Omega-3s and Athletic Performance

Sport Nutrition

Curious about how omega-3’s might impact your athletic performance?

If you keep up with the latest nutrition news, you’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids and some of the health benefits that come along with them. Omega-3s are widely known for their association with brain and heart health. However, they can also have a considerable impact on athletic performance and recovery!

What are Omega-3s?

Omega-3s are a type of unsaturated fatty acid. They are essential, meaning your body cannot produce them on its own and you must get them from your diet.

There are three main types of omega-3s we get from food– alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA

ALA is the most common omega-3 fatty acid and comes from plant foods such as walnuts, flax seeds, and canola oil. It’s been shown to improve several cardiovascular health markers, reduce inflammation and is generally thought of as a ‘heart healthy fat’.

EPA and DHA

EPA and DHA are found in fish and other seafood. They are also known for their anti-inflammatory but also have benefits when it comes to brain health. This is because EPA and DHA are found abundantly in brain tissue.

Interestingly, our bodies are able to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but only in very small amounts. So, even with an ALA-rich diet, we may be lacking adequate EPA and DHA.

Sources of Omega-3

Because our bodies cannot produce omega-3 on its own, it is important that we get it through our diet.

ALA

ALA is found in flaxseed and flax oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, avocado, and walnuts. Plant oils like canola also contain high levels of ALA.

EPA and DHA

When it comes to EPA and DHA, Fatty fish and seafood are the predominant sources.

Fish is the simplest way to consume omega 3 as it is the richest dietary source of DHA and EPA. Especially fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Interestingly though, fish are not the ‘creators’ of these fats. They consume them in their food supply from algae and plankton.

Fortified Foods

You can also find foods that are fortified with omega-3s such as certain brands of eggs, margarine, yogurt, juices, milk and soy beverages.

Can Omega-3 Improve my Performance?

As mentioned above, omega-3s are associated with a variety of health benefits. They not only impact brain and heart health, but can support athletic performance!

Engaging in high-intensity training puts stress on the heart, lungs and joints. Because of their anti-inflammatory Omega-3s have shown to be beneficial for recovery, which can enhance performance. 

Here are the benefits athletes can enjoy by meeting their requirement for omega-3s!

Reduce Inflammation and Enhance Recovery

Omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA are known for their anti-inflammatory compounds. This can help speed up the recovery process. 

We’ve all felt like our muscles are super sore after a workout – this is called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  What omega-3s can do is help to reduce muscle swelling post-training and combat muscle soreness.

They can also increase range of motion, relieve joint tenderness, and reduce risk of injuries.

Fuels Muscle Growth

Omega-3s can also aid in increasing protein synthesis. This is how your body turns the protein you eat into the fuel your muscles need to grow and develop muscle mass.

Improves Cognitive Function and Reaction Time

A large percentage (around 60%) of the brain is made of fat and more specifically, 15% is made up of DHA. So it’s not surprising that omega-3s can benefit the brain.

Since omega-3s have been shown to improve cognitive functioning, research has shown they can help with recovery from concussions.

They also play a role in visual processing and signaling, which can lead to improvements in reaction time and reflexes.

How much Omega-3 do athletes need?

Health Canada recommends 1.1 – 1.6 g of ALA per day. This requirement can be met by eating walnuts as a snack, cooking with canola oil, and adding flaxseed to your baking or morning oatmeal. Choosing omega-3 enriched foods like eggs is also a great way to get more of these essential fats in your diet!

When it comes to EPA and DHA though, there is no set guideline established for the amount we should consume. However, many health organizations recommend 250 – 1000 mg per day in total. You’ll often see recommendations suggesting we eat fatty fish (like salmon at least twice per week).

Should I be taking an omega-3 supplement?

It is possible to get enough omega-3 from your diet alone, but a supplement may be needed for specific individuals.

Vegetarians, vegans and those who don’t eat fish and seafood may often not get enough EPA and DHA in their diet. This is when a supplement may be a good option!

You can check out my personal favorite supplement here. Not an add, they just make a great plant-based EPA and DHA product!

If you choose to use a supplement, be sure that it contains EPA and DHA in sufficient quantities. Avoid supplements that are simply labelled ‘fish oil’ that may not be high enough in these essential fats!

Bottom Line

The bottom line? Get your omega-3’s!

Omega-3s not only have a variety of health benefits but can also improve your athletic performance by reducing inflammation after training, speeding up muscle recovery, and supporting muscle growth.

EPA and DHA have additional benefits on brain health and cognition, so include these in your diet regularly. Vegetarians, vegans or those who don’t eat much seafood may want to consider taking a supplement to make sure they get enough.

As an athlete, your diet can greatly impact your performance. Omega-3s can help your muscles grow and recover faster, may have a positive impact on your endurance, and benefit your overall athletic performance!


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