In this paper, we consider the general setting for constructing action principles for three-dimensional first-order autonomous equations. We present the results for some integrable and non-integrable cases of the Lotka-Volterra equation, and show Lagrangian descriptions which are valid for systems satisfying Shil'nikov criteria on the existence of strange attractors, though chaotic behaviour has not been verified up to now. The Euler-Lagrange equations we get for these systems usually present 'time reparametrization' invariance, though other kinds of invariance may be found according to the kernel of the associated symplectic 2-form. The formulation of a Hamiltonian structure (Poisson brackets and Hamiltonians) for these systems from the Lagrangian viewpoint leads to a method of finding new constants of the motion starting from known ones, which is applied to some systems found in the literature known to possess a constant of the motion, to find the other and thus showing their integrability. In particular, we show that the so-called ABC system is completely integrable if it possesses one constant of the motion.