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Study Finds Omega-3 Supplementation Gives Athletes A Performance Edge

Written by Andy Mobbs
omega 3 and exercise

A brand new study conducted at the University of Toronto and published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has found that in highly trained athletes supplementation with omega-3 can increase athletic performance.

Science has been studying the multiple benefits of Omega-3 to general health for many years, but the sports science community is only now starting to catch up, and understand that these health benefits also translate into improved athletic performance and recovery. This study is first to directly measure the effect of omega-3 on neuromuscular function as well as athletic performance.

The authors studied 31 men who had been competing in summer olympic sports for at least 2 years and for more than 12 hours per week. The sports required good strength endurance and endurance (e.g, rowing, sailing, triathlon, running). So the study has big implications not just for omega-3 and exercise, but for specific events such as the benefits of Omega-3 fish oil and triathlon and omega-3 and sport in general. None of the Athletes in the study were taking Omega-3 or consuming over 3 portions of oily fish per week, and they each received 1.1 grams of Omega-3 supplementation for 21 days.

The results showed significant improvements in neuromuscular activation and anaerobic capacity for the athletes supplemented with Omega-3. Neuromuscular activation is nerve activation of the muscles, and it affects the speed at which we can move and how coordinated or balanced that movement is. It also affects our maximum power output or strength and how quickly we can reach our maximum power output.

An MVC (Maximal Voluntary Isometric Contraction) test “a standardized method for measurement of muscle strength” was also used to test the maximum contraction force of each athlete. However, with this test the authors found no significant difference between the Omega-3 supplemented group and the control. Despite this, the authors noted in their discussion at the end of the study that previous research had shown a significant increase in MVC with Omega-3 supplementation. The difference being that the other research study had subjects taking Omega-3 for 90 days at 2 grams per day [2]. They went on to suggest that the 21 days of Omega-3 used in this study was probably not long enough to see an increase in each athlete’s maximum force.

Other research has also found that it can actually take up to 10 – 12 weeks of supplementation with Omega-3 for the DHA to fully integrate into the inner cell membranes [3], so based on these findings we’d strongly suggest that you supplement with Omega-3 for at least 10 weeks to gain the full performance improvements, ideally with a dose of 2 grams EPA/DHA or more per day.


[1] Evan J. H. Lewis, Peter W. Radonic, Thomas M. S. Wolever and Greg D. Wells. 21 days of mammalian omega-3 fatty acid supplementation improves aspects of neuromuscular function and performance in male athletes compared to olive oil placebo. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2015, 12:28.

[2] Rodacki C, Rodacki A, Pereira G, Naliwaiko K, Coelho I, Pequito D et al.. Fish-oil supplemenation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012; 95(2):428-36.

[3] Stasi DD, Bernasconi R, Marchioli R, et al. 2004. Early modifications of fatty acid composition in plasma phospholipids, platelets and mononucleates of healthy volunteers after low doses of n3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 60: 183–190.