Why Every Athlete Needs Omega-3s In Their Diet

Are you getting enough EPA and DHA?

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Are you getting enough EPA and DHA?

These omega-3s found in oily fish and algae are key for heart health but may also help repair muscles, reduce pain after a workout, burn fat and make your workouts seem easier!

Omega-3s are famous for their heart health benefits. One way omega-3s help is that they lower chronic inflammation that can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. It comes as no surprise that a strong and healthy heart is essential to keeping you running–literally and figuratively.

Microscopic tears in your muscles form whether you head out for a run or dive into a weight training session. During recovery, these tears are repaired and the muscle is strengthened–with additional help from omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish. When you work out day after day without enough rest and recovery, the microscopic tears don’t heal properly and you can set yourself up for muscle injury. Resting between training sessions combined with getting enough marine omega-3s helps ensure that your muscles can recover efficiently. That means you can keep working out regularly while lowering the risk of injury.

The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s benefit runners in other ways. The muscle soreness you experience after a workout is a result of your body’s inflammatory response to those microscopic muscle tears. Omega-3s essentially hold back the markers that signal for an inflammatory response, therefore reducing the inflammation and pain sent to your muscles after working out.

Numerous studies suggest that omega-3s from oily fish are effective in reducing post-workout soreness, both in endurance training and strength training workouts. Marine omega-3s seem to be especially helpful in preventing the muscle soreness that sets in a day or two after a tough workout.

In addition, several studies have shown that marine omega-3s help increase fat oxidation during endurance training while decreasing carbohydrate oxidation. That means that these omega-3s help you burn more fat while you’re doing a steady state workout (like running) without depleting your body of the carbohydrates it needs to fuel the activity.

Last but not least, omega-3s from fish can help make your workout feel easier! This is because these anti-inflammatory fats also help reduce blood viscosity. This blood-thinning effect not only lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke but helps prevent fatigue by increasing blood flow and oxygen to your muscles.

One study found that omega-3 supplementation significantly decreased participants’ perceived exertion during exercise. In other words, omega-3s made tough workouts feel easier. Who wouldn’t love more gain with less pain?

With all of these great benefits to boost your run, you’re probably wondering which foods are the best sources of omega-3s and how much you need to reap the benefits.

Know These Acronyms: ALA, DHA And EPA

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) omega-3s are found in plant-based sources like flax, chia and hemp seeds and walnuts. Your body can convert some ALA omega-3s into the longer chain DHA and EPA omega-3s, but the amount is pretty puny–often less than 1 percent of it is converted.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) omega-3s have more research supporting their heart health benefits and the general benefits outlined above. These omega-3s are found in marine sources such as tuna, mackerel, salmon and marine algae. They’re also the main type of omega-3s found in supplements like fish oil and krill oil.

How much EPA and DHA should you get?

There’s no set recommendation, but many health professionals recommend 250 to 1,000 milligrams per day for most people. To achieve that goal, aim for two servings of fish rich in omega-3s per week (a serving is about the size of the palm of your hand).

If you don’t eat fish often, take fish oil supplements to get enough EPA or DHA. If you want a plant-based source of EPA and DHA, look for supplements made from algae.

In addition to EPA and DHA, include plant-based sources of omega-3s (such as flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts) in your diet for additional anti-inflammatory benefits.

Delicious Meals Full Of Omega-3s

These three recommended meals rich in omega-3s will make it easy to ensure your body’s getting enough of the nutrients it needs.

  1. Eating a tuna sandwich for lunch once a week.
  2. Enjoying roasted salmon for dinner another day.
  3. Adding flax and chia seeds or walnuts to your smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal or making chia pudding.

This article originally appeared at Womensrunning.com.

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