Fish oil-protein supplementation may boost rugby performance & recovery: Study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Fish oil combined with protein may reduce lower body muscle soreness, reduce fatigue and maintain lower-body power over a longer period, a sports exercise study concludes.

Rugby Union players, who ingested equal amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) mixed with a protein-based drink noted these benefits to muscle recovery between training sessions.

These benefits were also observed in match play performance, especially when the period between matches was short.

In commenting on how players’ careers are defined by their performance Dr Katherine Black, lead study author and senior lecturer at the University of Otago in New Zealand said, “Muscle soreness can have severe consequences for performance, so if we can help to reduce soreness then we can help to improve performance.”

As Dr Black pointed out a “push towards multiple-nutrient interventions”​ is occurring especially within the sports nutrition industry, where a combination of proven ingredients is a preferred approach for firms looking to offer an extra edge in sporting performance.

NutraIngredients highlighted a study​ that said post-workout consumption of a soy and dairy protein blend might outperform single protein sources for prolonging amino acid delivery and building muscle.

Fish oil has been a potential sports supplement for several years and the rugby team involved in this study, the Chiefs Super Rugby intend to use it regularly, once a New Zealand supplier can be secured.

While fish oil is widely used for everything from brain health, hormonal balance and shiny hair, Dr Black points out that the fish oils have been linked to blood clotting, advising those on medication to seek medical advice before taking the supplements.

Study details

Katherine Black
Dr Katherine Black, lead study author and senior lecturer at the University of Otago in New Zealand. ©Katherine Black

Over five weeks of pre-season training, 20 professional Rugby Union players completed a 5-point-Likert soreness scale assessment with 5 indicating “no soreness” and a questionnaire assessing fatigue, sleep, stress and mood each morning of training,

The players also performed countermovement jump (CMJ) tests once or twice per week.

During the training participants also consumed two, 200 millilitres (mL) of protein-based drinks daily also for 5 weeks.

The intervention group (FO) consumed drinks that contained Smartfish Recharge High Protein as well as multiple nutrients including 1546 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (551 mg EPA and 551 mg DHA).

The placebo (P) group consumed drinks matched for protein (15.0 grams (g) per 200 millilitres (g/200 mL)), carbohydrate (14.5 g/200 mL) and fat content (8.4 g/200 mL), but without omega 3 PUFA).

While training in New Zealand, participants consumed one test drink after morning training and the other following afternoon training.

These drinks were consumed alongside a protein shake containing an additional 15g of whey protein.

Research results

The research team, which also included researchers from the University of Stirling in Scotland, found that by day 35, there was a likely / moderate beneficial effect of FO vs. P on the change in lower body muscle soreness compared with day 0.

There was also a likely / moderate beneficial effect of FO vs. P on CMJ performance. From day 20, a moderate beneficial effect of FO on fatigue was observed.

“In terms of practical relevance, the moderate beneficial effect of adding fish oil to a protein-based supplement on muscle soreness translated into the better maintenance of explosive power in elite Rugby Union players during pre-season training,”​ the study concluded.

The research team speculate that the beneficial effect of fish oil ingestion was mediated, at least in part, by the modification of the 3-series eicosanoids, 3-series prostaglandins and 5-series leukotriene.

“The 3-series eicosanoids exhibit lower inflammatory properties than the 2- series eicosanoids (PGE2, 4-series leukotriene) and are proposed to decrease the inflammatory response to exercise and attenuate muscle soreness,”​ the study concluded.

In translating these results to the public, Dr Black believes increasing fish intake would be a good place to start rather than supplementation.

“I would go with a whole food approach for the majority of people; rugby players’ training schedules are very different from the general population,” ​she said.

Source: European Journal of Sport Science

Published online:

“Adding omega-3 fatty acids to a protein-based supplement during pre-season training results in reduced muscle soreness and the better maintenance of explosive power in professional Rugby Union players.”

Authors: Katherine Black et al.

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