Omega 3 supplements are big business, but as a triathlete should you be taking them as part of your triathlon nutrition plan?
The multi-million dollar supplements industry is always offering triathletes promises of health benefits, easy and rapid fat loss or significant improvements in sports performance.
Large supplement companies have massive budgets to spend on clever advertising to make their products sell. But are the claims always genuine?
Here’s my take on fish oils, omega 3, 6, and 9 oils and vegetable derived oils such as flax seed.
Miracle Omega 3 Supplement Claims
Before I go further it must be said that there is no such thing as a miracle health pill. Never buy a omega 3 supplement thinking that alone it will cure your ills, make you thin or win that competition – even if smart advertising might make you believe otherwise.
However there is a place for supplementing if you have specific needs and a good general diet and lifestyle.
Supplements should be considered just that – supplements – and not be relied on to produce miracles.
What Are Omega Oils?
Omega 3, 6 and 9 oils are widely seen by the public as being healthy part of our diets because of heavy advertising by trusted companies.
But what are they and are they really necessary for health?
Omega 3,6 and 9 oils refers to the shape of the oil at a molecular level, and the characteristics differ between oils. The body needs these oils for health and proper functioning.
Omega 9 Supplements
Omega 9 is synthesised by the body meaning that if required the body will make its own from other available components.
This means that if our diets provide no available source of omega 9 fats there is no health risk as it will be synthesised as necessary.
With this in mind I would suggest you are wasting your money by purchasing omega 9 supplements – avoid them.
Omega 6 Supplements
Omega 6 is an essential fatty acid (EFA) and in contrast to omega 9 it cannot be synthesised by the body.
This fat must be consumed in our diets for normal functioning of the body and a lack of omega 6 in your diet would be detrimental to health.
So you should definitely supplement omega 6 right? Wrong.
As it happens omega 6 EFAs are abundant in the average western diet, to the extent that we are in fact consuming too much of it in our diets which is leading to problems of its own – chronic inflammation.
Any investment in omega 6 supplements is therefore likely to be a waste of money – sorry.
Omega 3 Supplements
Omega 3. Is this necessary or is the entire omega 3 supplements industry a waste of time? Well actually this is essential – literally.
Omega 3 is an EFA as omega 6 is and as such cannot be synthesised by the body.
A lack in omega 3 will result in health problems.
As important as the presence of omega 3 in our diets is the ratio of omega 6:3. In an deal world our we would consume a ratio of 1:1 to 2:1 omega 6:3 however in the western diet we rarely achieve this.
Commonly ratios of 10:1 found in Europe and up to 16, even 24:1 in USA. These sub-optimal (and dangerous) ratios have been observed in the general public. It is the imbalance of these EFAs that leads to health problems ranging from mental issues to cardiac and circulatory problems.
Omega 6:3 Ratio Causes Concern
How has the omega ratio imbalance occurred?
The food industry has developed to make as much money as possible, but not always to optimise our nutrition.
In doing so the use of (cheap) high omega 6 content grains and oils have become standard practice, particularly in fast food, pre-made foods, convenience foods and in fact often foods that are marketed as ‘healthy options’.
If you stick to fresh food, avoid shop bought or processed foods and cook for yourself from scratch you will be taking the first step to rectifying your omega 6:3 ratio.
So it seems that the only omega EFA that is necessary to increase dietary consumption of through real food (oily fish) or supplements (fish oils) is omega 3 essential fatty acid.
As a supplement go only for the best quality purest fish oils from small fish which are lower in the food chain and less likely to contain accumulative toxins. Cheap fish oils may seem like good value but the important EPA and DHA health giving content may be limited.
A 1000mg tablet containing 60% EPA and 15% DHA will be much better and work out cheaper than the same tablet containing 20% and 7% of each respectively.
That said, the first step to change is the real food diet and fish oils should be considered to be a supplement to enhance an improved diet.
Don’t Waste Your Cash
If browsing the health food shops you discover omega 3 supplements in the form of flax seed oil tablets, although these do not adversely damage your health, they are also a source of omega 6 EFAs which you are trying to limit.
The health giving properties of vegetable derived omega 3 is also limited and for effective omega 3 supplements you are best off going for the purest fish oils available.
Do not be fooled by clever advertising and big promises offered by nutrition companies.
Supplement with omega 3 to complement a balanced diet, and try to limit your intake of omega 6. Do not waste your hard earned cash on omega 6 and 9 supplements as they are a waste of time.
Omega 3 Is The Hero
In conclusion I want to make this clear that omega 3 fish oil supplementation is essential for most of us.
Certainly it has a wide array of health benefits and along with a good nutrition intake of fresh food, avoiding processed food and omega 6, the benefits will be worth paying for quality fish oil.
- Reduce your omega 6 intake from vegetable fats like sunflower oil and processed foods.
- Increase your omega 3 from natural foods; fish, lean grass fed meat, and vegetarian sources flax and pumpkin seeds.
- Increase your fruit and vegetables intake, and get your carbohydrated from vegetables rather than grains. Ensure you drink lots of clean water.
- Supplement with fish oil at 1g per %body fat for 2 weeks, followed by 0.5g per % body fat thereafter. As you reduce your omega 6 intake your omega 3 can reduce to match.
I recommend finding a quality liquid fish oil supplement which has high levels of EPA and DHA such as the super omega at www.myprotein.com and also the Charles Poliquin fish oil supplements. Avoid krill oil for sustainability reasons.
I would steer clear of most high street shop versions of fish oils since the quality and EPA/DHA content is usually less than half of these recommended products and so is a false economy.
I hope this is useful, and of course please ask questions by contacting me here. Next steps would be to register for my free 5 steps to your perfect triathlon email course.
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