Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Are They Really that Important? (plus salmon burgers)

Wow,  I had no idea it’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a blog. The past few weeks have indeed been crazy with traveling to the Pittsburgh marathon, Challenge Knoxville, the CPSDA sport dieticians conference in Mobile, AL and coming up, Rev3 Rush in Richmond. I’ve certainly been meaning to write and I have a list of blogs that are on my to do list. So while I can’t promise perfection, I’m going to try to be better at this whole blogging thing. My goal is to continue to provide relevant and current info in sports nutrition, endurance training and healthy recipes. There is so much misinformation out there, I want to try to bring some reason to what I feel is often the media preaching false info. So I’ll start today with omega 3 fatty acids and the benefits to athletes. This isn’t too controversial a topic, but it’s a very important one.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

  • PUFA-they are polyunsaturated fatty acids that contain 2, 3, 4 or more carbon-carbon double bonds
  • Nomenclature-the last or “omega” number refers to the position of the first carbon-carbon double bond, with respect to the methyl end of the molecule
  • Omega 3 fatty acids then have the first carbon-carbon bond occurring 3 carbons from the methyl end of the molecule
  • There are also omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids with omega 6 being the most prevalent in our diets. However for most Americans, neither fatty acid is prevalent (not a positive).
  • Essential fatty acids that must be taken in by the food we eat (or a supplement)

Two Types of Omega 3’s:

1. ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid): found in vegetables oils, flaxseed, walnuts, hemp seeds, some vegetables like kale and spinach, etc. The body can also partially convert ALA to EPA and DHA. The numbers are not that great, with less then 8% of ALA being converted to EPA and less than 4% being converted to DHA.

2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): found in fatty fish-anchovy, herring, salmon, cod liver/herring/salmon oil

Benefits to Omega 3’s:

1. Inflammation:

  • Omega 3’s have been studied extensively in the aid of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disorder, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, osteoarthritis and many others.
  • The belief is that the omega 3’s could attenuate injury by reducing the inflammatory response through the reduction of the formation of pro-inflammatory group 2 eicosanoids. Some studies, both animal and human have showed decreased severity of inflammation, joint tenderness, morning stiffness and grip strength.
  • This has an obvious application for athletes, who often train hard, and must compete with additional inflammation, joint soreness and sometimes injury. They can also assist with tissue repair, remodeling and adaptation.

2. Multi-Organ System Support:

  • Cardiovascular system-years of data has shown a correlation between increased dietary intake of omega 3’s and a reduced incidence in coronary heart disease. A good example is the Inuit. A 1970’s study showed that the Inuit had a cardio-protective effect of omega 3’s from marine sources. While their overall diet is very high in fat, they have a low incidence of cardiovascular disease.
  • Brain/Mood support-A relatively new field that is emerging, but has been showing promising research in reduction of depression, postpartum depression and suicide.
  • Neuroprotective- science is still emerging, however some studies (animal and human) have shown a decrease in nerve damage to the brain, spinal and peripheral nerves following trauma or lack of blood flow. This could greatly impact sports prone to concussions.
  • Orthopedic-reduction in inflammation, and increased tissue repair and remodeling-might be a benefit to take vs NSAIDs for muscle pain

3. Muscular Performance:

  • Multiple studies have shown  the ability of fish oil to alter inflammatory cell signals, cytokines, pro-inflammatory eicosanoids and white blood cell funtion. Excessive inflammatory signals have been shown to increase muscle protein breakdown, and impair strength (things you do not want to occur as an athlete).
  • Other studies have shown improved range of motion, and improved pain from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) with fish oil supplementation.

4. Body Composition:

  • Research has been mainly done in animals, however there are a few studies showing the potential for human benefit from omega 3’s on body composition
  • Some reserachers believe that fish oil (EPA/DHA)  can work to decrease body composition by increasing fatty acid oxidation, and move the fat away from being stored. Also, there is a belief that it can support insulin sensitivity. This area needs further reserach however as some studies have shown benefit, while others have shown no benefit.

Best Sources: Are supplements or food better?

  • Food is the obvious choice, because along with the omega’s, you’re getting vital nutrients, protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.
  • There is some concern though, as most of us do not eat as much fish, nuts or seeds as would be needed. In that case, a supplement can be handy. In addition, there is some concern over the presence of environmental toxins in fish. Choosing a high quality, lab tested fish supplement can be a good way of knowing you are getting your omega’s without the worry of heavy metals.
  • Best choices for foods: seeds (flax, chia, hemp), nuts (walnuts), soybeans, sardines, wild caught salmon, grass fed beef, and omega 3 enriched eggs

Fish Supplements:

  • If you’d like to go the supplement route, make sure you are choosing a supplement that is pure (no heavy metals), wild caught, supported by third party testing and are in the triglyceride form.
  • I like the brand Nordic Naturals, which contains Vitamin D (also needed by athletes) and 800mg of EPA and 400mg of DHA.
  • While fish oil supplements are not vegan, I do think that vegans are at a disadvantage in that they just consume ALA. While some does convert to EPA/DHA, it is not an efficient conversion and they will be missing out on some important benefits. I would recommend a fish supplement in addition to a diet high in flax, chia, walnuts, hemp, etc.


What about the Ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3?

  • Both omega 3 and omega 6 are heart healthy. There is some evidence that had showed that omega 6’s were not as healthy as omega 3’s. This research is a bit outdated, and my belief is if you can increase both, you will greatly benefit your body.
  • Traditionally, a 4:1 Omega 6-Omega3 ratio would have been considered ideal. However due to my goal of reducing the fear surrounding food, and just saying increase your nuts, seeds, green leafy veggies and fish, I’m not concerned with a ratio.

Some coming full circle, yes, Omega 3’s really are that important. In addition to just upping your intake of fish, nuts and seeds, I’d consider a supplement. I don’t exclusively endorse only one and I certainly don’t get paid, but I do want you to be sure to get a high quality, highly tested one. That way there are no banned substances in there. That’s always a worry with supplements.

To help try to convince you to eat more fish, here is one of my favorite recipes for salmon burgers. The awesome thing is, you can buy canned wild salmon. It provides the same benefits, at a fraction of the cost. And for burgers, it is already broken down/chunked, so it flakes very easily. And this recipe does not taste very fishy at all.

salmon burgerSalmon Burger over Greens, with Lemon Dill Sauce (serves 5)

14oz canned wild salmon, drained and de-boned
2 cloves garlic minced
1/3 cup onion minced
1/3 cup bell pepper minced
3/4 cup oats
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
5 tbsp olive oil mayo-gluten and dairy free, divided
1.5 tbsp lemon juice, divided
2 eggs beaten
Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp lower sodium Old Bay
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp relish
10 cups mixed greens
10 small red potatoes (steamer bag), steamed
1/2 lb green beans (steamer bag), steamed


Dill Lemon Sauce:
1. In a small bowl mix 3 tbsp mayo, 1 tbsp relish, .5 tbsp lemon juice, and dash dill and Old Bay. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

1. In a medium bowl place drained salmon. Make sure there are no bones left in salmon, then flake.
2. Add garlic, onion, bell pepper, oats, mustard, 2 tbsp mayo, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 2 eggs, pepper, dill and Old Bay. Mix and form into 5 patties.
3. Heat a saute or grill pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil and cook 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked.

1. To save time, buy potatoes in a steamer bag. Follow directions and split between 5 plates.

Green Beans:
1. To save time, buy green beans in a steamer bag. Follow directions and split between 5 plates.

1. Place 2 cups of greens onto each plate. Top with one salmon patty, lemon dill sauce, potatoes and green beans.

Nutrition: Per Serving

  • Kcal: 446
  • Carbs: 51g
  • Protein: 30g
  • Fat:15g
  • Fiber:9g
  • Sodium:763mg


  • By Linda D'Antonio - on

    Tina, this is a fantastic review of the benefits of Omega fatty acids! Thanks so much. When I was diagnosed with MS 14 years ago, this became a crucial addition to my nutrient intake, and, among other things, I credit Omega-3 and Vit. D supplementation with helping me to dramatically improve my heath over the years. Everyone should read this article!

  • By fueledandfocused - on

    Thank you so much Linda, I really appreciate it! I am so glad that omega 3’s and vitamin D have helped you so much. You’re doing an awesome job and I don’t think people even realize you have MS. You are incredible! It’s amazing how food is such great medicine. And if we ate more for our health and performance, we’d see a big difference.

  • By Faith - on

    Great blog Cristina, thank you! I do take supplements and I do eat my nuts and seeds. I also “supplement” with real meat at times 🙂 Your salmon burgers are going to be a real hit!

  • By fueledandfocused - on

    Thank you so much Faith! You’re doing great with your nutrition and I know you’re on the right path. Brett thought the salmon burgers tasted like crab cakes, but I think it was the Old Bay 🙂

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