As an athlete, fish oil is a supplement that can give you an edge on the competition. Most nutrition for athletic performance focuses on carbs and proteins. Healthy fats are just as important and fish oil leads the pack for athletes.

What Is Fish Oil?

Fish oil is made up of the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Your body needs fish oil to thrive. Another omega-3 fatty acid, ALA is also important for health, though the sports performance benefits of omega-3s are most closely linked with the fish oil fats.  

Why Is Fish Oil So Important?

Your body uses fish oil to build the outside lipid (fat) layer that protects your cells, resulting in better insulin sensitivity. Fish oil also improves blood flow to muscle and lowers inflammation that hampers recovery. It enhances cell communication, improving the message from the brain to the muscle. This translates into faster reaction time for elite sports performance.

Benefit #1: Stronger Muscle

When you increase insulin sensitivity, it’s a good bet you’re going to improve protein synthesis in the muscle. Insulin regulates the passage of nutrients, hormones, and chemicals into muscles. Taking a few grams of fish oil a day increases protein synthesis by as much as 30 percent, producing a significant muscle building effect.

Benefit #2: Greater Strength

Because fish oil is incorporated into cell membranes, it enhances nerve conduction so that the message gets from the brain to the muscle faster. It also improves the movement of calcium ions, which play a principal role in strong muscle contractions. Together, these factors mean strength capacity is better sustained during heavy workouts.

Benefit #3: Recover Faster

One of the most fascinating benefits of fish oil is how it reduces our experience of stress. Fish oil lowers cortisol, and it also counters the mental stress and depression that comes from a long, grueling season. When 24 elite female soccer players took 3.5 grams per day of fish oil for 4 weeks, they improved reaction time and efficiency, most likely because levels of the stress hormone cortisol were lower.

Benefit #4: Support The Immune Response To Intense Training

You may have heard the saying, “You’re only as strong as your immune system.” This is because the immune system helps return your body to homeostasis after a physically challenging workout. Along with defending your cells against invading pathogens, fish oil improves natural killer cell activity and muscle cellular health after intense exercise. Fish oil also reduces waste production after muscle damaging eccentric exercise, which could reduce post-workout muscle soreness (DOMS).

Benefit #5: Improve Quickness

Quickness and reaction time are often thought of as innate abilities. They can’t be trained in the same way as muscle strength or endurance. Yet, fish oil supplementation can improve reaction time, especially when fatigue sets in. Normally, when you're tired, the message from the brain to the muscles is less efficient and quickness decreases. Researchers theorize that fish oil improves the brain’s message to the muscles. 

Benefit #6: Support Testosterone & Hormone Balance

Emerging evidence shows fish oil improves testosterone levels, supporting muscle mass and athletic performance. Research is in the early stages, but fish oil may improve free and total testosterone in men.

Either way, optimizing fat intake is key for hormone balance in athletes. Adequate intake of both saturated and monounsaturated fat are the strongest predictors of testosterone levels in healthy men, indicating that optimizing your overall diet is step one. Then you can fine tune by making sure you’re getting the right amount of fish oil.

Benefit #7: Greater Oxygen Delivery

Fish oil improves blood flow to working muscle, lowering RPE so that workouts will feel easier. This can give you a major mental boost when your job requires you to hit it hard day in and day out. That’s not all—fish oil promotes a faster recovery between all-out sprints or heavy weight lifting sets and it enhances endurance capacity, giving you that much needed edge over competitors!

Wondering how much fish oil you should take?

This article gives you nine tips on how to achieve all the performance benefits of fish oil, without breaking your budget.

Final Words

Fat is a key but often overlooked part of any serious athlete’s diet. Improve your performance by giving it and the omega-3 fats as much attention as you do to protein and carbs!

References

Abbott, K., et al. Dietary supplementation with docosahexaenoic acid rich fish oil increases circulating levels of testosterone in overweight and obese men. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids. 2020. 163:102204.

Gray, P., et al. Fish oil supplementation augments post-exercise immune function in young males. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2012. 26(8):1265-72.

Guzman, J., et al. DHA- Rich Fish Oil Improves Complex Reaction Time in Female Elite Soccer Players. Journal of sports Science and Medicine. 2011. 10, 301-305.

Mickleborough, Timothy D. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Physical Performance Optimization. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Metabolism. 2013. 23, 83-96.

Noreen, E., et al. Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010. 7(31).

Simopoulos, A.P. The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. 2002. 56, 365-379.

Smith, G., et al. Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Increases the Rate of Muscle Protein Synthesis in Older Adults: a Randomized Controlled Trial. 2010. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 93(2), 402-412.