Fish oil supplements may seem like a relatively recent health fad but they have actually been produced in the UK on a large scale since 1935 by the company Seven Seas Ltd. Since then, the fish oil supplement market has continued to grow, with many beneficial effects claimed for health.Can good fat boost your fitness level?
Fish oil is mainly found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, shellfish and in the liver of lean fish. It contains omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA).
Many athletes use daily dietary supplements to keep good health, avoid disruptions to their training and ultimately improve performance. But is there evidence to support this? We have been investigating the issue.
Evaluating the evidence
One thing that often interrupts athletes’ training is that they are three to four times more likely to suffer from coughs and colds. While this may seem like a minor problem, it is in fact one of the most common reasons for not training.
So from the point of view of the immune system, omega-3 supplements may be of benefit to some people.
Another important aspect of training is the recovery time between sessions when you are typically dealing with muscle damage and associated soreness. Again, the effect of omega-3s on these processes is inconsistent. Supplementing with omega-3 may actually hamper some of the gains of training.
When it comes to strength training such lifting weights, we recently demonstrated that omega-3 supplementation further increases muscle strength gain but, interestingly, not muscle size. It may be that neuro-muscular processes, which make muscles contract faster and better, were responsible for this effect.
Ultimately, the main reason for an athlete to take a supplement is to increase exercise performance. So, all things considered, do omega-3s make you perform better? In short, no.
But it’s still early days and we will need more evidence to know for certain.