Today’s installment of Dear Mark covers two questions. In the first, a reader wonders whether or not all those mysterious omegas popping up lately are worth taking. Are omega-3s enough, or should we be supplementing with omega-5s, omega-7s, and omega-9s as well? Read on to find out. Then, I take on a question about exercise for a mostly sedentary 40-something whose only source of activity is a weekly jog. I give him a few pointers and direct him to some relevant literature. I expect if he follows my advice he’ll start putting on significant amounts of lean mass.
I’ve read all your articles on fish oil and the importance of balancing one’s intake of omega-3s with omega-6s. Lately I’ve been seeing fish oil supplements that claim they contain all omegas (3,5,6,7,9). Is this more, less, or equally beneficial than just taking omega-3 fish oil supplements?
Let’s learn about them, shall we?
Omega-5 fatty acids include punicic acid and myristoleic acid. Punicic acid is a polyunsaturated conjugated lipid (so it’s a trans-fat, similar to CLA) that is found primarily in pomegranate seeds. The seeds of bitter gourds and snake gourds also contain punicic acid, but pomegranates are far more common foods. As for its purported benefits (which have only been shown in rats), pucinic acid simply gets converted quickly to CLA in the gut, leading me to assume that CLA is the responsible player. Enjoy pomegranates, by all means, but get your CLA from grass-fed ruminant fat. Myristoleic acid hasn’t been studied much. It’s biosynthesized from myristic acid, a saturated fatty acid found in palm oil, coconut oil, and butterfat, so if you eat any of the latter, your body will make plenty of myristoleic acid (if there’s a need for it).
Omega-7 fatty acids include vaccenic acid and palmitoleic acid. Vaccenic acid might sound familiar; it’s one of the naturally-occurring trans-fats (CLA) found in grass-fed meat and dairy, and it’s definitely helpful so long as you get it by eating grass-fed meat and/or dairy. Since isolated CLA supplements have never really panned out, whereas eating high quality food has an impressive track record, I would avoid the former and opt for the latter. Palmitoleic acid can be found in macadamia nuts, which for my money are the best nut around – and the best snack for any occasion. They may have also included trans-palmitoleic acid, a trans-fat that I briefly discussed in my post on dairy fat and diabetes and which appears to correlate with a reduced risk of the disease… but, once again, trans-palmitoleic acid is found in grass-fed dairy. No need for a supplement.
Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated fatty acids that appear quite readily in nature. In a pinch, the body can also manufacture them from other, plentiful exogenous sources. If you’re eating meat, olive oil, avocados, and the odd handful of nuts, you’re getting plenty of omega-9 fatty acids.
You could, of course, make the case that you don’t even need omega-3s in supplement form. This is true, so long as you’re eating fatty fish and shellfish on a regular basis, but the fact remains that you absolutely need omega-3s in some form or another. They are essential. You cannot manufacture them, and you need to eat them. The same can’t be said for omega-5, omega-7, and omega-9 fatty acids.
Your book (Kindle edition) and site are extremely educational and inspiring. I am a 43 year old male, 6′-6″ tall and I weigh in the 195-200 range. I work at a sedentary job and do no exercise other than run (jog) with a buddy every Sunday 40 minutes at a 10 min. pace. I am lean and have no muscle to speak of. I have never been able to get rid of these damn love handles and spare tire at my mid-section. I have started eating (80% =/-) Primal for about 1 week now but need to start an exercise plan. Any pointers as to which type of exercises, duration that may finally help this rid me of this curse around my middle? I have made a goal for this summer. I want to be able to take my shirt off in public and not feel embarrassed. Thanks for all the hard work and fantastic resources.
I’ve got just the thing. Assuming you’ve never done much, if any, strength training before, you’ll want to start with Primal Blueprint Fitness, my basic (free) fitness e-book. Now, I could end this right now by having you go read the book, but I’ll spend a little time here to prepare you for what’s coming. Don’t worry – it’s not scary.
Two or three days each week of lifting heavy things. To begin with, these “heavy things” will be the 195 pounds comprising your frame. That’s right – bodyweight exercises to start. Eventually, once you’ve hammered out the form for each movement, put on some strength, and strengthened that connective tissue, you can move on to lifting heavy things that are not your own bodyweight. Maybe you’ll join a gym and start moving barbells or machines. Maybe you’ll get into gymnastics and start using leverage to increase resistance. Maybe you’ll lift sandbags and swing kettlebells. The point is this: the early bodyweight days will get you strong enough to handle yourself and your own body so that you can then progress to whatever level you prefer. Putting on lean mass is precisely what you require. Jogging won’t do it – it hasn’t done it, in your case – and the longer you wait, the harder it will be to accumulate lean mass.
One day a week of sprinting. Now, that’s not an entire day of sprinting, which would be ridiculous and frankly impossible. You’ll be sprinting between five and ten times with plenty of rest in between. As an example, my sprint workouts last about 20 minutes total these days. If you’re not comfortable sprinting on a track or flat surface, you can sprint uphill (less impact on joints), in a pool, on a bike, on a rowing machine, etc.. The key is expending maximum effort during these sprint sessions, whichever method of transportation you’ve chosen. You go all out for ten or twelve seconds (or more, if you are fit and can handle it – maybe even up to 40 seconds on a bike) and then rest for a minute or two until the next one. Sound easy? It’s not. It’s simple and brief, but it isn’t easy.
Finally, at least 5 hours of slow moving per week. Walking, hiking, very slow jogging (as long as you can do so comfortably) – it’s all fair game. You don’t want to push yourself here. You’re not running a marathon or racing. You’re not even tracking calories. You’re just getting around. You’re moving your limbs and enjoying a conversation and oxidizing fat the entire time. Slow moving is the foundation of the Primal Blueprint Fitness program.
Your weekly run at a 10 minute mile pace sounds about right. I might even push it to a 11 or 12-minute mile pace. Anyway, stick with the eating (bump it up closer to 100%, preferably), go download the eBook, start lifting, and let me know what you think. Good luck!
That’s all for this installment, folks. If you’ve got any more questions about anything, send them along and I’ll do my best to answer. In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comment section.