Athlete’s Guide to Omega-3 Supplements

Fish oil capsules and fish tail in brown jar

Omega-3’s are a key nutrient that is essential for health and sports performance. When regularly consumed, omega-3s have shown to reduce muscle damage and soreness, increase strength gains, and support overall health and resiliency. 

HOWEVER, in NCAA D1 football players, only 36% of them met their omega-3 needs. In another study, only 4.3% of D1 athletes had optimal levels of omega-3s in their body. THIS IS A HUGE OPPORTUNITY MISSED when it comes to staying available and making the most of your training. 

Here is what you need to know to level up. 

What are Omega-3s?

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning our body cannot make them on its own and must get them from our diet.  

The main omega-3’s include:

  • Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
  • Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) 

EPA & DHA play crucial roles in:

  • Combating inflammation 
  • Cognitive development and function 
  • Vision and eye health
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Immune function

DHA & EPA may target muscle activity by improving recovery and decreasing soreness. Coupled with the anti-inflammatory activity, DHA may protect the brain by reducing the severity of a concussion when taken regularly. Additionally, high doses of EPA has been associated with improvements in symptoms of depression.

Sources of EPA & DHA

Best food sources EPA and DHA include:

  • Salmon 
  • Tuna 
  • Mackerel 
  • Cod liver oil 
  • Herring 
  • Sardines
  • Fortified foods such as milk

Sources of ALA include: 

  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Flaxseed oil 
  • Expeller-pressed canola oil

How Much Omega-3's Should Athletes Take?

Currently, there is no consensus on how much omega-3’s, but:
  •  International Olympic Committee recommends 2 g of Omega-3s daily
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 500 mg of EPA + DHA daily
  • American Heart Association recommends that the general public consume at least 6-8 oz of omega-3 rich foods weekly
A good starting place is aiming to consume 6-8 oz. of omega-3 rich fatty fish per week. If you are having a hard time consuming enough omega-3 rich foods, make sure you are using a third-party certified product such as NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport.
For many of the athletes, I work with, I recommend consuming, through both food and supplementation, 1,000-2,000 mg of EPA + DHA.

When shopping for an omega-3 supplement look for:

  • The total amount (mg)
  •  Amount of EPA & DHA: minimum of 500 mg and up to 1,000-2,000 mg for anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Form of omega-3s: fish oil and for vegan athletes krill oil or algae
  • Third-Party Certification: NSF, Informed Sport or Informed Choice 
  • Recommended Brands: Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega-D3 Sport and Thorne Super EPA

References

  1. Oliver JM, Anzalone AJ, Turner SM. Protection Before Impact: the Potential Neuroprotective Role of Nutritional Supplementation in Sports-Related Head Trauma. Sports Med. 2018;48(Suppl 1):39-52. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0847-3
  2. Pu H, Guo Y, Zhang W, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation improves neurologic recovery and attenuates white matter injury after experimental traumatic brain injury. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2013;33(9):1474-1484. doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2013.108
  3. Ritz PP, Rogers MB, Zabinsky JS, et al. Dietary and biological assessment of the omega-3 status of collegiate athletes: a cross-sectional analysis. PLOS One. 2020;15(4):1-16.

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