You’ve probably heard of Omega 3 fatty acids but what exactly are they and why should you care?
Omega-3 fatty acids are part of the polyunsaturated fat family. They are essential fats, which means our bodies cannot manufacture them, so they must be supplied through the foods we eat.
The general health benefits of Omega 3 have been known for a long time, but its ability to help athletes is just starting to be studied in depth. Studies have shown that Omega 3 supplementation can significantly reduce inflammatory markers, joint pain and muscle tenderness from training and racing as well as increase blood flow to the muscles during training.
The really good news is that Omega 3 also enhances the body’s muscle building ability to help build muscle and prevent its breakdown, which is especially important if you are an endurance athlete doing longer distances.
Types of omega-3 fats
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids, which come from different dietary sources. They are abbreviated to EPA, DHA and ALA.
The best dietary sources of EPA and DHA are fish eg Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, bluefin tuna and albacore tuna.
If fish isn’t your thing, ALA is the third type and it’s found in plants. It can he converted into EPA and DHA in your body, so you will need to consume higher amounts to gain the same benefits as when you eat fish. ALA can be found in flaxseed and walnuts.
How much omega-3 do you need ?
Wherever possible, I will always recommend getting your nutrients from real food and you can get Omega 3 in the following ways:
- Eat oily fish twice a week particularly after a strenuous workout.
- Add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your porridge or post recovery smoothie
- A small handful of walnuts eaten as a snack or sprinkled through a salad
If your lifestyle means that achieving this might be difficult then you could take a daily fish oil supplement with 600-1000mg of EPA and DHA.
Studies have shown that to benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3 we need to take at least 2.7 grams of the main Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil – EPA and DHA per day. Initially it appeared that EPA was the more powerful anti-inflammatory fatty acid, but new research shows that DHA is actually more effective at reducing inflammatory markers.
The natural ratio of EPA to DHA found in fish is 3:2, but as EPA is cheaper to produce, to be aware that many fish oil manufacturers add more of this to their supplements so it’s worth checking the labels before buying.
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