Most adults consume an inadequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids. While this certainly isn’t a good situation for the average person, it can actually be far more detrimental to athletes, especially those involved with sports that emphasize repetitive movement (read: just about every sport). But even beyond the lack of omega-3s, the problem is exacerbated by an abundance of omega-6 fats. When these two types of fat aren’t balanced within the body, problems can occur, especially for athletes. So whether you are training for a marathon, dancing your way to the big time, trying to get to Wimbledon, or Crossfitting, there are several reasons to increase your omega-3 intake and ensure a balance with your omega-6 fats.
First, you should know that our bodies produce neither omega-3 nor omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential for our health. That means that we only get them from the foods we ingest; so if you’re not paying attention it’s easy to skimp. However, omega-6 fats are much more common in the average diet, seeing as how they are found in many types of oil (most importantly soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils). And while there are certainly health benefits associated with the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (it has been shown to improve a diverse array of conditions such as arthritis, allergies, ADHD, and even diabetes), it is only really helpful in moderation. Unfortunately, most people are consuming 10 times what they need (probably due to a heavy reliance on corn products).
In small doses, omega-6 fatty acids are great for our bodies. But when you’re ingesting as much as most people are, it can actually lead to problems like heart disease, decreased immune function, and the promotion of cell growth (leading to or exacerbating cancers). Luckily, there is a simple fix and it involves cutting down on foods that contain omega-6 (processed foods) while adding foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed, salmon, walnuts, etc.). And while this is great for anyone, it can make a huge difference for athletes in training.
The main reason that increasing omega-3s and decreasing omega-6s is a good idea is that it has the potential to reduce inflammation. As any athlete can tell you, repetitive motion and exercise both lead to muscle tears and inflammation that can cause soreness and pain, possibly leading to injury. Omega-3 fatty acids boost immune function and reduce swelling. In addition, omega-3s have been found to reduce the “sticky blood” condition that many westerners suffer from, preventing heart disease. Since athletes push their cardiopulmonary system pretty hard, it’s good to know that there are foods that will help to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of heart disease.
In short, omega-3s are not only good for everyone, they’re practically essential for those who engage in serious athletics. Of course, they should be ingested in combination with other foods, only as part of a healthy overall diet (especially fish). But when you cut down on omega-6 fatty acids and supplement with omega-3s, you’re going to find that you feel better and heal faster, a situation that should grab the interest of any professed athlete.