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Why Should Runners Take Fish Oil?

Fish oil is a useful supplement for endurance athletes to take. Here's why.

Fish oil is a useful supplement for endurance athletes to take. Here’s why.

One subject that continues to come up in conversations about recovery and injury prevention is fish oil — absorbing the omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil will help a runner ward off the damaging effects of inflammation. It has become a required staple of my transition into CrossFit Endurance.

Fish oil is a topic in the CrossFit world that is relentlessly brought up. If you aren’t supplementing with fish oil, the thinking goes, you’re not maximizing what the benefits of all the hard work you’re putting in. Overall health is another area where fish oil is said to be a huge factor.

When I used to think of fish oil, I couldn’t help but think of the encapsulated version that has the rather unfortunate quality of tasting like … fish oil. One small burp is enough to remind you of what you ingested.

Brian Mackenzie and Kelly Starrett both recommended the Stronger Faster Healthier brand — it’s manufactured for athletes and comes in flavors like vanilla, mint, lemon, tangerine, and chocolate. “You’ll use it every day,” Starrett said. “My kids love the mint. They can’t wait to get their spoonful of mint fish oil.”

He was right. And the mint is particularly good.

I sent a few questions to Stronger Faster Healthier (a division of Maine Natural Health that is specific to sports nutrition) to find out more about their position of why fish oil should be a supplement not just for health, but also for athletes.

RELATED: The Importance Of Fish Oil (Video)

The responses come from Dr. Jeff Leigton, the Chief Scientist for Stronger Faster Healthier. According to the company’s website, Dr. Leigton is “a professional pharmacologist, applying biochemistry, pharmacology, molecular biology, and functional genomics to the design of products that improve health. Jeff has discovered and developed many drugs for the pharmaceutical industry, where he served as Principal Scientist or V.P. of Pharmacology. He has also founded and served as CEO, CSO or Board member of numerous biotechnology companies.”

Competitor: Your website states, “Omega-3 is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Chronic inflammation is connected to an array of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, heart failure, cancer, etc.” Is there a body of peer-reviewed research supporting this claim that any athlete can study?

Dr. Leigton: The lay and academic literature have many references to omega 3 oil use and the control of inflammation. When I reviewed this literature, I was left unsatisfied. The reason for this feeling is that every study was done differently. For example, different dose strengths were used, different formulations (gel caps and liquids) and the time in days for dosing and measurement varied. Further, the diets of the patients varied as well. For these reasons, only trends could be analyzed and all of these trends indicated benefit.

Thus, we at Maine Natural Health, over the course of a year, completed a systematic 3-month study on the role of liquid omega 3 oil containing 4.0 grams of omega 3 oils given day on inflammation. A patent on these studies has been submitted as well. Bottom line was that pain and inflammation was decreased from 25 to 45% depending on the starting pain assessment value. In the near future, I will present these findings in Tables and Figures and also publish on our web site.

Aside from protection from disease, what are the specific benefits that the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil provide for athletes?

Our studies were completed in the general population — not high-end endurance athletes. Crossfit athletes have experienced excellent benefits from our omega-3 oils. Pain and inflammation associated with work outs or injuries has diminished and recovery time between workouts has been reduced.

What might we expect in the endurance athletic community? Endurance sports induces inflammation and adrenal stress. Inflammation factors such as CRP, IL-6, TNF-aplha all go up dramatically. These factors actually degrade muscle mass and affect the health of organs and tissues. High dose omega 3 oils decrease these inflammatory factors, and enhance protein utilization and affect recovery times. In the future, we plan to use a finger prick blood test to actually measure the inflammatory markers before and after an endurance event and relate to our supplementation guidelines.

RELATED: The Great Fish Oil Experiment

What would be a protocol of supplementation you’d recommend for endurance athletes?

We believe that there are 5 important times to supplement for an endurance athlete:

1. Normal training and rest days

2. Pre-workout on game day

3. During the event

4. Immediately after the event

5. 2 hours and then 24 hours after the event

Currently, we have developed an endurance product for use on the day of an event. This product emphasizes building non-glycogen potential energy. It is designed to stimulate our internal power plant (our mitochrondria, who make ATP). ATP is the major energy molecule in the body. ATP drives all activities in our cells from protein synthesis to cell electrolyte balance.

We have also designed an immediate post-workout product. Again this product is focused on replenishing ATP levels in our tired cells and organs after a work out. We do not believe that a high-carb diet either before or after a race makes any sense because high impact carbs (high glycemic carbs) push insulin excessively leading to chronic inflammation and other chronic diseases. Thus it is possible to be “fit” and not healthy. We want you to be fit and healthy and the key to this is ATP, controlling inflammation and reducing the magnitude of insulin spikes.

During the event, our bodies will benefit from combination of low- and high-glycemic products, many with a mid-molecular weight size of 250,000 to 500,000 Daltons. We are developing this type of product and want to do field testing in the near future.

Ingredients in your product include “EPA” and “DHA.” What are these and what do they do?

Dr. Leigton: EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids. These are the only two active fatty acids. Do not confuse with the omega-3 fatty acid called ALA. This one is essentially inactive. How much omega 3 oil should I take??? Depends on one’s diet. If your diet is low in omega-6 fatty acids then a little as 4.0 grams/day for an average person is acceptable.