Omega-3s take athletes further

Article at a glance

  • Athletes are always looking for safe and effective ways to enhance health and improve performance.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have been determined to be useful for several populations, yet 99% of NCAA athletes tested were shown to have inadequate levels.
  • Omega-3 may improve athletic performance by protecting brain health in contact sports, enhancing neuromuscular function and improving complex reaction time, supporting muscle health and recovery after exercise, maintaining immunity with high levels of physiological stress and decreasing risk for infection, and decreasing risk for cardiac events. 

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Peak athletic performance takes more than extra time on the pitch. It requires a perfect combination of hard work, quality coaching, specialized exercise, and optimal nutrition and recovery to truly perform your best. There has always been an interest in using different nutrients and supplements to enhance athletic performance, and Omega-3 fatty acids are one tool that may improve both your game and your health. In addition to the predetermined health benefits of Omega-3s, the athletic benefits that these fatty acids provide are numerous and should not be overlooked. 

According to a recent study, inadequate Omega-3 levels were observed in 99% of 400 NCAA athletes tested. Is this a missing link to optimize performance and athlete health? Let’s take a look at 5 ways that increasing Omega-3s in an athlete’s diet can change their game.

 1.     Protect brain health 

With the rising public health awareness around sports-related concussions comes increases in efforts to prevent them. The role that Omega-3s play on brain health is unparalleled. The brain is primarily made of fats and DHA is quantitatively the most important Omega-3 fatty acid in the brain. The neuroprotective benefits of Omega-3s on brain injury have been highlighted in both the recovery, and prevention, of brain trauma. Data from models of traumatic brain injury demonstrated consistently that the injury induced reduction in cognitive function was diminished with DHA supplementation either preinjury or postinjury. This means that adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent injury, diminish reductions in brain function, or speed up recovery following a sports related head trauma.  

2.     Enhance neuromuscular function

 The ability of skeletal muscle to generate force and resist fatigue is essential to sport performance. Omega-3s are integral components of neurons, nerve endings, and muscle membranes and there is evidence that shows that they might support neural function and adaptations to exercise. Research has demonstrated that Omega-3 supplementation may enhance neural activation of muscle groups and studies show that increasing DHA in athletes may improve complex reaction time and efficiency in sport, refining decision making in high intensity situations. Further data indicates that Omega-3 supplementation in athletes improves peripheral neuromuscular function and aspects of fatigue, which simply translates to amplified performance.

 3.     Support muscle health

 Skeletal muscle health is usually determined by muscle protein synthesis, muscle mass, maximum voluntary contraction, or markers of muscle damage. Omega-3 fatty acids have proven to support muscle health by augmenting blood flow and significantly decreasing post-exercise muscle soreness, perceived pain, and  blood markers of muscle damage and inflammation with intense exercise. Based on this information Omega-3 supplementation could provide benefits by minimizing post exercise soreness and thereby facilitate exercise training in individuals ranging from athletes undergoing heavy conditioning, to sedentary subjects just beginning exercise or rehab plans.

4.     Maintain immune health

 Excessive physiological trauma caused by high-intensity exercise leads to an inflammatory state. As a result, athletes often face reductions in immune function during periods of high training load where they are at higher risk for infection. Several studies have demonstrated that increasing dietary intake of Omega-3 can modulate immune and inflammatory responses to physiological stress. Additionally, studies have shown that Omega-3 supplementation can improve immune function immediately after exercise and contrast the incidence of infection, as well as reduce symptoms of exercise induce asthma. This information demonstrates that Omega-3s can support all types of athletes, the active exercisers and elite athletes, by enhancing immune response.

5.     Cardiovascular enhancement

 Sudden death is a crucial topic in sport and is defined as an unexpected and instantaneous death occurring during or immediately after exercise. Data suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce risk of sudden death from cardiac causes by improving endothelial function and arterial compliance, decreasing arrhythmias risk, and inhibiting inflammatory pathways. Omega-3 fatty acids may be the effective targeted nutrition to safely take athletes to the next level.    

Stacy Cappadona MS, RD, CSCS received her BS in Exercise Science and MS in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition from Florida State University. She has worked with athletes of all ages, active duty military personnel, and is now serving people globally through virtual coaching programs as the Founder of Stacy Rae Wellness.