Omega-3 and The Omega-3 Index

What are Omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 are a group of unsaturated fatty acids with many important functions in the body. The body is unable to produce omega-3 on its own and it is therefore important to supply the body with omega-3 from food sources or supplements.

Important omega-3 fatty acids include ALA (α-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). ALA is present is food sources from plants such as nuts and seeds, and their oils. EPA and DHA can be synthesized from ALA, but due to low conversion efficiency, it is recommended to have a diet with food sources rich in EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are present in seafood, algae, and fish oils and are often called marine omega-3 fatty acids.

It is recommended to consume 1-2 grams of omega-3 per day. Eating fish, particularly fatty fish, at least 2-3 times per week will meet this recommendation. However, a diet with less than this amount will require omega-3 from other sources.

Omega-3 and athletes’ performance

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for overall health due to the many functions of these fatty acids. EPA and DHA have particular important functions in the body. DHA and EPA are important for keeping the heart functioning normally and DHA is important for maintaining normal brain function and eye vision. The brain, the eyes, and the heart are all crucial organs for an athlete. Additionally, individuals and athletes with high workout loads have increased nutritional requirements. A sufficient food and drink intake is necessary to utilize maximum capacity during workouts and competitions. Therefore, an athlete’s diet should consist of adequate amounts of energy, protein, carbohydrates, fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, micronutrients, and fluids.

Competing athletes are often looking for ways to enhance their performances. Sports nutrition is a field with interesting and exciting research topics, and omega-3 is one of them. Some of the research areas in which omega-3 has been investigated include their potential benefits in reducing muscle soreness, increasing and maintaining muscle mass, and increasing muscle strength. Nevertheless, good nutrition from a wholesome diet is necessary in order for the body to repair effectively after workouts. A rapid recovery process means that the body can put up with more exercise and reach results faster.

What is the Omega-3 index?

It is possible to measure the amount of EPA and DHA in your blood from a blood sample. The Omega-3 Index is defined as the amount of EPA plus DHA in red blood cell membranes expressed as the percent of total red blood cell membrane fatty acids. It is proposed that the Omega-3 Index can be used as a biomarker for cardiovascular disease risk, with suggested cutoffs as follows: high risk, <4%; intermediate risk, 4%-8%; and low risk, >8%. Studies conducted in athletes have found that many score below 4%. This indicates that many athletes can benefit from an increased intake of EPA and DHA from food or from supplements.

Studies indicates that an Omega-3 Index above 8% should be the target, since it entails a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, the majority of people score below 4%.

Serious athletes knows the importance of giving their bodies the right nutrients at the right time. Although, most athletes don’t consume enough EPA and DHA and therefore score too low on The Omega-3 Index. Most athletes would therefore benefit from an increased omega-3 intake.