Is there sufficient evidence to supplement omega-3 fatty acids to increase muscle mass and strength in young and older adults?

Clin Nutr. 2020 Jan;39(1):23-32. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2019.01.001. Epub 2019 Jan 7.


Omega-3 (ω-3) is a polyunsaturated fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties that presents three main forms: alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid. Recently, studies performed in both young and older adults suggest that ω-3 may improve gains in muscle mass and/or enhance physical function. Thus, the aim of this narrative review was to evaluate the current evidence of ω-3 intake/supplementation on muscle/lean mass (LM) and physical function in young and older adults, and draw research-based conclusions as to the practical implications of findings. We first assessed whether ω-3 intake is associated with muscle mass and strength (observational studies), and then sought to determine whether evidence shows that supplementation of ω-3 increases muscle protein synthesis, LM and strength in adults and older adults (interventional studies). The search was carried out in PubMed and Scopus databases for the periods between 1997 and November 2018. The following keywords were used alone and in combination: ω-3, fish oil, muscle protein synthesis, muscle mass, lean mass, body composition, and physical function. In general, the evidence is mixed as to the effects of ω-3 supplementation on muscle mass in sedentary young and older adults; the hypertrophic effects of supplementation when combined with resistance training remain equivocal. Moreover, there is conflicting evidence as to whether supplementation confers a beneficial effect on muscle function in older adults. Importantly, this conclusion is based on limited data and more studies are needed before ω-3 supplementation can be recommended as a viable strategy for such purposes in clinical practice.

Keywords: Lean mass; Muscle mass; Muscle protein synthesis; Omega-3; Physical function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Body Composition / drug effects*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3