Omega-3: Why athletes benefit from taking it
Physical performance can benefit in many ways from supplementation with omega-3. A review from last year shows the benefits of taking the fatty acids for athletes. You can find out more about this in our blog post.Sport is healthy, no doubt about it. However, intensive training can also have a negative effect and lead to oxidative damage. This is caused by free radicals, which are increasingly formed during sport. These unstable compounds attack other structures (e.g. the cell membrane) and change them. Normally, they are rendered harmless by antioxidants beforehand. Athletes therefore need more antioxidant substances than non-athletes in order to prevent oxidative stress and the associated damage. Omega-3 fatty acids - also known as n-3 fatty acids or n-3 PUFA (= polyunsaturated fatty acids/polyunsaturated fatty acids) - are among these antioxidants and can mitigate oxidative stress. The fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties and even influence the metabolism of muscle cells. Various studies have investigated how this affects muscle building and regeneration.
Omega-3 promotes muscle building
A study by Smith et al. back in 2011 pointed to the anabolic (muscle-building) properties of omega-3 fatty acids: A daily intake of 4 g of n-3 PUFA fatty acids significantly increased muscle protein synthesis in the study participants after eight weeks. Incidentally, not only athletes benefit from this positive effect on muscle building. The age-related loss of muscle mass can also be delayed by omega-3 fatty acids. One study showed that six months of omega-3 supplementation led to increased strength and muscle mass in older people. n-3 PUFAs appear to influence the permeability of cell membranes and insulin sensitivity. In addition, the glucose transporter GLUT4 is upregulated. As a result, muscle cells are better supplied with nutrients such as glucose and amino acids. Omega-3 fatty acids also appear to activate the mTor signalling pathway, an important checkpoint for protein synthesis and cell division.
Omega-3 improves regeneration
The positive properties of omega-3 fatty acids also have an effect on regeneration. One study showed that taking 3 g of n-3 fatty acids per day reduced muscle soreness after bicep curls and increased recovery. Other studies have also shown lower blood concentrations of inflammatory markers (e.g. TNF-α) after sport. In a study of professional rugby players, muscle soreness and fatigue were reduced and mental well-being improved after 20 days of omega-3 intake.
Omega-3 reduces muscle breakdown
It's not just active athletes who benefit from supplementation; according to a study, taking omega-3 fatty acids during a training break also reduces muscle loss. In the study, young women took either 5 g of sunflower oil or 5 g of n-3 fatty acids every day. While muscle mass decreased by 6% in the first group during the two-week training break, no significant change was observed in women with omega-3 supplementation. The researchers assume that the anabolic properties of the fatty acids reduce muscle breakdown.You can read more about avoiding muscle loss during the training break here.
- N. V. Bogdanovskaya et al. Induction of oxidative and nitrosative stress in boys in adapting to physical stress during training and competitive periods. Fiziol. Zh. 2016;62:47-56.
- G. I. Smith G.I. et al. N-3 PUFA polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia- hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin. Sci. 2011;121:267-78.
- G. I. Smith et al. Fish oil-derived n-3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2015;102:115-22.
- C. McGlory et al. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation attenuates skeletal muscle disuse atrophy during two weeks of unilateral leg immobilisation in healthy young women
- M. A. Gammone et al. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Benefits and Endpoints in Sport. Nutrients 2019; 11(1): 46.
- K. E. Black et al. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to a protein-based supplement during pre-season training results in reduced muscle soreness and the better maintenance of explosive power in professional rugby union players. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018; 18(10):1357-1367.