Research on omega-3 fatty acids in athletes is still early on, but so far evidence for muscle recovery, body composition, and even brain health is promising, says a leading omega-3 brand. “There are a few areas of specific benefit when it comes to omega-3s and athletes,” says Kerry Gobei, team sports sales, Nordic Naturals.
One area is healing and recovery. “The intensity of athletic training—especially strength training—stresses muscle tissue, which must then be supported through the normal recovery process,” Gobei says. Increasing the omega-6:omega-3 fatty acid ratio in favor of omega-3 can “facilitate the healing process,” Gobei says, as well as support joints and cartilage under stress.
Body composition is another interest area. Although “it’s too early to recommend fish oil as a sole means of body fat reduction,” Gobei says, a 2010 44-subject study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that supplementing with 4 g of fish oil daily for six weeks (1600 mg EPA and 800 mg DHA) improved body composition by significantly increasing lean mass by 1.1–2.2 lb and decreasing fat mass by 1.3%. “Furthermore, the authors determined a strong correlation between lower salivary cortisol levels—a stress hormone that is reduced with fish oil supplementation—and lean muscle mass,” Gobeiadds.
Finally, omega-3’s benefits—particularly DHA—on brain health apply to athletes. “DHA has been shown to benefit cognition and mental acuity, which can support athletes’ focus and the mental side of competition,” Gobeisays. Add this to other well-studied benefits for heart health, and omega-3 is a promising ingredient for sports nutrition.
Still, “It’s not too common to see omega-3s marketed in the sports nutrition area, especially to athletes,” Gobeisays. “There’s still a much bigger emphasis on protein, creatine, amino acids, and other ingredients. One reason for this is the limited number of studies on omega-3 use specifically by athletes.”
Nordic Naturals has taken the first steps towards promoting omega-3s for sports. This summer, the company introduced a higher-intensity liquid omega-3 supplement for athletes, to complement its existing Ultimate Omega-D3 Sport soft gel supplement. Whereas the soft gels provide 800 mg EPA and 400 mg DHA plus 1000 IU vitamin D per serving, the more concentrated liquid form, which can be added to smoothies, comprises 1450 mg EPA and 1060 mg DHA, plus 1000 IU vitamin D. Nordic Naturals recommends the concentrated liquid formula for athletes who need “extra high-intensity omega-3 nutrition, either to make up for deficiency or for proactive support,” Gobeisays. Both the soft gels and liquid supplements are Certified for Sport by NSF International.