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The Great Fish Oil Experiment

Does fish oil really help recovery and concentration? Our athlete finds out.

Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Sport

My boss likes to tell me I’m doing horrible things to my body by eating sugar. Before my morning oatmeal even makes it into my mouth, I can hear him telling me I’m going to spike my insulin if I eat that! Don’t do it! I dig in anyway. I run on carbs.

So when my boss started preaching that fish oil would help me recover faster from training and racing and fix the inflammation I was causing by eating un-Paleo foods, like pre-packaged cinnamon swirl oatmeal, I was skeptical. I am a non-pill taker. I take nothing. No supplements. No Advil. Nada. How’s that for natural?

I stared at the Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Sport bottle of 90 fish oil capsules for at least two months before I decided I’d give it a try during a month without any races planned. If it were going to screw me up in any way, I needed to know before, say, the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon.

And so the great fish oil experiment began on May 4, a few days after Wildflower and a month before the marathon (feeling weird at Bay 2 Breakers on May 15, I decided, would be OK).

I popped the recommended three pills—one at breakfast, lunch and dinner—and waited to feel awesome. According to the literature, “Ultimate Omega Sport promotes cardiovascular and respiratory function, supports focus and concentration, supports the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response, and supports fat metabolism and body composition.” Therefore, I should be leaner, healthier and more productive from popping the 27 calories per day of extra fat into my body.

The next morning, I felt something. I believe the medical term for it is “the squirts.” What the heck? Does this happen to everyone who eats a relatively low-fat diet rich in Safeway chicken instead of Alaskan fish? I pictured the liquid in the pills forming into SC Johnson scrubbing bubbles and going to work on my intestines.

For two weeks, the fishy scrubbers cleaned me out. I was a bloated, embarrassing mess. I felt like I had invested in a cheaper version of Hollywood’s favorite outpatient procedure: colon cleansing. This is what it feels like to have better concentration and less inflammation? I couldn’t tell if I were leaning out—it felt and looked like a salmon took up residence in my stomach. But I stuck with it. The bottle had 90 pills; that’s 30 days-worth of omega-3s.

By week two-and-a-half, my body’s fish-oil freak out began to subside. I rode my bike 156 miles in one day, then ran three hilly hours the next day (another story entirely—Ultraman Canada training) and felt like I recovered quickly from the effort; two weeks later, at R ‘n’ R San Diego, I qualified for Boston. The first thing I did afterward? (Besides cursing marathons and swearing I’d never run one again because it hurt so bad?) I downed a couple of fish oil pills.

I don’t know if it’s the pills or the placebo effect, but now I can’t imagine doing the training I’m doing without them.

But without sugar? Fat chance, boss.