Omega-3s for the Athlete

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Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies are unable to make them on our own and must get them in through our diet. 

Omega-3s play an important role in immune health, cognition and brain health, and neuromuscular function. 

What are Sources of Omega-3s?

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The two key forms of omega-3s are – DHA and EPA. There is a third form found in plants – ALA – which can be converted by the body to EPA & DHA at a lower level.  

Sources of EPA & DHA include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Cod liver oil
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Fortified foods

Learn more on how to support your omega-3 needs here →


What Role Do Omega-3s Play for Athletes?

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 EPA & DHA have been shown to demonstrate the most benefits for health and performance.

  • Inflammation balance and immune function 
  • Cognitive development and function
  • Neuroprotective benefits
  • Vision and eye health 
  • Cardiovascular health

The Western diet has an imbalance in fat intake. Higher intake of saturated fats and certain polyunsaturated fats, such as Omega-6s, compared to Omega-3 intake may correlate with greater inflammation and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Increasing Omega-3 intake and striking a better balance could lead to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and promote better regulation of inflammation. 

Coupled with the anti-inflammatory activity, DHA, specifically, may protect the brain. 60% of the brain is composed of fat, and of that 60%, 25% is DHA. When we look at the brain, especially after an injury, there is a whole cascade of events that causes additional inflammation and damage. DHA provides a neuroprotective effect by minimizing or dampening that additional inflammation.

DHA & EPA may also target muscle activity by improving recovery and decreasing soreness. 

Should You Supplement?

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Before going right to the supplemental form of omega-3s (also called fish oil), ask yourself the following question:

  • Are you eating omega-3-rich (DHA + EPA) fish or sources at least 3 days per week?

If your answer is no, you should consider adding an omega-3 supplement. 

But How Much?

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

For many of the athletes, I work with, I recommend consuming, through both food and supplementation, 1,000-3,000 mg per day of EPA + DHA combined. 


Looking for an omega-3 supplement that is safe for athletes too. Learn more here →


Picking Your Omega-3 Supplement

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When picking out an omega-3 or fish oil supplement, I recommend using the following criteria:

  • The total amount (mg)
  • Amount of EPA & DHA: minimum of 500 mg and up to 1,000-2,000 mg 
  • Sources of omega-3s: fish oil and for vegan athletes look for krill or algae
  • Third-Party Certification: NSF Certified for Sport, Informed Sport, or Informed Choice 

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