- According to a new study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, daily intake of fish oil supplements can reduce muscle soreness, stiffness and swelling and improve freedom of movement.
- The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil protect the cells around your muscle fibers and are anti-inflammatory.
- Adding these supplements – or whole food sources of omega-3 fatty acids like fish, nuts, or seeds – can improve your muscle function and performance as a runner.
After a hard workout, you can expect sore muscles. And while foam rolling, stretching, or active forms of recreation like walking or biking can relieve your pain, fish oil – the common supplement you’ll find pretty much anywhere – can help too, according to new research.
The small study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, included 16 men who were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Eight placebo capsules (300 milligrams of corn oil) were consumed per day for eight weeks prior to the training portion of the study and for five days thereafter. The other consumed eight fish oil-fish oil supplements (300 mg) per day that contained both EPA and DHA – two types of omega-3 fatty acids – for 62 days (before, during, and after exercise).
In the exercise part of the study, participants performed six sets of 10 dumbbell preacher rings, performed on a preacher’s bench or incline where their upper arm does not leave the bench, at different angles with a 90-second break in between. This exercise emphasizes the eccentric contraction, or sinking phase, of an exercise that elongates your muscle.
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Before, immediately after and one, two and five days after training, the researchers measured the participants’ range of motion in the elbow joints, sore muscles, muscle stiffness and muscle swelling, among other things.
The results? Those who took the fish oil supplements were less stiff and sore, their muscles weren’t as swollen, and their range of motion was higher than those who took the placebo supplements. And while the researchers aren’t one hundred percent sure why the fish oil seemed to help, they believe that its omega-3 fatty acids protect the cells around your muscle fibers and act as an anti-inflammatory agent. (Microcracks in your muscles during exercise cause inflammation, which in turn leads to muscle pain and soreness.)
However, the study has some limitations. For one thing, the sample size was very small and they only analyzed one type of eccentric contraction – the sagging phase of a bicep curl.
Eisuke Ochi Ph.D., study co-author and associate professor of life sciences and applied chemistry at Hosei University in Japan, told Runner’s World that he “believes[s] Our results could be adapted for other types of exercise as most workouts contain eccentric contractions. “For example, going downhill or lowering exercises like leg raises or bicep curls.
It’s also worth noting that the study was sponsored by a Japan-based fish company that supplied the fish oil supplements. However, according to the study’s methodology, they were “not involved in data collection or entry”.
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In addition, this study is not the first to establish the link between omega-3 fatty acids and muscle recovery. For example, a recent study published in the FASEB Journal found that they can slow muscle loss from non-use – such as when you are injured and unable to perform your usual workouts.
More research needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. Ochi says a similar study is also currently being carried out to determine whether or not fish oil improves endurance performance. In the meantime, it can’t hurt to improve your diet with more omega-3-rich foods like fish, seeds, or nuts. Also, research has shown that they can also strengthen your heart and immune system function.
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