Omega-3 fats are known to be heart-healthy, but they support many other functions related to physical activity, too.

When it comes to diets, it’s likely that many athletes focus more on their carbohydrate and protein intake than they do on the types of fat they eat. Most know that carbs are a significant energy source for working muscles, and that protein helps repair and build muscle – so they may focus on those two macronutrients and figure that fat will just come along for the ride.

And, in a sense, that’s usually how it works. Fat is naturally present in a lot of foods that we eat, so getting enough isn’t rarely a problem. Any type of dietary fat serves as a major source of energy to the body, which is one reason why athletes are advised not to overly restrict their intake. But not all fats are created equal, and certain fats – such as the omega-3 fats obtained from seafood – support many biological processes that occur during exercise.

Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fats, and they’re considered essential in diets because our bodies can’t make them. There are several different omega-3 fatty acids – two, known as EPA and DHA, are derived from seafood (usually called ‘fish oils’), and these particular fatty acids have been shown to be heart-healthy. (Another omega-3 fatty acid, known as ALA, is found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and leafy greens, but your body cannot convert it into fish oils.)

Since many people don’t consume the recommended two to three fish meals per week, they may be missing out on not only the heart-healthy benefits of these fats, but also the support they offer during physical activity.

  • Omega-3 fats support the health of blood vessels through which blood travels to deliver nutrients and oxygen to working muscles (including the heart muscle).
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are a structural component of all cell membranes, including red blood cells. Healthy red blood cells are flexible, which allows them to move freely through blood vessels to deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.
  • Omega-3 fats taken regularly help to support normal brain function and vision.