Omega-3 Fats: what are they, why are they healthy, why are they important for athletes?

Omega-3 Fats: what are they, why are they healthy, why are they important for athletes?

The Fat Question

Before we get to omega-3 fats, let’s start with the whole question of fats.

Fats are one of the three macronutrients, alongside protein and carbohydrate, that we need to live. Eating fat is really important! Fats helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. We need fats for energy, to produce important hormones, for our immune function, healthy skin and nerve function.

Saturated vs. Unsaturated

The main types of fat are saturated and unsaturated, and indeed most fats and oils contain both in different proportions.

How much fat should we eat?

The guidelines are for men to consume no more than 30g saturated fats, and women no more than 20g a day, and to replace saturated with unsaturated where possible. These can reduce the risk of heart-related disease, as well as improve immunity levels, mood and brain development and (good news!) sports performance.

That's where Omega-3 fats come in! Part of the ‘unsaturated’ family of fats, they are vital for everyday health, whatever our age or level of activity.

There are different types of omega-3 fats, each with a specific chemical structure:

  • ALA (alpha linolenic acid) is found mainly in plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
  • EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid) are long-chain fats that can be made from ALA in our bodies. These have the most direct health benefits and are found in oily fish.

What does Omega-3 do?

Eating foods high in omega-3’s can help in many ways; from lowering the level of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in your blood, helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes to having a positive impact on cognitive function, skin, vision, joints and your bones.

Is Omega 3 important for athletes?

athletes and omega-3 fats reduce muscle soreness

For athletes looking to improve performance there is growing research to support the link between omega-3’s and sports performance.

The anti-inflammatory properties of EPA and DHA help combat muscle soreness and post-exercise muscle swelling and are linked to benefits such as stimulating muscle growth influencing the fat to muscle ratio in your body and improving recovery of muscles after intense exercise.

Some studies suggest EPA and DHA reduces the demand for oxygen during exercise so our body needs less energy during endurance exercise.

How much omega-3 do athletes need?

Good question! There is no recommended daily intake for omega-3's, although we are advised to eat 2 portions of oily fish a week (around 140g) to ensure we eat enough.

Should I take a supplement?

Of course, I'll say that real food is best! Getting nutrients from foods rather than supplements makes so much more sense; for your gut, for your #Enerjoy! So try to eat your two portions of oily fish per week first. Supplement use is currently not recommended in healthy adults and children, so talk to your GP before taking them. Omega-3 supplements usually contain vitamin D and A, so it’s important not to take them along with other supplements such as a multivitamin or to take during pregnancy.

What foods are rich in omega-3 fats?

The best source of EPA and DHA is fish, especially oily fish such as

  • mackerel,
  • kippers,
  • pilchards,
  • trout,
  • salmon,
  • herring,
  • crab (fresh),
  • whitebait
  • sardines

(click on the links for relevant recipes)

Vegetable sources of omega-3 (ALA) include

Making EPA and DHA from ALA (vegetable sources) happens slowly and only small amounts are formed, so fish is better.

Almond Butter Energy Balls Kate Percy's


Useful articles:

 Fish oil reduces heart rate and oxygen consumption during exercise - PubMed (

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Sport Performance—Are They Equally Beneficial for Athletes and Amateurs? A Narrative Review - PMC (

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