Fish Oil Supplementation

Sam Stephens

December 2019

Why are omega-3 fatty acids so important to our overall health and exercise performance? 

This excerpt from my nutrition guide dives into some of the fun details regarding fish oil supplementation and how it affects cellular inflammation.

“Similar to how important the amino acid leucine is for protein synthesis, omega-3 fatty acids like alpha-linoleic acid have the ability to drastically improve our health when they’re included as regular components of our diet. There are three omega-3 fatty acids used in the body – alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Our bodies can synthesize DHA and EPA from ALA, but the conversion rates are so low that additional supplementation is usually recommended – fish oil with high DHA:EPA ratios (2:1) is a great example. When these polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful in our diets, they can result in:

  • Increased cognitive function
  • Decreased depression
  • Increased synaptic plasticity 
  • Increased neuroendocrine function
  • Improved mood/behavior 
  • Increased memory in aging adults
  • Increased brain development in children
  • Improved vision/retinal development
  • Increased nutrient absorption
  • Decreased cellular inflammation
  • Increased bone health
  • Increased muscular recovery
  • Increased immune function

This impressive list contains a wide range of great health benefits that can indirectly affect our exercise performance, but most of them can be contributed to a reduction in cellular inflammation.

Inflammation is the agitation and swelling of tissues/cells and is our body’s immune system response to damage, stress, and/or disease. If you’ve ever sprained an ankle or suffered any type of injury that results in swelling, you’ve experienced inflammation. It’s pretty easy to understand how inflammation resulting from a sprained ankle limits our mobility – we can see and feel that we’re impaired to some degree. However, many other forms of inflammation are much more subtle and can become chronic issues that significantly decrease our exercise performance and general health over time if ignored. Nearly all of our cells are susceptible to the side effects of inflammation, but those that regulate digestion and cognition are arguably some of the most important in any fitness setting.

Whether external stressors from work, a suboptimal diet (food sensitivities, allergens, etc), or other environmental factors are to blame, central nervous system and digestive tract inflammation can negatively affect just about every aspect of our lives. As a linked system, the gut-brain axis is collectively responsible for the synthesis of many different essential compounds (neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes, and proteins), the absorption of food needed for energy and muscle growth/repair, the strength of our immune system, our mood/outlook on life, and all baseline cognitive abilities. While only two organ systems, the gut-brain axis controls our quality of life. If these two systems are impaired, so are we.

Luckily, an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA) can help reduce whole body inflammation. Like ice on a swollen joint, the anti-inflammatory properties of this super useful little fatty acid can help eliminate cellular swelling and return organs/systems back to peak productivity. A diet that’s higher in omega-3 fatty acids (less than 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3) can help us to think more clearly, fully utilize the foods we eat, recover from intense workouts, and be our best in and out of the gym.”

So, how much fish oil should we be consuming per day? It varies too much to give a definite answer, unfortunately. However, for most people, 1-3 grams per day from a quality supplement with a high DHA:EPA ratio is a great place to start. For the best results, reach out to and work with a registered dietitian. 

For more info on fats and general nutrition info, check out the Fats section of Fitness & Nutrition Programming for Beginners or shoot me a message.