Omega-3s show ‘positive effects’ for athletic endurance and muscle function

By Stephen Daniells contact

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Photo: © iStockPhoto / Razvan
Photo: © iStockPhoto / Razvan

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid

Supplements of omega-3s may improve neuromuscular function and aspects of fatigue for athletes, says a new study from the University of Toronto.

Data published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition​, indicated that a seal oil-derived omega-3 supplement for three weeks was associated with a 20% increase in thigh muscle function, compared with placebo.

The seal oil supplement was also associated with a reduction in muscle fatigue, as measured by the Wingate percent power drop.

“To our knowledge this is the first study to evaluate the effects of an omega-3 PUFA supplement on athletes while measuring changes in both neuromuscular function and performance,” ​wrote the researchers. “This study found that omega-3 PUFA supplementation increased muscle activation and attenuated fatigue as assessed during a Wingate test after maximal back squat exercise by reducing percent power drop.”

‘There's definitely enough indication that omega-3s may be having a positive effect’

Commenting on the study’s findings Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “While I wouldn't translate the present results into advice just yet, the research was well-designed and there's definitely enough indication that omega-3s may be having a positive effect on function and performance that further research should be conducted in this area.”

Study details

Led by Evan Lewis, a PhD candidate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, the researchers recruited 30 male athletes with an average age of 25 who were training for an average of 17 hours per week. The men were randomly assigned to receive either the seal oil supplement (375 mg EPA, 230 mg DPA, 510 mg DHA per day, Auum Inc.) or placebo for three weeks.

Results of the randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-design study indicated that the omega-3 supplements were associated with significant increases in blood EPA levels, but there were no differences between the groups for DPA and DHA levels.

Thigh muscle function, as measured by vastus lateralis electromyography, increased by 20% in the omega-3 group, compared with placebo, while fatigue was decreased compared with placebo.

Omega-3 softgels
The seal oil supplements used in the study were provided by Ontario-based Auum Inc.

Differences between the groups were unclear for performance in a time trial, however, with 50% of men in the omega-3 group displaying improvements in the time trial, compared with 33 % in the placebo group.

Lewis and his co-workers said that omega-3s are reported to alter cellular membrane composition and fluidity and this may boost nerve function.

“In this study, [omega-3] supplementation may have altered muscle membrane dynamics,” ​they wrote. “This could have enhanced muscle action potential conduction through the working muscle. Altered membrane dynamics could have mitigated muscle damage resulting from the 10RM squat test.

“A reduction in damage might explain the attenuated Wingate test performance observed in the [omega-3] group. Similarly, reduced muscle damage could maintain muscle action potential conduction, thereby maintaining muscle excitation contraction coupling and ultimately muscle force generating capacity.”

Omega-3s and sports nutrition

The study adds to a small but growing body of science supporting the sports nutrition potential of omega-3s. Last year, Japanese scientists from Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd, The University of Tokyo, the University of Toyama, and Josai International University reported that daily supplements of an EPA-rich fish oil may boost exercise economy, a predictor of endurance exercise performance.

A daily fish oil dose of 3.6 grams for eight weeks was associated with increases in EPA and DHA levels in red blood cells (erythrocytes) and decreases in oxygen uptake (VO2) during steady-state submaximal exercise (Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry​).

And, as reported by NutraIngredients-USA recently, Polish scientists reported that omega-3 supplementation may increase concentrations of NO and boost blood flow, thereby enhancing exercise performance in cyclists. The data indicated that omega-3s boosted baseline NO concentrations by an average of 8 micromoles per liter more than placebo, and boosted flow mediated dilation (FMD – a measure of blood flow and vascular health) by 5.25%, compared with placebo.

These increases in FMD were associated with significant increases in VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake), compared with placebo (European Journal of Sport Science​).

Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
2015, 12​:28
“21 days of mammalian omega-3 fatty acid supplementation improves aspects of neuromuscular function and performance in male athletes compared to olive oil placebo”
Authors: E.J.H. Lewis, P.W. Radonic, Wolever TMS and Wells GD

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