We took a look at the research and tapped the experts for everything you need to know about these unsaturated fatty acids.
Chances are you’ve heard about omega-3s—whether it be in nutrition news headlines or on the bottles that line the shelves of the supplement aisle. You’ve probably heard they are good for you—and you may even take them on a daily basis—but there is so much more to this “good fat” than you may know.
As a matter of fact, omega-3s don’t just come in pill form—they are also present in many of the foods you eat on the regular. And their inflammation-fighting properties can create some unique benefits for us runners.
To break down what exactly omega-3s are and how they can benefit your performance, we dug through the research and tapped Kelly Jones M.S., R.D.—a sports dietitian—and Harry B. Rice, Ph.D.—vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs at the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED)—to explain everything you need to know.
What Are Omega-3s?
Omega-3s are a type of unsaturated fatty acid, which are casually referred to as “good fat” because of their array of health benefits. There are three types of omega-3’s—alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Hard-to-spell names aside, it’s pretty easy to get these types of omega-3’s from food.
ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning that the body cannot make it naturally so you need to get it from food. “Plant foods, such as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds, provide us with omega-3 ALA,” Jones says. It’s also found in soybeans, hemp seed, and plant oils (like canola oil). Most Americans eat plenty of ALA on a daily basis.
DHA and EPA are non-essential because the body can make both, but only in minimal amounts. The best way to get EPA and DHA is through food, such as fish, shellfish, seaweed, algae, and supplements. “Researchers have not yet determined how much EPA and DHA the body is able to convert from ALA, so if someone is following a vegan diet, it is recommended to supplement with algae oil to obtain more quality sources,” adds Jones.
There is no set recommendation for the amount of omega-3s you should have in a day, but the National Institute of Health recommends 1.1 grams of ALA for women and 1.6 grams of ALA for men. The GOED suggests taking in 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day for general health.