How helpful is it for athletes to take omega-3 fatty acids? What are the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and what are the possible negative impacts? This paper will review and critique those issues, utilizing the available literature including original research articles. According to the New York Times-owned About.com website, the health benefits for anyone taking omega-3 -- including athletes -- include first of all "heart health." Taking omega-3 is a way of reducing cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart attacks (Wong, 2013). For the athlete engaged in a strenuous workout or competitive activity, omega-3 can -- among other benefits -- "…reduce morning stiffness and reduce swollen joints" (Wong).
The Literature on Omega-3
Meanwhile, looking deeper into the subject of athletes and omega-3, an article in Athletics Weekly points out that among of the best-known benefits of taking omega-3 is that it can prevent damage to the muscles, which of course is extremely important to active athletes. Also, omega-3 is known to reduce soft-tissue injuries (Lorimer, et al., 2013). When Lorimer discusses muscle damage he is referring to the painful muscle condition following a vigorous, challenging marathon or other activity that can take a toll on muscles (like running up and down steps in a stadium or going full steam up a very steep mountain).
What actually happens to the muscles following strenuous and taxing workouts and competition, Lorimer continues, is that the protein structures become somewhat degraded in the soft tissue. And it takes quite a bit of time for the body to return to normal healthy condition. Perhaps up to four days are needed in some cases for full recovery. In that time, the pain doesn't naturally disappear, but some athletes take common pain killers (that can be purchased over the counter), which is a typical misconception because Lorimer asserts that those pain killers are only "masking" the pain. The reason that taking pain killers -- or alternatively, using icing, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or amino-acid supplements -- is not a good idea, according to Lorimer, a sports scientist, is that masking the pain only leads to "…bigger issues in the long run as you continue to stress already damaged tissues." Lorimer's point is well taken; given the research that follows, there are remedies for athletes if they use omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Meanwhile a research article in the peer-reviewed journal Kinesiology reflects the positive effects that using Omega-3 can have on young athletes. The researchers conducted a test using "…dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation" on the "levels of oxidative stress, muscle damage, and inflammatory markets" after a serious workout by young athletes (the workout involved "acute resistance exercise") (Atashak, et al., 2013). The research involved using twenty young athletes and ten of those received three doses of omega-3 a day (3000 mg) for seven days; and ten were given a placebo for seven days.
Neither group of ten knew which dose they were taking. All twenty were then put through what Atashak refers to as "high intensity acute resistance" workouts. A week before this research all twenty were given blood tests; and then Venous blood samples were collected immediately before each exercise and 24 hours after each exercise (Atashak, 22). The researchers were testing for Malondiadehyde (MDA), plasma total antioxidant capacity (FRAP), C-reactive protein (CRP), and CK concentrations. After the collecting of blood samples and the analysis, the results revealed that vigorous, high-intensity "resistance exercise induces oxidative stress, systemic inflammation, and cellular damage indices in athletes" (Atashak, 22). However, given omega-3 fatty acid supplements "…may ameliorate these effects" (Atashak, 22).
The researchers went out of their way to make sure all twenty of these participants were doing the same thing and eating the same meals. In fact, all the participants completed a "…validated food intake questionnaire" and all twenty kept a strict record of food they ate on a 24-hour basis. The idea was to keep both groups on the same diet, and all reported that they had indeed adhered to the protocol (Atashak, 23). One part of the program stood out as significant, Atashak continues (23): the C-reactive protein was increased by significant degrees 24 hours after the resistance workout in the group taking the placebo, but not for the omega-3 group (24). What does this signify vis-a-vis the outcome of the study? It points out that omega-3 supplements can…