Steinar B Adalbjornsson, M.Sc., RD.

It may not smell good or taste good – but it’s a must for runners

During my studies at the Auburn University, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Margaret Craig-Schmidt, a professor who has a great interest in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  At that time I realized already the health potentials of adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and how the ration between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids was of particular concern for most populations.

However, I am not going into the gritty details of these fascinating fatty acids in this post. I am, on the other hand, going to tell you where to get the omega-3s and also why it is important to us, runners and endurance athletes of all sort, to consume adequate amounts of omega-3s in order to stay healthy and improve our running.

Stop swallowing pain killers for joint pain
In my work as a registered dietitian, I have come across weekend practice warriors and professional athletes alike who are trying to increase their athletic performance through better nutrition. One thing that most of the professional athletes I help have in common is pain in the joints. In my opinion, this is due to extreme physical workload and lack of rest, dietary habits that cut out as much fat as possible and little or no consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Among the first things I do when working with a professional athlete is to add a food source that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. But why?

Well omega-3s are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body — in the blood vessels, the joints, and elsewhere. One of the researchers who has looked into the benefits of omega-3 fatty acid consumption and joint pain resulting from participation in sports, is Joseph Maroon, M.D., a neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh and an Ironman competitor.  In one of his study 250 participants with neck or back pain consumed 1,200 milligrams of DHA and EPA, two forms of omega-3s that seem to be the most effective in reducing inflammation. After a month, 59% of those who consumed fish-oil supplement did not have the need to continue their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Our bodies are always producing inflammatory compounds, due to many factors such as physical stress from athletic participation. The fact that omega-3 can relief some of the pain associated with this stress is of great importance to runners and other athletes who are constantly pushing the physical limits.

In addition…..these compounds are also heart healthy
The greatest evidence for the beneficial role of omega-3s comes from research looking into the cardiovascular systems. Most researcher agree that adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may help maintain healthy levels of triglycerides in the body and help keep a healthy blood pressure, both important for all athletes.

But that’s not all
Other benefits may include

  • Reduction in prostate cancer specific mortality
  • Coronary calcium scores reduction and slower plaque growth
  • A role in the therapy children with ADHD
  • Effectiveness in treatment for children with autism
  • Postponing cognitive decline in elderly men
  • and so many more

Sources
The best sources of omega-3s are:

  • Fish, particularly fatty fish (darker meat) such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and tuna. Fortunately consumption of fish is on the rise in many western countries mainly due to interest in sushi consumption. However, it is important that sushi includes these types of fish for us to reap the benefits. Sashimi and Nigiri types of sushi are our best bets. Note: if the fish is farm raised be sure to know what kind of feed the fish has been given. If the feed is free of omega-3 sources, the farmed raised fish will not include omega-3.
  • Seeds, such as chia and flax. However, when omega-3s come from plant sources, a conversion has to take place in the body for us to fully benefit from the omega-3s. This conversion is not very efficient. Therefore, other sources than plant sources are always our first choice for omega-3s.
  • Omega-3 food supplements are for most the most convenient option to consume the amounts of omega-3 that are necessary for optimum health. Don’t get me wrong, natural dietary sources are most of the time our best bet but it can be hard to get adequate amounts of omega-3 from the western diet. Look for trustworthy suppliers of omega-3 products. Some are labeled as Fish oil supplements but don’t let that fool you; fish oil supplements are a great source of omega-3s.

When running, swimming or riding, don’t miss out on the one single thing that may help you become a better athlete, whether you are a professional or a weekend warrior.

Want to know more about nutrition for running and food supplements for runners? Take a look at this book in Amazon Kindle Store.

References
Surgical Neurology
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Journal of Internal Medicine
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Paediatrics & Child Health
Biological Psychiatry
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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Comments (6)

  1. Thomas Phalen

    I have a strong confirmation bias from my reading–I believe that the Omega 3/Omega 6 balance is very important, and tipped too far toward O6 in the typical American diet. One quibble about emphasis. I’ve run into the opinion (it may be by the Jaminets) that it may be better to lower the O6 side of the equation by knocking down vegetable oils than to raise the O3 side more than a certain amount. Also, because both omegas oxidize easily, freshness seems to be critical with the fish oils.

    Do you have a sense of the absolute level that is optimum for the Omegas?

    In any case, thanks for the post!

    • Steinar Steinar

      I agree with you Thomas. I think lowering Omega-6 is super important and that will definitely happen when people stop eating so much processed food as they usually use cheaper oils in the manufacturing.

      Regarding the oxidation, I also agree with you. This is why I strongly feel that consumption of anti-oxidant rich food like berries, darker vegetables, some seeds and other anti-oxidant rich food is a must when increasing the consumption of omega-3s.

      The optimal balance is hard to figure out. It also depends on the whole dietary approach of the person as well as exercise load. For what it’s worth I think 5:1 or even lower would benefit most, and that should not only come from added 3s but also from lower 6s, as you correctly point out.

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading ;)

  2. K

    How often/how much would you recommend an active person take omega-3 fish oil supplements?

    • Steinar Steinar

      I think a good source of omega-3s every day will help people reach better health. I do believe also that a very active person should focus on reaching at least 1000-2000mg of omega-3 per day, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and that will aid in pain relief of the joints. I will state though that a good source of these fatty acids is needed for us to benefit and its crucial that people investigate the source and make sure it’s free from contaminants such as heavy metals.

  3. […] One Icelandic flat-bread (what is that?) with salmon (Omega-3s for anti-inflammation) […]

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