Benefits of Omega-3s for Athletes – DHA for Optimal Performance and Recovery

Benefits of Omega-3s for Athletes – DHA for Optimal Performance and Recovery

Whether you're someone who rarely exercises, a fitness enthusiast, or an athlete, the importance of omega-3s cannot be overstated. These fatty acids play a vital role in supporting athletic/exercise performance, cognitive abilities, cardiovascular health, and overall well-being—making them key for anyone doing any sort of exercise, even if it's something as simple as walking.

Omega-3s—especially Docosahexaenoic Acid (pronounced doe-cosa-hexa-e-no-ic acid)—are garnering significant attention in sports nutrition. Health, wellness, nutrition, sports performance, and coaching communities are exploring their numerous benefits for supporting athletic performance and recovery.

In this article, we will explore the science-backed health-promoting advantages of omega-3 supplements for athletes and how they can help you optimize your health in various ways..

Omega-3 Benefits for Athletes

In the quest for optimal athletic performance, the best omega-3 supplements for athletes can be an exciting avenue to explore. So, what are the benefits of omega-3s for athletes, fitness enthusiasts or weekend warriors?

Research shows that Omega-3s demonstrate incredibly diverse roles in supporting and maintaining various aspects of athletic performance. The essential nutrients offer a number of health-supportive benefits across a diverse array of organ systems and tissues—including mitochondrial health, a healthy inflammatory response, cognitive performance, cardiovascular health, endurance, stamina, muscle preservation, strength and recovery.

Omega-3 for Muscle Preservation and Strength

Omega-3 for Muscle Preservation and Strength

Whether you're a professional athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or simply someone looking to live a healthy life, your body's ability to build and maintain muscle mass is crucial. Optimal skeletal muscle mass and strength are vital for healthy physiology and physical performance.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to play a significant role in promoting muscle strength and preservation in several ways.


Muscle Maintenance:

Findings from a study by a team led by Dr. Chris McGlory from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, suggested that omega-3 supplementation may positively affect anabolic resistance with regard to disuse atrophy [1].

Muscle disuse atrophy, also known as muscle wasting, occurs when muscles weaken and shrink due to periods of inactivity or immobilization.

In the study by Dr. McGlory, young women were given 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily and were asked to wear a leg brace for two weeks to induce muscle immobilization. The results showed that women who took omega-3s lost only half as much muscle as those who took a placebo. This suggests that omega-3s may support muscle protein synthesis even during periods of inactivity.


Muscle Building and Strength:

According to a recent (2023) study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, optimal levels of EPA and DHA support nutrient and mechanically-sensitive anabolic signaling proteins known to regulate muscle protein synthesis [2]. In the study, individuals who took Omega-3s while engaging in a resistance training program experienced beneficial effects on strength gains compared to those who did not.

Another intriguing aspect of omega-3s is their impact on mitochondrial function, which is vital for supporting the energy-intensive process of muscle protein synthesis.

Studies show that Omega-3s facilitate optimal protein synthesis by supporting ADP-stimulated respiration [3]. This is especially crucial for older adults who may have tired or dysfunctional mitochondria.

Omega-3 for Endurance

Omega-3 for Endurance

Many people take omega-3 supplements to support stamina or endurance for workouts, sports, and day-to-day activities. The goal is to perform at higher intensities for longer periods. So, how might omega-3s for athletic performance be beneficial for supporting stamina and physical endurance?

Studies show that DHA and Omega-3s may have a beneficial effect on the onset of muscle soreness, promoting a healthy endurance capacity, supporting a healthy VO2 max (i.e., the maximum oxygen your body can utilize), mitochondrial function for sustained energy levels, healthy blood flow from vasodilation, and healthy inflammatory responses [4] [5] [6] [7].

Omega-3 for Mitochondrial Health

Omega-3 for Mitochondrial Health

Mitochondria, often referred to as the "powerhouses" of cells, play a pivotal role in an athlete's performance. They are responsible for producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the cellular energy currency that fuels muscle contractions during exercise.

Omega-3s, particularly DHA, have been shown to support mitochondrial function. In particular, the nutrients may promote efficient electron transport chain function within mitochondria—supporting the synthesis of ATP.

To better understand the impact of omega-3s on mitochondrial health, we need to look at how the essential acids stimulate a lipid known as cardiolipin (CL).

Cardiolipin is a unique phospholipid found in the inner mitochondrial membrane. It's a critical component for the proper functioning of mitochondria and plays a pivotal role in maintaining their structural integrity.

Cardiolipin helps organize the proteins within the mitochondrial membrane—contributing to the formation of cristae, the characteristic folded structures of the inner membrane. This organization is essential for the efficiency of the electron transport chain (ETC), which is at the heart of energy production.

Research has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids can support cardiolipin integrity and promote mitochondrial health in a number of ways [8]. This includes encouraging the fluidity and integrity of the mitochondrial membrane, which promotes the efficiency of the electron transport chain—aiding in ATP production.

Another way Omega-3s can support mitochondrial health is by scavenging free radicals that may otherwise lead to oxidative stress [9] [10]. This helps support mitochondrial integrity and energy production.

Optimal mitochondrial function translates to more sustained energy levels during workouts, enabling athletes to push their limits and perform at their best [6].

Omega-3 for Cognitive Performance

Omega-3 for Cognitive Performance

Athletic performance isn't just about physical prowess; mental acuity plays a significant role, too. Optimal brain function is vital for athletes who rely on quick decision-making, focus, and mental toughness.

Special attention is drawn to DHA when exploring the importance of omega-3s for cognitive performance.

DHA is a major structural component of all cellular membranes, and it is particularly abundant in the neurons and retina of the eye. It is important for maintaining the fluidity and integrity of these membranes, which affects the communication and function of the cells.

The essential fatty acid also stimulates the activity of various receptors, enzymes, and signaling molecules that are involved in brain development, learning, memory, and mood.

Some ways omega-3 fatty acids can support an athlete's cognitive health for a competitive edge include:

Reaction time:

The speed at which our brains process information and initiate a physical response is important in many aspects of daily life. But it's especially crucial in competitive sports, where every second counts.

Research shows that DHA may help support cognitive health and positively influence reaction time—helping athletes maintain their competitive edge [11].

This may be a result of DHA's role in supporting the fluidity and integrity of neuronal membranes—meaning signals between brain cells are transmitted more efficiently, leading to quicker responses.


Memory and recall are essential in many sports. Athletes need to remember plays, strategies, opponents' tactics, and more. Omega-3 fatty acids have shown potential in promoting memory and recall [11].

Studies show that a higher omega-3 index supports healthy hippocampal volumes [12]. The hippocampus is a region of the brain that is crucial for our ability to recall and learn.  


Intelligence in sports refers to the ability to make sound decisions, adapt to changing circumstances, and strategize effectively.

Omega-3s may promote cognitive abilities, including problem-solving and decision-making. One 2022 study published in the Journal Neurology suggested that increasing your omega-3 intake may promote abstract reasoning—which is the ability to use logical thinking and understand complex concepts [12]. As such, athletes with a sharper cognitive edge can better navigate complex game situations.

Omega-3 for Recovery

Omega-3 for Recovery

Intense physical activity can lead to oxidative stress, soreness, and inflammation in the body, which can hinder recovery and performance. Omega-3s, and specifically DHA, have been found to encourage optimal muscle recovery after exercise or strenuous physical activities.

DHA is a critical component of cell membranes, including those of muscle cells. Proper membrane function is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of muscle cells. DHA helps support the fluidity and stability of cell membranes, which is vital for their ability to recover and adapt to exercise-induced stress.

Here are some ways omega-3s contribute to muscle recovery:


  • Supporting a Healthy Inflammatory Response: After strenuous exercise, the body often experiences inflammation in muscle tissues as a natural response to the stress placed on them. Omega-3s support a healthy inflammatory response, which can be beneficial for the pain and stiffness that often accompany muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) [13].

  • Promoting Efficient Blood Flow and Oxygen Delivery: DHA and omega-3s can support the function and elasticity of the blood vessels, which can promote blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles [14]. This can encourage the efficient removal of metabolic waste products (e.g., lactate) and facilitate the delivery of nutrients (e.g., amino acids) that are needed for muscle repair and growth.

  • Stimulating Muscle Protein Synthesis:  DHA, along with other omega-3 fatty acids, can support muscle recovery by stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is the process through which the body repairs and rebuilds damaged muscle tissue. DHA may influence the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway, a key regulator of muscle protein synthesis. By activating this pathway, DHA helps promote the growth and repair of muscle tissue after exercise [15].

  • Joint Range of Motion: According to a study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, DHA Omega-3 supplementation offers beneficial effects on joint range of motion, muscle soreness, and stiffness after eccentric strength exercise [16]. To quote the researchers, "Seven days of 3000 mg/day supplementation with algae-derived docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) attenuates the delayed onset muscle soreness and stiffness, and protects against the loss of joint range of motion that is caused by strenuous eccentric exercise." These findings are similar to those of a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and another in Nutrition Reviews [17] [18].

  • Free Radical Scavenger: Strenuous exercise can generate oxidative stress, which can lead to cellular damage, including in muscle cells. The ability of omega-3 fatty acids to scavenge free radicals helps support the recovery and overall function of muscle cells [19].

Maximize Performance

Maximize Performance

As an athlete or a physically active individual, maintaining optimal performance (physical and cognitive) and supporting healthy recovery could be a game-changer. From promoting muscle protein synthesis and endurance to supporting cognitive function and muscle recovery, Omega-3s and DHA offer numerous benefits for athletes.

Consistent intake is crucial for reaping the full benefits of these nutrients. But dietary sources alone might not always provide sufficient levels—which is where supplementation comes in.

Omega-3 supplements for athletes may play a vital role in supporting optimal physical + cognitive performance and recovery. Athletes, both young and old, should consider adding high-quality omega-3 supplements to their nutrition regimen to reap these potential rewards.

The best omega-3 supplements offer several benefits—including ensuring optimal intake, convenience, and vegan-friendly options.

If you’re looking to optimize your athletic performance and recovery with omega-3s, our DHA Regimen offers a simple, but effective strategy to meet your goals.

We encourage health-conscious individuals to explore algae omega-3 supplements. By carefully selecting a high-quality, algae-based omega-3 supplement, athletes can optimize their performance and recovery while adhering to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, promoting environmental conservation, and safeguarding their health from pollutants found in fish-based products.

But even in the world of algae-based omega-3 supplements, they're not all created equal. Case in point Ascent Nutrition’s Algae Oil DHA stands out as the crème de la crème of omega-3 supplements. Here's why:


  • Ascent Nutrition's Algae Oil DHA uses a specific wild strain of algae that is uniquely water-extracted to naturally produce the cleanest, purest, and most concentrated DHA in the world. For context, you get 250% more Omega-3 than fish oil per unit—helping you achieve your fitness goals more efficiently.
  • Ascent Nutrition takes quality seriously. Our Algae Oil DHA is rigorously tested to ensure its purity and potency. It is free from common contaminants like heavy metals and PCBs, guaranteeing that you're getting a premium product that supports your muscle recovery without any unwanted additives (see test results on our product page).
  • The Algae Oil DHA contains 24 fatty acids to nourish the brain and body.
  • Ascent Nutrition's Algae Oil DHA comes in two flavors: natural and lemon. The zesty, natural lemon flavor is made with organic cold-pressed lemon peel oil, which adds a refreshing citrus taste and aroma to the product. Lemon peel oil is also rich in free radical scavengers and other bioactive compounds that complement the health-promoting properties of DHA.
  • Incorporating Ascent Nutrition's Algae Oil DHA into your fitness regimen is easy. Simply take 2.0 mL serving, once or twice daily, for 1,000-2,000 mg of DHA. You can take it directly or mix it with your favorite beverage or smoothie.


Whether you're an athlete looking to promote muscle strength, endurance, cognitive performance, mitochondrial health, or muscle recovery, Ascent Nutrition's Algae Oil DHA is a top choice to support your fitness and recovery goals.

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2.   Heileson, J. L., Machek, S. B., Harris, D. R., Tomek, S., de Souza, L. C., Kieffer, A. J., ... & Funderburk, L. K. (2023). The effect of fish oil supplementation on resistance training-induced adaptations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 20(1), 2174704:

3.   Herbst, E. A. F., Paglialunga, S., Gerling, C., Whitfield, J., Mukai, K., Chabowski, A., ... & Holloway, G. P. (2014). Omega‐3 supplementation alters mitochondrial membrane composition and respiration kinetics in human skeletal muscle. The Journal of physiology, 592(6), 1341-1352:

4.   Thielecke, F., & Blannin, A. (2020). Omega-3 fatty acids for sport performance—are they equally beneficial for athletes and amateurs? a narrative review. Nutrients, 12(12), 3712:

5.   Żebrowska, A., Mizia-Stec, K., Mizia, M., Gąsior, Z., & Poprzęcki, S. (2015). Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation improves endothelial function and maximal oxygen uptake in endurance-trained athletes. European journal of sport science, 15(4), 305-314:

6.   Zanella, L., & Vianello, F. (2023). Potential of Microalgae as Functional Foods Applied to Mitochondria Protection and Healthy Aging Promotion. Nutraceuticals, 3(1), 119-152:

7.   Kavyani, Z., Musazadeh, V., Fathi, S., Faghfouri, A. H., Dehghan, P., & Sarmadi, B. (2022). Efficacy of the omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on inflammatory biomarkers: An umbrella meta-analysis. International Immunopharmacology, 111, 109104:

8.   El-Hafidi, M., Correa, F., & Zazueta, C. (2020). Mitochondrial dysfunction in metabolic and cardiovascular diseases associated with cardiolipin remodeling. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular Basis of Disease, 1866(6), 165744:

9.   Herbst, E. A. F., Paglialunga, S., Gerling, C., Whitfield, J., Mukai, K., Chabowski, A., ... & Holloway, G. P. (2014). Omega‐3 supplementation alters mitochondrial membrane composition and respiration kinetics in human skeletal muscle. The Journal of physiology, 592(6), 1341-1352:

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11.   Stonehouse, W., Conlon, C. A., Podd, J., Hill, S. R., Minihane, A. M., Haskell, C., & Kennedy, D. (2013). DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. The American of Clinical Nutrition, 97(5), 1134-1143:

12.   Satizabal, C. L., Himali, J. J., Beiser, A. S., Ramachandran, V., Van Lent, D. M., Himali, D., ... & Seshadri, S. (2022). Association of red blood cell omega-3 fatty acids with MRI markers and cognitive function in midlife: the framingham heart study. Neurology, 99(23), e2572-e2582:

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