Claims: Reduces triglycerides, reduces risk of coronary events, decreases blood pressure, improves survival in patients who have had a heart attack, reduces exercise-induced bronchoconstriction
Sources: Fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil
The Facts: Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that your body can’t synthesize. This means you must get it in your diet or via supplementation. Without getting into scientific jargon, omega-3’s are necessary for normal growth and development and are also anti-inflammatory.
It is widely accepted that in patients who have had a heart attack, fish oil improves survival and reduces triglyceride levels. In patients with high cholesterol levels it reduces the risk of coronary events and may blood pressure slightly. When I looked for trials specifically pertaining to athletes, there was one study who found it decreased bronchoconstriction in athletes with and without asthma. However, another study on trained cyclists found no effect of Omega-3 supplementation on performance or inflammation. Two studies looked at Omega-3 effects on cardiac output and oxygen use, hypothesizing that it changes the membrane structure of heart muscle and makes oxygen delivery more efficient. Both found positive effects, but as of now no large, randomized controlled study has verified these findings.
Verdict: Omega-3’s are essential for overall health. Because I don’t get enough of them in my diet (fish is expensive!) I’m going to continue to continue taking them, but not because I believe they will increase athletic performance. If they do, it will be an added bonus!
1: Covington MB. Omega-3 fatty acids. Am Fam Physician. 2004 Jul 1;70(1):133-40. Review. PubMed PMID: 15259529.
2: Mickleborough TD, Lindley MR, Montgomery GS. Effect of fish oil-derivedomega-3 polyunsaturated Fatty Acid supplementation on exercise-induced bronchoconstriction and immune function in athletes. Phys Sportsmed. 2008
Dec;36(1):11-7. PubMed PMID: 20048468.
3: Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids and athletics. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2007
Jul;6(4):230-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 17617998.
4: Peoples GE, McLennan PL, Howe PRC, Groeller H: Fish oil reduces apparent myocardial oxygen consumption in trained cyclists but does not change time to fatigue. Presented at the Fourth International Conference on Nutrition and Fitness. Athens: May 25–29, 2000.
5: Peoples GE, McLennan PL, Howe PR, Groeller H. Fish oil reduces heart rate and
oxygen consumption during exercise. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2008 Dec;52(6):540-7.
PubMed PMID: 19034030.