand contains 650mg of EPA and 450mg of DHA per serving. One serving of this brand is 2 capsules.
So combined, 650mg + 450mg = 1.1 grams of combined EPA and DHA.
- 2 capsules of this specific brand gives you 1.1 grams of EPA/DHA. This is the minimum I’d recommend per day for fish oil to actually be effective.
- 3 capsules of this specific brand gives you about 1.6 grams of EPA/DHA.
- 4 capsules of this specific brand gives you 2.2 grams of EPA/DHA. This is right in the middle of the optimal recommended daily dosage. (This is also the amount that I personally take each day.)
- 5 capsules of this specific brand gives you about 2.8 grams of EPA/DHA. This is as close to that 3 gram maximum as you can get with this brand without exceeding it.
Like I said, I personally take 4 capsules of this specific brand every day, and that gives me 2.2 grams of combined EPA and DHA per day. This is probably pretty close to perfect for most people.
But again, as long as you are within the optimal range of 1-3 grams of combined EPA/DHA per day, you’re good. (And obviously, if your doctor recommended more or less, you should listen to them. Duh.)
Also keep in mind that the above amounts only apply to this specific brand. Other fish oil brands contain different amounts of EPA and DHA per serving (usually less), so a different number of capsules will most likely need to be taken (usually more).
This is a big reason why I consider this brand the best. I only need 4 capsules per day to reach the optimal intake. Most other brands require 6-10 capsules per day.
Speaking of this brand being the best…
What Brand Is The Best?
Well, choosing the best fish oil supplement comes down to a few common factors.
- Quality. First up for me when it comes to supplements is always quality. But with fish oil, I personally feel quality is even MORE important. I not only want to avoid the silly “fishy burps” common with crappier brands, but I also want to see the highest level of purification (removes the contaminants often found in fish) and the best results on independent lab tests.
- Convenience. Like I was saying a minute ago, some brands contain higher or lower amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA than others. The less they contain per serving, the more servings you’ll need to take. The more it contains per serving, the less you’ll need to take. I’d personally much rather take 4 capsules per day instead 8.
- Price. While most generic store brands are cheaper than certain “luxury” brands, I personally don’t mind spending a little more to get the level of quality and convenience I just described.
My Recommendation For The Best Fish Oil
Taking all 3 of those factors into account, here’s what I personally use and fully recommend:
- Fish Oil: Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega
I spent a lot of time doing a lot of research on fish oil over the years. I’ve seen various expert/doctor recommendations and I’ve seen the results of 2 independent lab tests that tested dozens of fish oil brands for purity, quality and actually containing accurate amounts of total omega-3, EPA, and DHA. Based on all of that and the fact that it contains significantly more EPA and DHA per capsule than most other brands, I can honestly say Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega is as good as fish oil supplements get. It’s the only brand I’ve ever used.
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