Q How does omega-3 benefit athletes? And how much should I be eating or supplementing each week? Debbie Fulton
A Omega-3 is part of the ‘unsaturated’ family of fats, and is vital for everyday health.
There are different types of omega-3 fats: ALA (alpha linolenic acid), is found mainly in plant-based foods, while EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid) are long-chain fats that can be made from ALA in our bodies and have the most direct health benefits.
Eating foods high in omega-3s can help in many ways; from lowering the level of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in your blood, helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes to having a positive impact on cognitive function, skin, vision, joints and your bones.
The anti-inflammatory properties of EPA and DHA help combat muscle soreness and post-exercise muscle swelling and are linked to benefits such as stimulating muscle growth, influencing the fat-to-muscle ratio in your body, and improving recovery of muscles after intense exercise. Some studies even suggest that EPA and DHA reduce the demand for oxygen during exercise.
There’s no recommended daily intake for omega-3, although we are advised to eat two portions of oily fish a week (around 140g). Supplement use is currently not recommended in healthy adults and children, so talk to your GP before taking them.
The best source of EPA and DHA is oily fish, such as mackerel, kippers, pilchards, trout, salmon, herring, crab (fresh), whitebait and sardines.
Vegetable sources of ALA include flaxseed, pumpkin and chia seeds, nuts, especially walnuts, soya and soya products such as tofu, green leafy vegetables, seed oils such as rapeseed oil and eggs enriched with omega-3.
Note: making EPA and DHA from ALA (vegetable sources) happens slowly and only small amounts are formed, so fish is better.