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Choosing varied and wholesome foods can help to ensure the diet contains adequate amounts of essential nutrients, which can result in optimal training gains, enhanced recovery, reduced risk of illness and consistency in achieving high-level competition performance.
Despite such benefits, many athletes do not eat a varied and balanced diet. Supplements such as omega 3 provide a way to bridge the gap, and as new research filters through, have the potential to be used as an ergogenic aid, enhancing training and performance.
The ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet has shifted (with greater food choices and production techniques) in the current western diet as much as 20:1 in favour of omega 6. The effect on the body of this imbalance of fatty acids is a physiologic shift to an inflammatory state. Omega-3 fatty acids act as powerful precursors to hormones (prostaglandins) that reduce inflammation.
Studies have suggested that the anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 may result in an increased supply of blood to muscles and increased delivery of oxygen to the heart muscle, which would benefit the performance of elite sportspeople. This anti-inflammatory action may also minimise post-training soreness and reduce the impact of trauma, thereby minimising recovery time.
Using specific parameters for lung volume and airflow, Tartiban et al showed that using omega-3 supplements improved the lung function of athletes during and after intense training. It has also been shown that omega 3 may reduce the severity of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in elite athletes, the effects of which are probably attributed to their anti-inflammatory effect.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for everyone to achieve optimum health (especially with respect to the heart). Good heart health is of particular importance to elite sportspeople in order to improve blood flow and deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles: a Mediterranean-style diet is a way to achieve this.
Omega-3 supplementation may be a useful way to bridge the nutrition gap of elite sportspeople whose diet is compromised, and could provide a useful way to improve performance by reducing inflammation, optimising pulmonary function, improving response times and protecting their long-term cardiovascular health.
Rob Hobson MSc RNutr is an award-winning registered nutritionist (AFN) and sports nutritionist (SENR) with over 15 years of experience. He founded London-based consultancy RH Nutrition, and has degrees in nutrition, public health nutrition and sports nutrition.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace
medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.