Supplements are great when taken in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise plan, but some supplements can be viewed as more essential than others. A good protein blend, for example, is crucial for building muscle and preserving lean body mass, but beyond the aesthetic reasoning behind most supplements on the shelves today, there is one in particular that belongs at the top of your list: omega-3 fatty acids.
These fatty acids derived from fish oil have been a staple in my supplement regimen for years due to their positive effects on my physical and athletic performance, as well as their brain-boosting, heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory properties. If you’re not taking an omega-3 supplement, now may be the time to start.
Over the last few years of emerging research, studies have concluded that omega-3s can be advantageous to athletes looking to overcome or prevent joint inflammation; aid in subsiding cardiovascular disease due to low levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels in plasma (blood); restore muscle- and bone-tissue loss due to age; and alleviate pain in the musculoskeletal system, to name just a few.
Let’s take a look as to how these beneficial properties came to be known.
• Boosts heart health in NFL players. One study in particular backing omega-3 in relation to cardiovascular disease was published by Sports Health, in which professional football players were subjected to evaluation.
It was hypothesized that omega-3 (in this case, Nordic Naturals ProOmega) could improve cardiovascular lipid (compounds including fats and fat-soluble vitamins) risk factors and could improve lipid profiles in players in order to reduce their recently shown accelerated risk of developing cardiovascular disease (often times due to obesity, which is common in linemen).
Researchers took 36 active NFL players and randomly divided them into two groups for a 60-day trial of omega-3 supplementation: Group 1 was given 2,200 mg of mixed DHA and EPA and 360 mg of other omega-3s, while Group 2 was the control.
After 60 days, players who had been administered omega-3 were found to have increased their high-density lipoprotein and decreased their triglyceride levels. The study suggests that, “fish oil supplementation is an effective way to increase [EPA] and [DHA] levels in plasma and should be considered as a method to improve modifiable cardiovascular risk lipid factors….”
• Fish oil helps reduce joint inflammation. Omega-3 supplementation could vastly improve and prevent inflammatory conditions and alleviate joint pain suffered by athletes (like NFL players). In a study from 2007 that appeared in the journal Pain, patients supplemented with omega-3 for a period of three to four months, and the results determined that joint pain sustained by the patient was reduced after said time. This could be beneficial to athletes, weightlifters or any individual who has experienced joint pain (often most notably in the knee).
• Fish oil helps reduce muscle pain. Along with joint inflammation, omega-3 has been shown to aid athletes in recovery from muscular discomfort. For example, an athlete could experience pain as a result of heavy lifting during practice or preparation during the offseason.
Data collected from a 1985 Norwegian health survey has linked musculoskeletal pain alleviation with cod liver oil, which is rich in omega-3. In the cross-sectional study, researchers reported that those who reported musculoskeletal pain—and who were found to have musculoskeletal disease—were positively associated with the addition of cod liver oil into their daily diet. The study concluded “that people with musculoskeletal pain experience less pain if they take cod liver oil.”
• Fish oil helps restore loss of muscle tissue and bone mass. Another debilitating factor athletes can face over time is diminishing lean body mass. Athletes can break down muscle and lose tissue due to overexertion, and often, old age is the culprit. If you are experiencing muscle-tissue loss as a result of age, omega-3 has been shown to restore tissue and even bone.
The Journal of Immunology released the first report of its kind, where researchers were able to determine that, “resolution of inflammation by a naturally occurring endogenous [developing from within] lipid mediator [produced locally] results in complete regeneration of pathologically lost tissues, including bone.”
How To Get Your Fish Fix
People often ask if fish oil supplements can have the same benefits as eating whole-food sources that are naturally high in omega-3. Eating from high-source omega-3 foods, such as cold-water fish, flaxseed, edamame, wild rice, walnuts or canola oil, is always best because of the body’s ability to absorb the source at a much higher rate than supplements.
However, if you are not consistently getting at least two servings of cold-water fish a week, which is about 500 mg of EPA and DHA, consider taking a high-quality fish oil product. Some sources suggest choosing a product that is derived from a triglyceride-based process as opposed to ethyl ester–based, but our research found that there isnot much need to differentiate while buying. Your local GNC will help you with this.
The American Heart Association recommends 500 mg of combined EPA and DHA for those without a history of heart disease; 1,000 mg with heart disease; and 2,000–4,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA for individuals with a high triglyceride level under medical supervision (seek medical supervision if you are taking more than 3,000 mg a day). Remember, supplement intake should be based on your health needs and can interact with prescription drugs.
I have spent 30 years training and advising thousands of pro athletes, and every regimen, performance routine or diet recommendation I’ve offered has been rooted in science and proven research. It’s my belief that fish oil (omega-3) will prove to be more beneficial than already known in the coming years as more research and testing become available. Just consider what omega-3 could do for you.
About Mackie Shilstone
One of the top trainers in the world, Mackie Shilstone has worked with such sports superstars as Roy Jones Jr., Serena Williams and Bernard Hopkins. You can learn more about Mackie by visiting his website at mackieshilstone.com.