Written by: Strength & Conditioning Coach, Mark Nemish
Essential in our human diet are the need for Omega-3 fatty acids. The reason that Omega-3’s are essential is because we cannot naturally produce it in our bodies and thus need to ingest it through our diet. Foods that are rich in Omega-3’s are: salmon, halibut, sardines, flaxseeds, and walnuts.
Typically our North American diet is deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, our diet consists of foods that have a much higher concentration of Omega-6 fatty acids. Foods that have the highest concentration of Omega-6 fatty acids are: vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds. Because many foods have vegetable oil in or on them, we tend to get plenty of Omega-6 fatty acids in our diet. And while there are many health benefits to Omega-6’s, striking a healthy balance between them and Omega-3’s are crucial to your health and possibly recovery from your training workouts.
A typical North American diet that is heavily weighted to Omega-6 fatty acid consumption can lead to a variety of health problems and typically create inflammatory conditions within the body: heart attacks, atherosclerosis, thrombosis, arrhythmia, stroke, immune-inflamatory disorders, asthma, arthritis, cancer proliferation, obesity, psychiatric disorders, and depression (Lands, 2012). You can imagine the associated health care costs of all these conditions. On the other hand, when the balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3’s are in check, a variety of positive effects on the body occurs. In a perfect world we need to strive for a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in our cells. However, most North Americans are more in the 4-6:1 ratio. It is very hard to eat enough food containing Omega-3’s to balance out the Omega-6’s we ingest. As a result, supplementation of Omega-3’s is recommended. Omega-3 supplementation has been found effective for treating rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. In addition, a very recent study (Jouris et al., 2011) also found that Omega-3 supplementation may also have a positive effect on the inflammatory responses to exercise.
Health and disease is a combination of genetic predispositions, the environment we live in, and the conditions we create within our bodies through our diets and exercise or lack thereof. As a result, there are many negative health conditions that can be prevented if we paid more attention to diet and exercise. More specifically, identifying the imbalanced ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is a first step in the right direction to determining if diet modification and supplementation is required to improve your quality of life in the immediate and near future. If your balance between the two fatty acids is negatively skewed towards Omega-6’s, then you should take steps to changing or at least modifying your diet.
One of the advantages of the world we currently live in is the abundance of information that is at our fingertips. There is a great website (www.fastlearner.org) that has information on the Omega 3-6 balance scores of over 5000 food choices. The information can be downloaded as an app to help you make better choices when shopping for food. The website makes things very easy in determining which foods are in better balance for your health. Traditional Japanese diets have an average daily balance near +1 (weighting Omega-3’s on the positive side) whereas the typical North American diet is closer to -6 or -7. A higher negative balance score is more correlated to higher incidence of cardiovascular disease.
Another possible advantage of having a more balanced Omega-3 diet is its effects on recovery from intense exercise (Phillips et al, 2003). Jouris et al. (2011) found that when subjects were supplemented daily with 3 grams of Omega-3’s the soreness associated with eccentric exercise (the lowering phase of a repetition when the muscle lengthens under tension) was reduced. This study also found that those subjects who were supplemented with Omega-3’s demonstrated a greater number of eccentric contractions thus suggesting increased strength when compared with controls. Beneficial effects were seen with only seven days of supplementation! As a result, for those of you who lift weights on a regular basis, you may see greater gains with the right amount of Omega-3’s in your diet, not to mention the other beneficial effects to your health.
Lands, Bill (2012). Consequences of Essential Fatty Acids. Nutrients, 4, 1338-1357.
Jouris et al. (2011). The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 10, 432-438.
Phillips et al. (2003). A dietary supplement attenuates IL-6 and CPR after eccentric exercise in untrained males. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35, 2032-2037.