The Importance of Omega 3s

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In my experience it seems that as you transition from a beginner into a more seasoned athlete, their awareness of nutrition, supplementation and the needs that should be met, is increased. This is a good thing, as generally speaking experienced weight training athletes will benefit from an inclusion of certain supplements into their diet. This can (and should) be tailored to the individual and their own specific requirements, but I will try to provide you with a reasonably detailed overview of what I feel is the most important one. This first installment will hopefully give you a good understanding of the humble Omega 3.

FISH OIL (OMEGA 3)

I’ve always said that if you are going to spend your money on supplements, then a good, high quality oil should be at the top of your list. They are a good natural choice to treat depression, muscular inflammation or anything specific with regards to the cardiovascular system. With regards on whether to use flax or fish oil, I would be leaning towards fish oil unless you are vegan. Generally women absorb flax oil better than men due to the fact that the body has to convert the oil before it can use it. Most people get enough Omega 6 & 9 through their diet, it’s the Omega 3 that there tends to be more of a requirement for, and the Omega 3 content in the flax oil is a lot lower than what you would get in an Omega 3 supplement sourced from fish.

Most people that use EFAs don’t use them in big enough quantities; 2-3g seems to be the widely accepted dosage. I would say 5g is a good starting point but I wouldn’t be too afraid to go heavy with them, just tailor the dosage to meet your needs & requirements. The only common side effect can be an upset stomach in which case you can just reduce the Omega 3 oils until you start to feel right, much like you would do when you are running big doses of Vitamin C. I would consider a big dosage of Omega 3 to be around the 10-20g mark personally; I know of a top NZ track cycling coach that had his squad on well over 15,000mg Omega 3 a day with good results.

Molecular distillation with fish oil has pros and cons but overall I would argue that it’s not a terribly bad thing with the goal ultimately trying to refine the oil. One of the main advantages is that it helps to remove heavy metals and other potentially dangerous environmental toxins; Mercury is the one we all know about, although there’s many heavy metals that are often naturally present that never really get mentioned. The different components of the oil are able to be split during the distillation process, which allows for greater purity and ultimately will result in better absorption and utilisation by the body.

The negatives would primarily be the cost of the process, and despite more and more brands of fish oil coming onto the market, the cost of the actual refining of the oil is still high. Your cheaper companies that molecularly distill their oils can quite often lose the natural triglyceride form during the process. This is why with Omega 3 you do get what you pay for.

I’m not personally against molecular distillation if it is done to extremely high standards ~ the key points that need to be met and ensured is that a) there is no heat, moisture and high compaction during the distillation process as this can adulterate the biological activity of the nutrients b) avoiding commonly used fillers, binders and synthetic additives such as polyvinylpyrrolidone, crospovidone, rancid oils, yeast, wheat starch (gluten), soy, dairy protein (casein) c) the filters that are used need to be of high standard, and also that in any high concentrate products there needs to be only natural enzymes used (these are used to form triglycerides). 

Two examples of what I consider to be both a very high standard of fish oil would be the Solgar ‘Omega-3 700’ and the Nordic Naturals ‘Ultimate Omega; the Solgar product does not use molecular distillation whereas the Nordic Naturals product does.

Be aware of your diet in combination with running Omega 3’s, as it has been shown in studies that cholesterol-lowering diets can increase the risk of depression. This is due to the decrease in Omega 3 fatty acids that can gradually reduce the DHA levels in the brain (the brain comprises of anywhere up to 60% DHA). DHA is an essential part of the neuronal cell membranes, but if it becomes replaced by Omega 6 fatty acids then the likelihood of depression increases as this can cause changes to the structure of the membranes. You also want to be looking for Omega 3’s that have a good ratio of DHA to EPA. The common ratio tends to be 180/120 but you can get higher than that (usually oils contain higher levels and you do get what you pay for). I have routinely taken up to 18g before on a regular basis and noticed no aches, pains or even DOMS after hard training sessions. **(1)  Another bonus is that supplemental EFA’s stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older adults.

It’s advisable to take your Omega 3’s with meals as the food can aid absorption as well as preventing/limiting any reflux, although you can get good quality ‘Reflux Free’ fish oils nowadays. Price is indicative of quality and these are one supplement you do want to be getting as good as you can afford. They are pretty safe overall, just be careful of the interactions they may have with any mood-improving medications you may be taking, as well as blood thinning agents such as Warfarin and aspirin. 3g is a good, sensible starting dose (see below for a more thorough guide to symptomatic dosing).

Other good food sources of healthy fats that may benefit your performance are mixed raw nuts (walnuts, brazil, macadamia are all good), fish, avocado, rice bran oil, almond butter, coconut oil etc. Ideally, you want to be eating a variety of foods that are higher in monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats. MUFAs can be of benefit to insulin levels and blood sugar control and PUFAs (found mostly in plant-based foods and oils) may help decrease the risk of Type II diabetes as well as reducing LDL whilst raising HDL cholesterol. If you are looking to consume Omega 3 through diet alone you need to make sure you are eating raw fish; cooking denatures the Omega 3 as well as reducing the levels of DHA. 

OMEGA 3 SUPPLEMENTATION IN RELATION TO SYMPOMATIC PRESENCE

DOSE:

General health ~ 1,000-2,000mg
Moderate disease/stress ~ 3,000-4,000mg
Mood/behaviour/cognition ~ 5,000mg
Severe disease/stress ~ 6,000mg+
Bipolar disorder ~ 9,600mg (optimal dosage according to studies)

We know from studies that it’s great for improving membrane fluidity, is the brains fat of choice for both function and structure and it holds significant merit for reducing post workout inflammation/DOMS.

References:

** (1) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Muscle Protein Synthesis: NCT00794079

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James Styler, born in the United Kingdom is now a Triathlon/Powerlifting Coach in ChristChurch, New Zealand with over ten years hands-on experience with fitness and health. James has also been a columnist for VO2max magazine for four years writing the “Ask The Trainer’ column as well as having articles published on numerous health, sports performance and science websites such as 1Vigor.  James is a 3 x New Zealand Powerlifting Champion, finished 15th in the Open Men St James 69km Ultramarathon, has completed 10 marathons and 30+ half marathons. In 2011 he completed the ‘Three Day Endurance Challenge’ where over 72hrs James ran two marathons, cycled 280km and lifted 100,000lbs of weights raising money for Heart Children NZ.

  1. Petter left a comment on January 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    How does cod liver oil play into this? I’ve heard things from both sides of the fence, with some saying it’s a cheap way to get your Omega-3 if you can stand the taste, and others saying it’s nothing like taking Omega-3 capsules.

  2. James Styler left a comment on February 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Cod liver oil is actually pretty low in omega 3 content, so it wouldn’t be a suitable option to use as a source omega 3 source. It’s primarily comprised of Vitamin A & D. It’s the DHA and EPA content of omega 3 that you are after, and simply put the cod liver oil does not contain them in any significant amounts.

  3. Max Zablo left a comment on March 30, 2013 at 11:58 am

    When you prescribe 5g as a good starting point, are you referring to total Omega 3’s or just the EPA level?

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on April 4, 2013 at 10:16 pm

      Good question! It’s referring to Total Omega 3’s.

    • James Styler left a comment on April 7, 2013 at 11:16 pm

      Yes, 5g is the total amount Max. Thanks

  4. omega-3-blog left a comment on May 31, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Thank you for this informative piece. Indeed Omega-3 has been shown to have a host of beneficial effects on human health, and especially for athletes who push themselves to excel. You may find a wealth of impartial scientific information on our blog owww.omega-3-blog.com as well as at expertomega3.com, where our experts will be glad to answer your questions.

    • James Styler left a comment on June 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks for your comments, I will definately take a look when I get a chance.

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