What benefits can fish oil offer to athletes? Dr Martin Lindley discusses how much to take, what it could help with and the science behind it.

Reduced Inflammation and Recovery

Fish oil supplementation does not remove all inflammation from the body however it has been shown to reduce inflammation when it occurs at high levels i.e. during illness or in a disease state. This being the case, athletes have started to take fish oil supplementation, particularly those high in the fatty acid EPA, to help with reducing high levels of inflammation following repeated bouts of high-intensity training or from repeated bouts of high impact collisions.

Brain Health Benefits

Fish oils so-called ‘active ingredients’ are its omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids one of which is DHA. This is the fatty acid that plays a role in creating the fatty sheath that surrounds nerve fibres, myelin. The myelin sheath allows for more efficient transport of electrical signals which is very important within the brain. So more DHA allows more myelin and more myelin should enhance the nerve signals in your brain which is thought to aid decision making and overall cognitive health.

Respiratory

Repeated exposure to cold dry air (i.e. spending long hours training outside in the British winter) can lead to inflammation within the lung and in some cases can mean symptoms of Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction. Daily dietary supplementation with a high concentration fish oil has demonstrated the ability to reduce the pulmonary function symptoms seen in Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction and reduced inflammation within the lung.

Other Health Benefits

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are a basic component of cell membranes and as such are a natural part of the cells of the body. With omega 3 being incorporated into so many cells within the body the positive benefits can be seen to exist across many biological systems from the lungs and heart to the brain and the eyes. The full extent of the impact of fish oil on cells and their functions has not yet been detailed however the immune system and the body’s production of anti-inflammatory mediators is a general benefit of fish oils that seems to be accepted all across the literature.

How Much Fish Oil Do You Need?

There is no simple answer to the question ‘how much do I need’ however there are also very few negative reported side effects of taking fish oil. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that a range of between 2 and 5 grams of fish oil a day can have beneficial impacts upon the biological systems of the body and the World Health Organisation recommend that in general people take approximately 1 g of fish oil a day.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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