The new research was done by a team from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. It was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
The authors noted that research on blood omega-3s levels, fish consumption and use of omega-3 supplements has been done on collegiate athletes, but little data exists on professional players. The current study recruited 119 active NBA players. In any given season there are slightly more than 500 active players.
The authors assessed the athletes’ fish consumption as well as how many reported to be using omega-3 dietary supplements. The authors noted there are several methods for assessing how much omega-3s are in a subject's blood stream. They chose to go with the Omega-3 Index, which measures the omega-3s content of red blood cells and is expressed as a percentage. The authors noted the measurement has been used in many other recent omega-3s studies and is measured via a simple and inexpensive blood test offered by OmegaQuant of Sioux Falls, SD.
The 119 players came from 13 NBA teams spread more or less evenly around the country. The average age was about 24 and the vast majority (99 out of 119) identified as African American.
Despite potential omega-3 benefits, almost all players were deficient
Numerous studies using the Omega-3 Index have found that subjects with a level of 4% or less are at relatively higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. An intermediate level of 4% to 8% is associated with lower risk and a level of 8% or more is associated with the least risk.
In addition to the cardiovascular disease benefits, a higher omega-3 level can be associated with some specific sports nutrition benefits. The authors of the current study mentioned that omega-3s have been associated with less exercise-induced inflammation, decreased muscle soreness and greater range of motion post exercise.
Even given the benefits conferred by omega-3s, the researchers found that few players were making an effort to boost their intake. The study found that 31% of the players ate no fish and 61% ate some fish, but less than the recommended two servings per week. Only 12 of the players reported taking omega-3 dietary supplements.
The measured blood levels found that the players had a median Omega-3 Index of about 5%, ranging from slightly less than 4% on the low side to a bit more than 6%. Only two players had a level of 8% or higher.
Expert: NBA teams ought to consider omega-3s supplementation
Despite presumably getting professional nutrition advice from their teams, William Harris, PhD, founder of OmegaQuant and principal at the Fatty Acid Research Institute, said the NBA results mirror the dismal omega-3s levels of the US population as a whole.
Harris said the results suggest that NBA teams ought to consider making omega-3s supplementation a regular part of their feeding strategy for their athletes.
“I wouldn’t want to say that a higher Omega-3 Index would make you a better basketball player. But recovering faster, less muscle pain after work and reduced inflammation are all associated. And this is not an expensive or dangerous thing to do,” Harris said.
“If you want to be responsible over the long haul for the health of these young guys then more omega-3s is just a good idea,” he added.
Source: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Evaluation of Omega-3 Status in Professional Basketball Players
Authors: Davis J-K, et al.