Do Runners Need Omega-3’s??

Do Runners Need Omega-3’s??

Do Runners Need Omega-3’s??

Running as we know is one of the most popular physical activities. It not only helps you achieve the recommended levels of physical activity in less time than the other exercise methods, but it doesn’t require specialized training, expensive gear, or even a gym membership.  All you need is a pair of sneakers and you’re on your way to better health! Or are you?

According to recent studies running may decrease your Omega-3 levels and increase your chances of Omega-3 imbalance. Given the importance of Omega-3 status on cellular, cardiovascular, and immune health should runners be concerned?

We know running has so many health benefits such as lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, lower triglyceride levels , etc. However, the question that remains is can running really contribute to an Omega-3 deficiency?

In a recent study that looked at the relationship between the number of miles run weekly and omega-3 status in recreational runners, researchers found that runners who logged the most miles had the lowest omega-3 index and the highest AA/EPA ratio which are two reliable predictors of cardiovascular health (Davinelli S et all, 2019).

The average omega-3 index of runners in this trial was 3.37% well below the target range of 8-11% and the average AA/EPA ratio was 18.4 which was markedly higher than what is considered optimal for heart health (Von Schacky C et al, 2014). Based on these results, the researchers concluded that running may deplete Omega-3 levels and negatively contribute to changes in omega-3 index and AA/EPA however more research is still needed.

Low omega-3 index scores and high AA/EPA ratios are linked to several adverse health conditions (Farzaneh-Far-R, et al, 2009). Cardiac events have been associated with low omega-3 status and interestingly elite and recreational athletes have an increased risk of cardiac events (Harmon KG, 2014).

Runners require more omega-3 than non-runners because vigorous physical exercise increases muscle insulin activity, which changes the concentration of omega-3s in our muscle membranes (Dube JJ, et al, 2012). Support for this idea came from muscle biopsy studies that suggest during exercise muscle membranes accumulate DHA as part of an adaptive response (Helge JW, 2001).

When DHA accumulates in the muscle membranes, it displaces the proinflammatory arachidonic acid causing it to move out of the muscles and into the blood. Higher arachidonic acid levels in the blood and reduced omega-3 availability may negatively impact the cardiovascular system (Nelson JR, 2019).

However, to clarify, we are not implying that running depletes omega-3s in a way that damages the cardiovascular and nervous systems. But rather, we are acknowledging that if a person’s omega 3 levels are low before starting a running regimen, running could worsen the problem and there could be consequences. This will become important if future trials confirm running depletes omega-3s. As of now only observational trials have shown this to be true. More research is still needed.

We know exercise depletes omega-3, this is nothing new, in fact many serious athletes supplement with omega-3’s. Vigorous exercise has the potential to deplete omega-3 levels in everyone and those who participate in vigorous physical activity multiple times a week could very well be depleting their omega 3 stores.

The current dosing recommendations (Superko et al, 2013):

  • Healthy Children (ages 4-12): 2000 mg EPA+DHA per day
  • Healthy Adolescents (ages 13-18): 2000-3000 mg EPA+DHA per day
  • Healthy Adults (ages 18+): 3000-4000 mg EPA+DHA per day

Importantly, these dosage recommendations should be combined with efforts to consume oily wild caught fish at least twice a week and a low intake of omega 6 fats, commonly found in vegetables, processed foods, etc.

Considering the established health benefits of omega-3s and the new evidence suggesting that vigorous exercise can deplete omega-3 levels, it is recommended that individuals who participate in vigorous exercise multiple times a week talk to their doctor about their activity level and how it may be affecting their omega-3 status and whether supplementation is recommended. But for now you cannot go wrong by trying to incorporate more oily wild caught fish, seaweed, algae, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans or soy bean oil.

One of my favorite salmon recipes:


Cooking spray
¼ cup walnuts pieces
2 large collard green, kale or Swiss chard leaves
Four 6-ounce skinless, center-cut salmon fillets
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium lemon
4 tablespoons packed fresh dill fronds
½ cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt


If using a grill, spray it with cooking spray and preheat it over a medium-high heat. Otherwise, wait to preheat a grill pan.

Toast the walnuts in a small dry skillet over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool, then chop finely. Place 8 toothpicks in a dish of water and soak until ready to use.

Wash and pat dry the greens. Cut the leaves away from each side of the spines and discard the spines. (You should wind up with 4 long pieces of leaves.)

Sprinkle the salmon with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, Wrap each salmon fillet with 1 piece of leaf and secure with 2 toothpicks. If using a grill pan, spray it with cooking spray and preheat it over medium-high heat.

Brush each salmon bundle lightly with about 1 tablespoon total of the olive oil. Grill the salmon bundles until the greens are tender and the salmon is just cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side.

While salmon is cooking, make the sauce. Finely zest and then juice the lemon into a small bowl. Chop the dill and add it to the bowl along with the yogurt, walnuts, remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and remaining ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Serve the salmon drizzled with the sauce.

Makes 4 servings

Serving size: 1 piece salmon and ¼ cup sauce

Per serving: Calories 400; Total Fat 26g; (Sat Fat 3.5g, Mono Fat 11.7g, Poly Fat 9.0g); Protein 38g; Carb 4g; Fiber 1g; Cholesterol 95mg; Sodium 380mg

Excellent source of: Protein, Vitamin A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Folate, Vitamin K, Pantothenic Acid, Copper, Molybdenum, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium

Good source of: Magnesium, Manganese

Copyright 2017 Ellie Krieger. All rights reserved


  • Davinelli S, et al. Front Physiol. 2019. 10: p. 487
  • Dubé JJ, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012. 44(5): p. 793–799
  • Farzaneh-Far-R, et al. Atherosclerosis. 2009. 205(2): p. 538-43
  • Harmon KG, et al. Br J Sports Med. 2014. 48(15): p. 1185-92
  • Helge JW, et al. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2001. 90(2): p. 670-7
  • Nelson JR, Raskin S. Postgrad Med. 2019. 131(4): p. 268-277
  • Superko, et al. Circulation. 2013. 128: p. 2154-2161
  • Von Schacky C, et al. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014. 24(5): p. 559-64