Can Omega-3s Improve Your Workout?

Reading Time: 5 minutes 10 seconds


Date: 2020-06-29T00:00:00-04:00

As a personal trainer, certain pieces of knowledge help you create a better workout. For instance, you need to know how a particular exercise works a specific muscle. This helps you develop a more effective strength training routine.

It's also important to know the impact of aerobic exercise on heart rate. This enables you to create a safe cardio routine.

But there is another way to improve your client's exercise program even more. It involves increasing their fatty acid intake.

Fatty Acids Explained

There are many types of fatty acids. Each one falls into four basic categories:

  • Monounsaturated fat

  • Polyunsaturated fat

  • Saturated fat

  • Trans fat

The last two are the ones that give fat a bad name. Foods high in saturated fat can push cholesterol too high. This increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Research has linked trans fats with a number of serious health conditions. These include cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, diabetes, and nervous system disorders.

Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are different. These fatty acids aren't known for causing damage to the body. Instead, studies show that they actually help enhance health.

When it comes to exercise, one polyunsaturated fatty acid stands out. It is omega-3s.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 is an umbrella term used to describe three main fatty acids:

  • alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA

  • eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA

  • docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA

ALA is an essential fatty acid. This means that the body doesn't make it on its own. It has to be consumed by diet or supplementation.

The body can use ALA to make EPA and, subsequently, DHA. However, these amounts are minimal. So, these two fatty acids are best consumed by diet or supplementation as well.

Research-Based Health Benefits of Omega-3s

Each type of omega-3 fatty acid has been extensively studied. These pieces of research have connected these fats with many health benefits.

Reduced Risk of Heart Attack

One of the main benefits of omega-3 is heart disease prevention and treatment. Heart disease includes blood pressure and heart rhythm issues. It also includes arterial issues, heart defects, and more.

Research shows that EPA can help lower "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides. Conversely, DHA helps increase "good" cholesterol. Omega-3s can also improve heart function and blood flow.

Better Blood Sugar Control

The University of Rochester Medical Center shares that ALA is "a potent antioxidant" helpful in treating diabetes. It assists by lowering blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity.

ALA also helps protect the nerve tissues. This is why it is often used to treat diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is caused by nerve damage. This creates numbness, tingling, or stinging in the extremities.

Healthy Brain Function

DHA is needed for healthy brain development and function. Deficiencies of DHA have been linked to cognitive disorders. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer's disease are two to consider.

One study noted that DHA helps prevent age-related dementia. It works by reducing peptides known to initiate Alzheimer's. It also reduces nerve-related inflammation associated with this disease.

Lower Inflammation

Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties. This makes them beneficial in reducing the effects of inflammatory conditions.

For example, one controlled trial looked at 60 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. After 12 weeks, those taking omega-3 had a "significant improvement" in their symptoms. This included decreased muscle stiffness in the morning and a reduction in pain.

Improved Immune Function

Research also reveals that omega-3s help boost our immune system. They help support our innate immunity, also known as the non-specific immune response. This is the portion of the immune system activated when a pathogen enters the body.

Omega-3s are also beneficial to the adaptive immune system. This is the part of the immune system that responds to newly introduced pathogens. Its goal is to create antigens designed to destroy them.

Enhanced Weight Loss

If your client's goal is to burn fat, omega-3 fatty acid may potentially help with this as well. How does supplementation with this fatty acid help?

According to one study, taking fish oil—a supplement high in omega-3s—helps increase your level of fullness. And it works for up to two hours after a meal.

However, it's important to note that other research has linked fish oil to an increase in appetite. Therefore, this weight loss effect is not universal.

What do these fatty acids do for exercise? More specifically, can clients use these fats to get a better workout?

Can Omega-3s Improve Your Workout?

Resistance training builds muscle strength by first causing muscle damage. This damage starts a response known as muscle protein synthesis. This increased production of protein aids in muscle recovery.

Research has found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can increase protein synthesis. This is especially beneficial to older clients. Because muscle loss is common with age, omega-3 can help these clients retain more of their muscle mass.

Omega-3s can also improve workouts via reduced muscle soreness. They work by reducing the inflammation that instigates this discomfort.

Can omega-3 help clients gain muscle too? Some studies say yes.

University of Stirling researchers state that omega-3 fatty acids increase muscle mass in two ways. First, they influence skeletal muscle metabolism. Second, they promote muscle growth by impacting the body's response to exercise.

Omega-3s can even improve a client's physical performance. One study notes that it can be especially beneficial to endurance athletes and those playing team sports. These fatty acids reduce the oxygen cost of exercise. They also promote recovery from eccentric exercise.

Omega-3 Dosage Recommendations

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) indicates that there are no dosage recommendations for omega-3s as a whole The only recommendation that exists is for ALA. The suggested intake depends largely on the client's gender.

The ODS recommends that females get 1.1 grams of ALA daily. Males should get 1.6 grams. The only deviation is women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Mothers-to-be should consume 1.4 grams of ALA and breastfeeding women should get 1.3 grams.

Increasing Omega-3s in Your Diet

Clients can increase their omega-3 intake by eating foods rich in these fatty acids. This includes consuming more fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, oysters, and sardines.

Other food sources high in omega-3 include chia seed and flaxseed. Adding these seeds to a protein shake or breakfast smoothie is an easy way to increase omega-3 intake.

Walnuts and soybeans also contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. Suggest meals that include these ingredients to help clients naturally increase their omega-3s.

Taking Omega-3 as a Dietary Supplement

Another way to increase intake is with omega 3 supplementation. This is helpful for clients who struggle to get them in their diet. The best-known supplement for this purpose is a fish oil supplement.

These types of products may be also be labeled as krill oil or cod liver oil. Fish oil supplementation typically supplies 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA according to the ODS.

For best results, omega-3 should be taken on a daily basis. One study found that exercise-induced inflammation decreased by 15 percent. This was after 14 days of taking omega-3 supplementation.

The National Institutes of Health adds that fish oil supplements may not be safe for everyone. If clients are taking blood clotting medications, they should check with their healthcare provider first. Fish oil might also be unsafe for clients who are allergic to fish or shellfish.

If you're interested in learning more about how food and supplements impact health, the ISSA offers a Nutritionist Certification. This course teaches you how certain nutrients impact performance. You will also learn how to create custom diets to better help clients reach their goals. This begins with assessing their body composition to calculate their energy needs.

Featured Course


By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.

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