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Health & Fit Omega-3s Can Majorly Benefit Your Cycling Performance—Here’s How

17:01  14 october  2021
17:01  14 october  2021 Source:   bicycling.com

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It’s very likely you’ve heard of omega-3s—often called “the good kind of fat”—with subsequent images of fish, nuts, and oils popping up in your head.

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s can help you ride harder for a longer period of time. © Olesia Shadrina - Getty Images The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s can help you ride harder for a longer period of time.

But when asked what exactly omega-3s are—and what specific benefits you get from eating them via whole foods or supplements—you may come up a little blank. And that’s okay.

Below is the expert advice you need to confidently answer these questions and more—like how omega-3s can improve your ride, how much you should get each day, and what foods are worth digging into.

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What are omega-3s?

Fat in our food—as well as our bodies—is made up of different types of fatty acids. There are two types of fatty acids that are considered “essential,” meaning we must get them from food because our bodies don’t produce them naturally, says Martica Heaner Ph.D., adjunct associate professor of nutrition at Hunter College in New York City.

Those two types of fatty acids are unsaturated fats known as omega-3s (a.k.a. linolenic acid) and omega-6s (a.k.a. linoleic acid), Heaner says. Omega-3s are classified as unsaturated because of their chemical structure. “If you want to get scientific, it’s because they have three double-bonds and the first is three carbon atoms from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain of atoms,” she explains.

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Unsaturated fats are known as “good fats” because when a person either eats more of them than saturated fats or replaces saturated fats with unsaturated ones, they experience health benefits such as lower risks of heart disease and cancer, Heaner says.

But, omega-3s often reign supreme amongst the “good fats.” Heaner says this is because they play crucial roles in the body, like forming cell membranes, helping to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and reducing inflammation. So it’s really important that your body gets them.

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Are there different types of omega-3s?

You bet there are. The three different types of omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Interestingly, ALA is the only omega-3 fatty acid that is truly considered “essential,” because our bodies can make the other two as long as you’re getting plenty of ALA, Heaner says. It’s because ALA converts into EPA and DHA in small amounts, so as long as that ALA is flowing, you can get substantial doses of EPA and DHA as well.

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How many omega-3s should you get each day?

Research hasn’t shown exactly how much is needed, so there is no set recommendation. But the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests an “adequate intake” (AI)—how much it appears seemingly healthy people get on average—of 1.1 g of ALA per day for those assigned female at birth and 1.6 g for those assigned male at birth.

Because EPA and DHA isn’t considered essential, they don’t make an AI suggestion for those types of omega-3s. However, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) suggests taking in 500 mg of each daily for general health.

If you’re interested in seeing a breakdown of the nutrients in your food, Heaner recommends using an app like Cronometer, which tracks micronutrients to help paint a more nuanced picture.

What are the health benefits of omega-3s?

Omega-3s are arguably best known for their inflammation-fighting properties. Chronic inflammation is associated with diseases such as diabetes, ulcerative colitis, and arthritis, and research shows omega-3s—particularly EPA and DHA varieties—can be great at combating inflammation.

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But, of course, that’s not all omega-3s are good for. They’re also well-known for their heart-health benefits, as a review of scientific studies found increased consumption of omega-3s (more specifically from fish or fish oil supplements), decreased the rate of death by cardiac events.

Some research has even presented omega-3s as a potential treatment for mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, though more studies are needed to definitively reach that conclusion.

What’s more, researchers are digging into the association between omega-3s and cancer prevention and treatment. One study noted supplements might reduce the occurrence of non-melanoma skin cancer (especially in those who are at high risk), while another suggested that giving EPA and DHA fish oil to newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients could help boost immunity and lower their inflammatory response.

Can omega-3s improve your cycling performance?

Knowing all those health benefits, it’s natural to wonder if omega-3s can also help boost your ride. And the answer is: highly likely.

“Omega-3s can help increase physical power output and help lengthen the time before exhaustion due to the DHA plus EPA combination, as it helps increase the DHA and EPA in red blood cells that decrease oxygen uptake during peak performance,” says Courtney D’Angelo, M.S., R.D.

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In other words: Research shows the anti-inflammatory properties omega-3s are known for increasing reactive oxygen production, making it possible for you to ride harder for a longer period of time.

Studies have also found omega-3 intake to boost recovery, reduce your odds of getting sick, and positively impact mood and emotional states. When elite soccer players took 3.5 g of DHA-rich fish oil daily for four weeks, they even saw improvements in reaction time and efficiency—an important skill on the bike when you’re riding with traffic or on uneven terrain.

What foods are high in omega-3s?

Here’s the great news: It’s actually pretty easy to get omega-3s in foods—especially whole plant options.

“Fish are famously a ‘good’ source of omega-3s. However, the [ones found] in fish are synthesized by the algae that fish eat,” Heaner says. “So while fish is a good source, it really comes from the algae—and you could also just eat algae or seaweed.”

Omega-3s are also found in some amount in all plant foods, though chia and flax seeds, walnuts, hemp hearts, and soybeans or tofu are particularly good sources. So if you’re getting most of your calories with whole plant foods, it’s very likely you’ll get what you need, Heaner adds.

For those who like to incorporate fish into their diet, there are options in that realm, too, D’Angelo says. Tuna, salmon, sardines, and anchovies are all solid options.

Should you take an omega-3 supplement?

You can, though Heaner says it’s likely not necessary if you’re eating a mostly whole-food, plant-based diet.

But if you’re in the shopping aisle, D’Angelo says to look for terms like “free fatty acids (FFA), triglycerides (TG), or re-esterified triglycerides (rTG) on the label, as research suggests that triglycerides found in DHA and EPA are absorbed better and could indicate higher quality.

Heaner also suggests looking for United States Pharmocopeia (USP), Informed Choice, or NSF certification labels to help gauge supplement quality.

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