By: Theresa Greenwell
If you’ve ever considered adding omega 3s to your daily supplementation, it’s probably been more for its heart health benefits than anything else. After all, the American Heart Association (AHA) does say that these good-for-you fatty acids can help to reduce triglyceride levels, promote clear arteries, and support a regular heartbeat! While none of us should be striving for a new PR without a healthy heart, the benefits of omega 3s go further than heart health. Read more to see the link between physical performance and omega 3 fatty acids!
What Are Omega 3s?
Omega-3 are fatty acids which are nutritionally essential for human health and they come in three types:
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA).
Of these, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the most researched Omega 3 unsaturated fatty acids. EPA and DHA are long-chain fatty acids found in fish, fish oil supplements, and algae extract. The short-chain form, ALA, can be found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.
Since the human body cannot naturally synthesize omega 3 fatty acids and can only use long-chain versions, they must come from the diet. These fatty acids are critical for the normal development and growth of children, cell membrane integrity, modulating neurotransmitter functions, and the integrity of the GI tract.
Physical Performance and Omega 3
Almost everyone has heard of the cardiovascular protective effects of omega-3 (primarily EPA and DHA) fatty acids and their influence on reducing triglyceride levels. What many people do not realize is that omega 3 has a plethora of other health benefits. Studies support omega 3 supplementation for reducing the risk of diabetes, improving skin issues such as eczema and for mood disorders. In some cases, these fatty acids have helped with improvements in behavior, concentration, learning and overall cognitive health. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids appear to be effective in improving the symptoms of dry eye, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and depression.
Omega 3 fatty acid studies show their effectiveness in reducing the risk of age-related maculopathy, stroke and complications during recovery from angioplasty. Research shows omega 3 can help to improve weight loss, blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as the retention of bone density. Other studies have shown their ability to modulate levels of inflammation, oxidative stress, and improve exercise recovery and endurance.
In a recent review study in Nutrients (2018), researchers looked at multiple studies on how omega 3 affects muscles in regards to exercise. The studies reviewed focused on what happened with muscles following activities that included eccentric contractions (ECCs). ECCs occur in many activities such as going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights, or doing push-ups or pull-ups.
EPA and DHA combinations appeared to inhibit muscle deficits, soreness, and inflammatory markers that usually occur 1-2 days after doing ECCs. Results of the review showed that the longer EPA and DHA were supplemented with, the better the results were; individually results were either unobservable or not significant for what the review focused on. No set amounts of EPA or DHA were found to be ideal for benefits, though in some cases they did feel a 2:1 ratio worked best.
The researchers felt that omega 3 supplementation worked well for muscular adaptations after training and may be good for use by those who are older or have sarcopenia. More research is necessary to find the exact amounts of EPA and DHA that may work best to improve exercise performance, muscle recovery and muscle retention.
Ochi, E. and Tschiya, Y. Eicosahexanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) in muscle damage and function. Nutrients. 10(5): 2018.