As many high school and college teams are kicking off their fall practice schedules this week, I wanted to feature some tips on building success from the inside out through sports nutrition.
While carbs and protein are the two foods mentioned most often as athletes’ “musts” (and both are in fact crucial), the quickest and simplest way to help yourself (or if you’re a parent, your scholar-athlete kid) throughout the season while edging out your opponents is to get your omega-3s.
Omega-3s have been proven to quicken reaction time in athletes: they strengthen parts of the brain involved in visual processing, and they also strengthen the nerves that control athletic muscles and muscle memory (by helping to build up the fatty myelin sheath that surrounds them). One study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine showed that elite soccer players significantly improved their reaction time after just four weeks of taking DHA-rich omega-3 supplements.
In addition, omega-3s have been proven to amp your cardiovascular system’s performance during exercise: they work as vasodilators, widening your capillaries and increasing blood flow and oxygen transfer; and they make the fatty membranes of your red blood cells more flexible and better able to squeeze through capillary walls to bring your muscles an even greater load of oxygen and nutrients. This means you get more concentrated power from every breath you take: you’ll be much more efficient than your opponent with every step, kick, block or dive.
If that’s not enough to convince you, omega-3s are potent anti-inflammatory agents that will speed your recovery time after a tough game or workout. They’ll also reduce muscle soreness: a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine showed that a group of men taking omega-3 supplements experienced substantially less pain 48 hours after knee extension exercises, and a substantially greater range of motion. In addition, omega-3s’ anti-inflammatory powers will lower your risk of overuse injuries to muscles and joints.
Foods high in omega-3s include salmon, nuts (especially walnuts), pumpkin seeds and avocados.
But you’ll also need omega-3 supplements to get a high enough daily intake: look for reliable, purified (no mercury) fish oil supplements like Nordic Naturals, Carlson, Metagenics or Pure with at least 1,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA. For people with fish allergies, plant-based supplements include nuIQue’s Algae Derived Omega-3. Please note: if you’re under 18, it’s crucial that you check with your pediatrician before adding omega-3 or any other supplements to your diet.