Road cycling is a sport full of companies trying to sell you something or convert you into their way of doing things. From bike manufacturers to clothing designers, for every aspect of our great hobby, there is a commercial entity wanting you to pay them for the pleasure of doing it. One huge market for cyclists and other endurance sports fans is food supplements.
The food supplement market is worth millions and includes everything from protein drinks to energy gels and pretty much everything in-between. I use certain supplements but only because my restricted diet cannot deliver the nutrients I need naturally. One of those supplements is Omega-3 in cod liver oil.
But do we need Omega-3 supplements? The short answer is, probably.
There is a huge body of research that extolls the virtues of Omega-3 and it’s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) constituents. For cyclists, it is now known that a regular supply of both EPA and DHA improves oxygen uptake, reduces muscle damage and inflammation and can even lower the perception of effort like caffeine does.
Most of us know that cod liver oil is good for the joints but recent studies have shown that EPA and DHA helps muscles recover faster as well. It is known that DHA contributes to reduced instances of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and lower interleukin-6 and creatine kinase levels, all of which benefits any active individual.
Aside from cycling or exercise, numerous studies have shown links between Omega-3 intake and lower rates of heart attacks, fewer deaths from heart attacks or recurrent attacks and lower cholesterol. Newer studies have found a link between Omega-3 and breast cancer. Omega-3 is attributed with influencing BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes that actively fight tumour development.
The average suggested daily intake for an adult is around 500mg of Omega-3. That’s the equivalent of two oily fish per week. Different organisations have different ideas, so this is an average of them all.
Sources of Omega-3
Omega-3 is a fatty acid predominantly found in oily fish. Those fish include halibut, herring, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, trout and tuna. It is also found in some fortified foods such as eggs, milk, fruit juice and yoghurt. Other foods, such as grains are enriched with Omega-3 and include bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, peanut butter, porridge and manufactured foods.
Plants contain a form of Omega-3 too, but their constituent parts are formed of the less beneficial ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) rather than EPA/DHA. Our body cannot process enough ALA to make the same kind of impact that EPA and DHA does.
Omega-3 supplements yes or no
There is no doubt in my mind that Omega-3 is useful for those of us who love cycling. We put our muscles and our joints through a lot on an average ride so anything we can do to help them recover is a good thing. I don’t eat oily fish so regularly take cod liver oil.
While naturally occurring Omega-3 is far superior to supplements, if your diet cannot provide enough of it for your needs, supplements is definitely the way to go. If you can provide enough naturally, supplements are likely to be overkill.