Nutritionist Kim Pearson explains what omega-3 fats are, why you need them and what the benefits are for runners

·3-min read
Photo credit: Peter Dazeley - Getty Images
Photo credit: Peter Dazeley - Getty Images

What are omega-3 fats?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that are essential for human health. The best-utilised forms of omega-3 come from cold-water oily fish such as salmon, herring and sardines. You can also find them in plant sources, including chia seeds, walnuts and flax seed.

Why are they good for runners?

Omega-3 fats are comprised of EPA and DHA. They are required for the maintenance of normal brain function, heart function and vision. DHA is vital for a baby’s brain development during pregnancy and early life. These fatty acids are particularly beneficial for runners because of their anti-inflammatory benefits, helping to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and increasing blood flow to the muscles during our runs.

Reasons why we don’t get enough Omega 3

Many of us don’t consume enough omega-3s, as there are few quality sources in our diets. The best source is oily fish, but many of us do not eat enough of it and the quality of fish we consume is not as good as it once was.

One theory is our very distant ancestors consumed far more omega-3s than we do today because of the cooler conditions; animals needed to protect themselves more from the climate, so fish retained higher levels of fat, providing greater amounts when our ancestors ate them.

Today, the earth is warmer and fish don’t tend to hold on to their body fat in such quantities. What’s more, much of the fish in our supermarkets today is not wild but farmed. The quality and quantity of fats are affected by what the fish has eaten. As a result, whether a farmed fish has been fed good, nutritious food or cheaper alternatives will affect the quality.

As already noted, readily available non-fish sources of omega-3 do exist, but these do not provide the active forms of EPA and DHA. This means that our bodies are left with the job of converting omega-3 to its active form, and how effectively this is carried out varies from one person to the next.

Omega-3 and omega-6

Not only do we not consume enough omega-3, but in the West we also eat too much omega-6 fat. Omega-6 is an essential fat, but the primary source in our diet is in the form of vegetable oils found in many processed foods. These low-quality omega-6 fats mean our omega 3:6 ratio is not favourable when it comes to supporting our health.

How to optimise your levels

If you can, aim to consume three portions of oily fish per week. Good choices include salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, freshwater trout and Pacific mackerel. Some white fish (such as sea bass) and shellfish (such as mussels) contain omega-3s, but not as much as oily varieties. Alternative options include adding a tablespoon of flaxseeds into your smoothie or topping your salad with some walnut pieces.

Is it worth supplementing with omega-3?

The short answer is yes. Despite regularly eating omega-3, I take a fish oil supplement to ensure I get enough. I recommend avoiding cod liver oil in any form. After all, the liver is the organ of filtration and detoxification, while fish oils are made from the flesh of fish.

Choose a high-quality omega-3 supplement. Look for a five-star rating from International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS). This is one of the best ways to know that your fish oil contains a high level of fats and a low level of contaminants.

Try: Omega 3 Zooki, £34.99 for 45 servings.

Kim Pearson is a nutritionist with over 10 years’ experience. Web: kim-pearson.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.


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