A healthy diet consists of a good distribution between proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Although many people are still unfairly afraid of fat, it is important to get enough healthy fatty acids. Fat not only serves as an energy source but is also important in the transport of vitamins and minerals. Also, fats play a role in forming cell membranes and the protection of the nervous system. Our body needs enough polyunsaturated fats to function properly. These unsaturated fatty acids are omega 3.
The best known are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and fish fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). But what exactly do Omega-3 fatty acids do? And what is the impact of these unsaturated fats on sports performance? On Voeding-en-fitness.nl, I will explain more about the function of Omega 3 and discuss whether fish oil makes sense for (strength) athletes.
What are Omega 3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, and we can count among the ‘healthy fats’. These fatty acids are also known as n-3 fatty acids. The most well-known Omega 3 fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
DHA and EPA are also called fish fatty acids, and ALA is a plant-based Omega 3 fatty acid. Also, linolenic acid is found mainly in vegetable oils, such as flaxseed oil. But also in meat and green leafy vegetables, there is a small amount of ALA. Docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid are found mainly in fish and seafood.
Omega 3 sources
Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid. This means that your body cannot make these fats itself and depends on foods to get ALA. Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid are also called fish fatty acids, but we also find it in other products.
- Flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil and soybean oil
- Vegetable margarine
- Meat (small quantity)
- Green leafy vegetables
Eicosapentaenic acid & docosahexenic acid
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
- Fish oil supplements
- Margarine with EPA and DHA added.
- Eggs and meat (depending on animal feed used)
Effects on our health
Our body needs fats, so it is not wise to completely remove fat from your dietary schedule. But what is the effect of Omega 3 fatty acids on our health? The intake of alpha-linolenic acid, docosahexaenoic acid,d and docosapentaenoic acid would contribute to cardiovascular systems healthy functioning, lower blood pressure, and improve learning performance.
Reducing cardiovascular disease
Eating one serving of fish a week would reduce the risk of death from heart disease. This is supported by a study of supplements with fish fatty acids. An intake of 1 gram of DHA and EPA per day would reduce cardiovascular disease risk by about 10%. However, this applies to the group with an increased risk of these conditions .
Lowering blood pressure
Fish oil supplements can have a lowering effect on blood pressure. For example, it appears that an intake of about 4 grams of DHA and EPA per day lowers the upper pressure (systolic blood pressure) by about 4.5 mm Hg. This effect has been studied in people with elevated blood pressure, except for no medication use .
Research shows that a high intake of EPA and DHA can help reduce rheumatic symptoms. The joints remain more supple, and the risk of joint damage decreases . However, more research will need to be done on the effect of Omega 3 fatty acids on rheumatism and other joint diseases to obtain certainty. To prevent rheumatism, osteoporosis or osteoarthritis, you can do strength training. Strength training has a positive effect on bone density and joint function.
How much ALA, EPA and DHA per day?
To take advantage of Omega 3 fatty acids’ effects on our health, the Health Council has drawn up a guideline for intake. The recommended daily amount for alpha-linolenic acid, docosahexaenoic acid and docosapentaenoic acid can be found below.
- For ALA, you make up 1% of your daily calorie intake from ALA. For an average woman this means 2 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (2000 kcal) and for an average man about 2.5 grams of ALA (2500 kcal). Calculate your daily calorie requirement here.
- The EPA and DHA’s advice is to get about 200 milligrams of omega 3 fatty acids from fish per day. This is equivalent to one serving of oily fish (herring or salmon, for example) per week. Don’t you like to fish? Then a supplement with fish fatty acids is a possible alternative.
Omega-3 fish oil for athletes
The omega 3 fats are important for everyone, no matter how often or intensively you exercise. However, for people who often exercise and do heavy strength training, it can be even more important to pay close attention to EPA and DHA intake. An adequate intake of unsaturated fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid ensures smooth cell walls.
Smoother cell membranes ensure that nutrients can optimally enter and exit the cell during peak loads during sports/workouts. A Canadian study showed that extra Omega-3 increased muscle function by 20% . This increased muscle function can significantly improve performance during fitness.
Do you want to build up more muscle mass? Then a balance between the right nutrition, good strength training and rest is important. However, omega 3 fatty acids also appear to have a positive effect on muscle building. ALA, EPA and DHA appear to increase sensitivity to insulin. Insulin is a hormone with anabolic properties, which contributes to muscle mass building .
Even the release of insulin is increased by omega 3 fats. However, this effect was mainly measured in individuals with naturally poor insulin sensitivity. In healthy people, this effect is less clear.
Recovery after strength training
After a heavy workout, rest is important to restore the muscles. When you regularly exercise intensively, your body needs EPA and DHA more. In combination with regular and adequate protein consumption, this ensures a better recovery of muscle tissue. Better than if you only pay attention to the intake of proteins.
Fish oil is best taken after your workout, in combination with a protein-rich meal. Other fats (whole dairy, meat, nuts, etc.) ensure that all omega 3 fatty acids are properly absorbed.
Fish oil for endurance athletes?
The improved transport between cells is also beneficial for endurance athletes. Omega 3 fatty acids stimulate aerobic metabolism. For example, some studies have shown greater endurance and improved maximum oxygen uptake. This leads to better sports performance in endurance sports, such as running and cycling.
Are fish oil supplements useful?
Like vitamins and minerals, omega 3 fats are essential for our body. It is therefore important to remove unsaturated fatty acids such as ALA, EPA and DHA from food. Docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid are found mainly in oily fish and seafood. The consumption of these foods is too low for the average person. Many people do not like fish or are allergic to crustaceans.
To get enough EPA and DHA fatty acids, you can choose to use fish oil supplements. It is important to go for the very best quality. Unfortunately, a lot of fish oil of lousy quality is sold. Opt for fish oil that is guaranteed to be free of contamination such as PCBs and heavy metals. Please also pay attention to the MSC Label, which is a quality mark for sustainable fishing. At the moment, the Arctic Bluefish oil supplements are the only ones with this label.