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EFA: Essential Fatty Acids

04.07.2011

Next on my List of Must-Have Supplements for my athletes is a high quality Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplement, specifically Fish-Oil. People are finally waking up to the idea that dietary fat is NOT bad but rather quite the opposite. We do need an ample amount of fat in our diets, specifically athletes or anyone involved in hard training. Every cell in your body is made from fat and the most important organ in your body, your brain, consists of greater than 60% structural fat.

It is clear that we need fat in our diet, but before you rush out and pound down a couple of banquet burgers with a side of fries, there are specific types of fat that are essential and we must ensure that the fats that we are ingesting come from healthy sources.

EFA stands for Essential Fatty Acids. These fats are ESSENTIAL to human health because your body needs them to function and they can’t be manufactured by your body they must come from the diet!

Herein lies the problem: Due to conventional farming methods and the farmed fish industry, the content of these Omega-3’s in our normal diets has dropped off considerably. It is extremely hard to get enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids (and specifically EPA and DHA) from a traditional diet. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are a fact of life.

Why Not Just Eat More Fish?
#1 – Because you won’t. I’m sorry to sound negative or pessimistic here, but I have been working with professional and elite amateur athletes for over 13 years and the reality is that most of them have a very limited diet. Whether it is due to a lack of time, a lack of knowledge of cooking skills or food preparation or just plain laziness, most athletes do not eat enough fish (veggies, or drink enough water…or…or…or….sorry for the rant)

#2 – Because you’re probably not eating WILD Fish! Unless you are very careful about where you buy your fish, you are probably eating farm raised fish which is a problem. The potential benefits of eating farm raised fish are almost off-set by the potential dangers. Farm raised fish contains significantly more PCBs, dioxins, and pesticide residues than the wild variety. They also contain less Omega-3 Fatty Acids (the whole reason youre eating the stuff in the first place) and more Omega-^ Fatty Acids as compared to wild fish (Omega-^ fatty acids have been linked to increased levels of inflammation in the body)

How Much Should I take?
Supplement use is highly individual so it is inappropriate for me to give general prescriptions but for my athletes here is the protocol that I use:
LEAN ATHLETE (Under 10.5% body-fat MALE, or 16% FEMALE
1-2 x 1000mg Fish-Oil capsules per solid food meal to a maximum total of 7g per day
FAT ATHLETE (greater than 10.5% body-fat MALE or 16% FEMALE)
2-3 x 1000mg fish oil capsules per day to a maximum of 12g per day

What to Look For in an Omega-3 (Fish-Oil) Supplement

  • Minimum 3:1 EPA to DHA Ratio (even higher is better!)
  • Pharmaceutical grade
  • Cold Processed and Molecularly Distilled
  • Independent Batch testing

At the end of the day it comes down to brand reputation. The supplement industry is rife with scam products and dishonest companies. Any company can make bold label claims about their products but in the end you should make your buying decision based on the integrity of the brand behind the product. In the words of Tommy Callahan, “ I can get a hell of a good look at a T-Bone steak by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take the butcher’s word for it!”

What About Krill Oil
Krill Oil has received some positive publicity from some noted Nutrition and Fitness experts recently.

I have experimented with Krill Oil over the last few years and while I cant say that I noticed any increased benefit over the other brands of fish-oil that myself and my athletes were taking, I also did not notice any problems. None of my athletes used the Krill oil consistently for longer then 3 months so it is possible that a longer period of use would be necessary to notice any changes in blood markers, subjective HAQ’s, performance testing or body composition scores.

I think that there is potential benefit here, particularly with the fact that Krill Oil when harvested properly and manufactured properly could possess the lowest levels of pollutants amongst the various Omega-3 products. Since I recommend rotating my brands and sources periodically I would be comfortable with any of my athletes using a reputable brand of Krill Oil periodically

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