Could krill omega-3 offer boost to ‘world’s toughest’ triathletes?

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Credit: Aker BioMarine
Credit: Aker BioMarine
A new research partnership between Aker BioMarine, the Pure Science Triathlon and Norseman will test the impact of krill oil omega-3s on the athletic performance and recovery of athletes taking part in one of the toughest full-distance triathlons in the world.

The Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is widely considered to be one of the ultimate triathlons in the world – and includes racing from fjords to rocky peaks in a multitude of often challenging weather conditions.

After a successful pilot study in 2017, a partnership between global krill player Aker and the Pure Science triathlon team will test the importance of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in one of the ultimate performance and endurance events.

Team Pure Science

Team Pure Science is part professional triathlon team, part clinical research field study. The group is made up of a diverse team of researchers, fitness enthusiasts and elite-level athletes including 2016 Norseman winner Kari Flottorp Lingsom and former World Ironman Champion under 24 Hans Christian Tungesvik.

“We know that high-intensity training has an impact on immune function and inflammation, making athletes especially vulnerable to illness and infections. This has a direct impact on the athletes’ physical recovery and performance,”​ commented study leader Dr Andreas Berg Storsve, Director R&D at Aker BioMarine.

“In order to thoroughly research the effects of omega-3 DHA and EPA in regards to maximal exercise, we didn’t have to look far,”​ he said. “Norseman athletes are some of the strongest competitors in the world. The fact that these incredible athletes are meticulous in their training, routines and diet, makes them the perfect research subjects.”

2017 pilot

Storsve and his team used Omega-3 Index testing before and after the 2017 race – finding that in general, the athletes experienced a severe drop in DHA levels in the five weeks after completing the contest.

What is the Norseman?

Norseman is one of the toughest and most extreme triathlons in the world involving:

  • 3,8 km swim through a fjord (water temp normally around 13 C)
  • 180 km cycling (total elevation 3400 m)
  • 42 km run (total elevation 1600 m)

However, supplementation with a high dose (4 grams a day) of krill oil restored the DHA drop and significantly increased the athletes’ Omega-3 Index, Storsve said.

“Pilot data from the 2017 Norseman study clearly shows a drop in omega-3 levels following high-intensity exercise,”​ he noted. “This is important because we found that higher omega-3 levels were associated with less illness during training and better performance during the race, especially during the cycling leg.”

Another important finding of the study, according to Storsve, is that the Omega-3 Index was found to be second best predictor of bike leg time, after exercise volume, but ahead of important factors like pre-race injuries, illness and early-life fitness level.

“We also found that athletes with higher omega-3 levels recovered faster after the race,” ​he said – adding that the findings and implications could be ‘a game-changer for the top athletes.’

2018: In depth and systematic

The pilot study in 2017 looked at data from a random group of 50 athletes from 2017 Norseman field, but plans for the main follow-up study in 2018 will enable a more in-depth, systematic study of the importance of phospholipids for recovery in both training and competition.  

“During 2018 Norseman we will be testing for specific biomarkers of inflammation and immune responses as well as the effects of choline, which is a central component of krill oil, on performance and recovery,” ​Storsve said.

“By doing so, we will get a more complete understanding of the nutritional factors that help athletes optimize their performance. However, the results so far suggest that krill oil can have a real impact in the world of sports.”

Commenting on the upcoming research, and the potential for omega-3s to enhance both performance and recovery, former World Ironman under 24 Champion Hans Christian Tungesvik said: “To perform at the maximum level, I need to give my body the nutrients that it needs, particularly to avoid injury and illness, because that enables me to get the consistent training I need for a race like Norseman.”

“Obviously omega-3s are an important part of my diet and nutrition, so I am really eager to see how krill oil can affect my performance and recovery.”

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