Omega-3 oils may reduce muscle soreness but do little for performance, study finds

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Omega-3 supplements may reduce muscle soreness, study finds

Related tags: omega-3, Muscle, Sports nutrition

The benefits of omega 3 supplements may extend towards sports nutrition as UK researchers find a link between the fish oil and a reduction in muscle soreness after exercise.

The team’s conclusions state that while omega-3 supplementation for four weeks may reduce minor aspects of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD) it had very little effect on improving performance.

“Whilst the omega-3 supplementation didn’t seem to enhance performance, it did reduce the pain participants experienced which we suggest is useful in itself as people don’t like exercise because it hurts,”​ says lead study author Yvoni Kyriakidou, a PhD researcher at the University of Westminster’s School of Life Sciences. “If it doesn’t hurt as much, maybe more people will keep doing it?”

Writing in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition​, the research team suggests that increased accumulation of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may blunt reactive oxygen species (ROS) and production of pro-inflammatory proteins.

Additionally, anti-inflammatory substances derived from omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) have been identified contributing to their mechanism of action.

Study details

The team enrolled 14 healthy males, aged around 25 years to the trial, who were then randomised to take three grams per day of 0mega-3 supplements three times a day or a matching placebo.

Following the four weeks supplementation, the subjects were asked to run downhill for 60 min.

Creatine kinase (CK), interleukin (IL)-6 and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α, perceived muscle soreness, maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) and peak power were recorded pre, post, and 24, 48 and 72 h post-EIMD.

The researchers found a lower inflammatory response and decreased muscle damage after exercise in the fish oil group.

Despite this, the omega-3 did not appear to change the amount of force reduction in future muscle contractions, suggesting that omega-3 supplementation had limited impact on muscle function, recovery and subsequent performance.

Delving deeper into their findings, the team observed no significant differences in measurement of muscle strength (Maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC)) between groups suggesting muscle damage levels were unchanged by the omega-3 consumption.

The team also measured muscle function via cycling peak power, where once again no significant differences were observed between groups.

Interestingly, the placebo group demonstrated a significant suppression in peak power at 24 hours following EIMD relative to pre-EIMD.

The team adds that the potential for preservation of voluntary peak power output would be of interest to athletes where repeated maximal powerful performance is required, which is reinforced by differences in perceived pain at this timepoint.”


“Overall, these findings support the hypothesis that 4 weeks of 3 g/day n-3 supplementation may attenuate minor aspects of EIMD, as observed in Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and peak power,”​ the paper concludes.

“Typically, no significant differences were noted between groups, however, it was observed a blunted inflammatory response immediately after eccentric exercise.

“There were also no significant differences in leg strength between groups indicating that n-3 supplementation will have limited impact on muscle function and subsequent performance.

“Whilst not improving performance, these findings may have relevance to soreness-associated exercise avoidance.”

Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

Published online:

“The effect of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on exercise-induced muscle damage.”

Authors: Kyriakidou, Y. et al.

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