Omega-6 essential fatty acids are often misunderstood as "bad" fats. The fact is, they are, as their name tells us, essential fats. They are essential for the body's ability to fight infection and deal with danger. The problem with omega-6's is that we tend to get more than we need.
What Is an Omega-6 Fatty Acid?
An omega-6 fatty acid is a special kind of unsaturated fat. Chemically speaking, all unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between the carbon atoms that form a chain making up the molecule. This double bond is a place the fatty acid can receive atoms from other molecules.
Omega-6 fatty acids have the double bond at the sixth carbon in the chain. This characteristic makes them participate in the chemical reactions that body uses to make hormones that increase inflammation.
Why Omega-6 Fatty Acids Are Essential to Human Health
Omega-6 fatty acids are called "essential" because they are needed for human life and the body cannot make them. They have to be consumed from food. Inflammation is usually considered "bad," but the fact is, without inflammatory hormones our cells could not activate the immune system and they could not stop bleeding or respond to stress.
A minimum amount of inflammation is essential to protecting the body. The problem is, we usually get too much. But there are times that getting more omega-6 fatty acids is a good thing.
Weight Lifters and Omega-6 Fats
Weight lifters often take supplemental omega-6 essential fatty acids. When you are building muscles, you actually want to make sure that your muscles break down at the end of a workout, so they can rebuild themselves into a stronger state during your recovery period between workouts. Weight lifters who do not take omega-6 essential fatty acids eat omega-6 foods.
What Are the Best Sources of Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
The most common omega-6 fatty acids are arachidonic acid and linoleic acid. Arachidonic acid is found in fatty beef, egg yolks, and lunch meat. Linoleic acid is found in corn oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, and even flaxseed oil, nuts, and sesame.
If you are trying to get more omega-6's to build muscle without consuming too much total fat, here are the leading healthy food choices:
- Acai berry
- Blackcurrant seed oil
- Borage seed oil
- Evening primose seed oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Whole-grain breads
- Whole-grain cereals without sugar
The food most body builders actually consume for their omega-6 fatty acid needs, however, is hamburger. Ground beef is an excellent source of the arachidonic acid that stimulates muscle remodeling and strengthening after workouts. Without the workout, of course, the omega-6's in foods won't do you any special good!
- Changes in whole blood and clinical safety markers over 50 days of concomitant arachidonic acid supplementation and resistance training. Wilborn, C, M Roberts, C Kerksick, M Iosia, L Taylor, B Campbell, T Harvey, R Wilson, M. Greenwood, D Willoughby and R Kreider. Proceedings of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) Conference June 15-17, 2006.