Are your omegas anti-inflammatory?

Are your omegas anti-inflammatory?

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Are your omegas anti-inflammatory?

By Gabrielle Maston

Athletes and weekend warriors suffer from musculoskeletal injuries all the time, resulting in loss of training time and missed competitions. Everyday training produces stress on the body and has severe metabolic demands, as does everyday life, so what can you do to avoid downtime from training as much as possible? After all, as you’re resting your competitors are potentially getting fitter and stronger than you.

You have probably already heard that oily fish like tuna and salmon is good for your health; there has been a plethora of applications of omega-3 supplementation for decreasing risk of depression, heart disease, weight loss and cholesterol. But the more novel applications of omega-3 have been used to help with recovery, reducing metabolic stress and fatigue. Some studies have even shown omega-3s can improve reaction time in precision-based sports1 and have revealed the benefits of decreased fatigue in both aerobic- and strength-based activities.2

We know that if metabolic stress and muscle fatigue can be reduced our recovery can be improved, which will ultimately increase sports performance as we can continue to back up tough training sessions soon after feeling refreshed and in an optimal state of recovery.

A study measuring oxidative stress, systemic inflammation and cellular damage in resistance training athletes found that after seven days of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation all of these symptoms were reduced post-exercise.3

A similar conclusion was found in a study conducted on military personnel undergoing endurance aerobic exercise. During this study, soldiers were put on a calorie-restricted diet and underwent intense army bootcamp-style training over the course of five full days. Scientists measured inflammatory and muscle damage markers. The soldiers that received daily omega-3 supplementation for five weeks leading up to the exercise showed a reduction in inflammation and damage compared to their peers on a placebo.4

This indicates the protective effect of omega-3s on cardiovascular and metabolic functions in long-duration physically demanding events which can translate into sports and reducing fatigability.

There are two types of omega-3s: oily fish-derived omega-3 is called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA(docosahexaenoic acid); ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is plant-derived omega-3 and can be found in flaxseeds, nuts, seeds and avocados. ALA fatty acids are not used in the body in its purest form; it has to be converted to EPA and DHA.

Keep in mind, though, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is metabolically inefficient, resulting in less than 8 per cent of ALA being converted to EPA, and 4 per cent to DHA. This is important to remember if you want to achieve the ergogenic effects of omega-3.

In addition to this, conditions such as diets high in omega-6, trans fatty acids, alcohol or individuals with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, certain medication needs, and mineral and vitamin deficiencies (B3, B6, zinc, magnesium) are also known to prevent ALA metabolism to EPA and DHA.

How much omega-3 do we need?

Most studies that show an improvement in muscle fatigue, body inflammation and reaction time have dosed at least 3000mg of omega-3 daily chronically 3-4 weeks prior to testing.5

As recommended intakes are quite high it may be difficult to reach recommended levels through diet alone; however, it is good to try to get most of your omega-3 intake from fish and then supplement residual amounts with fish oil or krill oil capsules. Choosing to eat more fish will also help you achieve your desired levels of protein and amino acids.

Now this is my type of ergogenic aid! One that allows you to train day after day after day!


Food item

Omega-3 DHA & EPA (g)

ALA (g)

White fish 100g



Canned salmon pink 100g

1.1 -1.4


Canned tuna 100g

1.1 -1.4


Oysters 100g



Cod fish 100g



Omega-3 fortified eggs (2 eggs)

0.16 -0.27


Almond milk 1 cup



Soy beans



Flaxseed oil 1tsp



Walnuts 1/4cup





 (1) José F. Guzmán, H. Esteve, C.Pablos, A.Pablos, C.Blasco and J.Villegas DHA- rich fish oil improves complex reaction time in female elite soccer players. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2011) 10, 301-305

(2) M.Ne ́de ́lec, A.McCall, C.Carling, F. Legall, S.Berthoin, G.Dupont (2012) Recovery in Soccer Part II—Recovery Strategies Published online: 16 November 2012 Ó Springer International Publishing Switzerland

(3) S. Atashak', H.Sharafi', M.Azarbayjani, S.Robert, S.Goli' and M.Mosalman Haghighi' Effects of omega-3 supplementation on the blood levels of oxidative stress, muscle damage and inflammation markers after acute resistance exercise in young athletes. Kinesiology 45(2013) 1:22-2945(2013) 1

Santos E.P, Silva A.S, Costa M.J.C, Moura Junior J.S, Quirno E.L.O, Framca G.A.M, Asciutti L.S.R (2012) Omega-3 supplementation attenuates the production of C-reactive protein in military persoannel during 5 days of intense physical stress and nutritional restriction. Biol.Sport 2013; 29:93-99

Tartibian B, Maleki BH, Abbasi A. The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men. Clin J Sport Med. 2009;19(2):115–9.

David.J, S Johnson-Verma  (2013) The Institute, Dubai, Uae nutrition, other topics & ligaments 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092558.27


Gabrielle Maston BSc Hons
Exercise physiologist, clinical and sports dietician at Changing Shape diet and exercise specialists in Sydney, health and wellness writer, consultant and lecturer at FIA fitness college. 

E-mail Gabrielle at  or visit for more information.








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