Omega-3 versus Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Eating Your Way to Better Training

When it comes to training, the foods that we eat play an important role in the success of beneficial exercise sessions and reaching fitness goals. Regardless of the type of exercise that you are doing, your body requires nutrients before, during and after workouts to feed your muscles and produce high levels of energy and optimal performance. With the recent surge of interest in fitness and health programs, people are decidedly more concerned about what they are putting into their bodies. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates and even micronutrients – the vitamins and minerals required by the body to produce essential enzymes, hormones and proteins – are all important factors to consider when thinking about the right diet and balance for your specific workout goals.

The two main sources of energy for exercise are carbohydrates and fats. While carbohydrates are the more traditional and commonly preferred type of fuel, many people are not aware of the huge potential and benefits of a high-fat diet to improve levels of energy when training. Healthy fats can raise HDL or high-density lipoproteins – a type of cholesterol that’s actually good for you and can’t be produced naturally by the body – which aid in protecting the body from heart disease while encouraging elevated energy levels. Healthy fat sources should come from unsaturated fat sources, namely monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

However, not all healthy fat sources are created equal! Fatty acids are made up of different compositions that result in different effects. One major area where polyunsaturated fatty acids have influence is inflammation: omega-3 acids are anti-inflammatory while omega-6 acids are inflammatory. While omega-6 fatty acids play an important role in supporting brain function, maintaining bone health and regulating the metabolism, many sources of omega-6 are prone to promoting inflammation. For athletes, this implies impaired performance and undesirable extended periods of recovery between sessions. Foods high in omega-6 include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds including walnuts, sesame seeds and pine nuts, pork products, chicken thighs, eggs and processed dairy products.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found mostly in marine products such as mackerel, salmon and herring, as well as high-fat plant foods including soybeans, flaxseeds and chia seeds. These essential fatty acids are a potent anti-inflammatory agent and offer a natural alternative to medicines used to treat inflammation. Within the field of training and exercise, omega-3 fatty acids have demonstrated major benefits in counteracting inflammation induced by training and encouraging faster – and less painful – recovery periods after workouts.

Does this mean you need to give all sources of omega-6 fatty acids the boot? Not at all! Rather, it is important to find a good balance between omega-3 and omega-6 acids in a way that will optimize performance and energy during training while at the same time guarding against inflammation. This can be achieved by limiting the consumption of high-carb foods and the major sources of omega-6 listed above, while also ensuring that enough omega-3 fatty acids are consumed in your diet. Omega-3 supplements of a high quality are a great source but be sure to look for fish oil supplements that are free of mercury. Always consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet, especially if you suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. And when you’re heading off to your next workout session… remember to scale back on those omega-6 sources and instead get fishy!