The use of omega-3 fish oils after exercise-induced muscle damage has beneficial effects on the recovery process.
Exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) occurs due to uncommon exercise movements. EIMD leads to localized inflammation, decreased muscle movements and muscle soreness for 1-3 days after the causative exercise activity. Remedies such as cold-water immersion, massages and active recovery have been advocated, but the results are not consistent. However, nutritional supplementation such as Omega-3 fish oils and medications such as NSAIDs have shown efficacy.
Fish oil is made up of 2 components: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It is thought that fish oil reduces the production of arachidonic acid and pro-inflammatory prostaglandins which cause soreness and swelling after exercise. Chronic supplementation has shown positive effects but there is little data for the use of fish oils immediately after EIMD. The goal of this study is to investigate whether taking fish oils acutely (immediately) following EIMD leads to positive effects and if high dose EPA is more efficacious than a low dose of EPA.
This was a double-blinded, placebo controlled study with 27 active men as participants. Subjects were healthy and injury free, anyone who had been involved in plyometric or specific lower limb eccentric training in the previous 6 months was excluded. Also, the volunteers had to refrain from using any other recovery method such as ice, massages or other nutritional supplements. Data was collected one hour after participants performed the plyometric movements (e.g. drop jumps, box jumps, etc.) that were part of the exercise protocol. Individuals were then randomly assigned to 1 of three groups; high-dose EPA, low-dose EPA or placebo. Muscle soreness was rated on scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain ever).
In jump performance, participants in the high dose EPA group showed improved EIMD data compared to the low-dose EPA and placebo groups. Although the difference was not significant, it is a large effect size and suggests a potential benefit. For isokinetic muscle strength, no difference between the 3 groups was observed, each had persisting decreases in strength for 96 hours. Also, there was no change in perceived muscle soreness between groups.
The use of fish oils 1 hour after EIMD, specifically high dose EPA, has beneficial effects on jump exercises. Further research is needed to determine significance and determine the best supplementation strategies.
Written By: James A. Ogbeide Jr., PharmD