Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly touted for their ability to help shield us from a variety of serious health conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and depression. It, consequently, seems like a “no-brainer” that we would make sure to consume them on a regular basis in adequate amounts. However, according to national surveys, the average intake of these essential nutrients throughout the United States is quite deficient. Why? Perhaps we are having a hard time staying dedicated to our omega-3’s with only far-sighted rationales to keep us focused. If you believe this is the case for you, please continue reading, as I spotlight the findings of recent research efforts which have uncovered an application of omega-3 fatty acids that might offer more immediate motivation for us.
Due to the anti-inflammatory nature of omega-3’s, they have the ability to expand your blood vessels and increase blood flow throughout your body. This equates to increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to your muscle tissues, and faster removal of the metabolic waste products that antagonize muscle recovery and energy production. In other words, with an adequate supply of
omega-3 fatty acids, you will be able to exercise harder and recover faster than if they are not readily available to your working body. The onset of muscle fatigue will be delayed, while muscle damage and inflammation is minimized. Sounds pretty great to me! Not to mention, neuromotor function, namely, the foundational software of your muscles, is enhanced by omega-3 fatty acids. This means that your muscular system can be made more responsive to your nervous system signals , and, consequently, muscle fiber activation increases. I hope by this point you are at least a little more motivated to get your omega-3 fatty acid intake up to par. If you want more evidence, take some time to review the resources listed at the end of this article.
Now, if you want to increase your omega-3 intake, how do you do it? In general, health officials recommend consuming at least 2-servings of fatty fish (i.e. mackerel, herring, salmon) per week. Doing so will provide you with an average of 1000 milligrams per day of the omega-3 fatty acids known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) combined. The other omega-3 fatty acid especially pertinent to human health is known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This is found in plant sources like flaxseeds and walnuts, but should not be viewed as equivalent to EPA and DHA. Unlike it’s fish-derived counterparts, ALA is not metabolically ready to be used in our body for fighting inflammation and increasing work potential. Thus, once consumed, it has to be converted to EPA and DHA. This process has only about a 5-15% efficiently rate. Other sources of EPA, DHA, and ALA are fortified products such as some orange juices, butter blends, peanut butters, eggs, and breads. These products should be labeled in a manner indicating they are omega-3 fortified. Checking the ingredient list will allow you to identify the type of omega-3(s) included. A variety of fish oil supplements are also available. Remember, you most likely do not need more than 1000 milligrams per day, and look for those which provide “EPA + DHA.” If you choose to supplement, always consume the supplement right before eating a meal. This usually helps to control the fishy aftertaste, which can be highly unpleasant – trust me.
Bottom-line: while increasing your chances of living a strong, healthy life, consuming recommended amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can boost the quality, and, thereby, potential results, of your exercise regimen. Take a few minutes today to assess whether or not you are likely consuming adequate amounts of these nutrients. If you are not, figure out how you can and will do so for your short-term fitness results, and for your long-term health.
- Hill AM, Buckley JD, et al. Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85:1267-74. Accessed online on March 9, 2013 at http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/5/1267.full.pdf+html.
- Macaluso F, Barone R, Catanese P, et al. Do fat supplements increase physical performance? Nutrients.2013;5:509-524. Accessed online on March 9, 2013 at http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/2/509.