Has watching the 2014 Winter Olympics inspired you to take your athletic abilities to the next level? Has seeing your country stand on the medalist platform filled you with so much pride that you fantasize about winning a gold medal for your nation? Just picture it. Cameras flashing, people screaming your name, your national anthem playing as the entire crowd stands. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Surprisingly, there is an easy formula to follow to end up as an Olympic gold medalist yourself one day… be the best!
OK, easier said than done. Especially for athletes at the top of their game who are often only hundredths of seconds or points away from receiving that coveted gold medal. To be the best, athletes have to be stronger, more prepared, and better trained than their competition. They must eat right to fuel their body, get sufficient rest and recovery, and, according to the International Olympic Committee, take “food supplements [that] can enhance athletic performance.” While we’ve all heard that certain supplements are good for our health, it may come as a shock to hear that they can enhance athletic performance. And no, I’m not talking about steroids, but rather legal, approved supplements. According to the IOC, “athletes know that if they don’t take certain supplements, with the tiny margins separating the gold medalists and the [others], they simply can’t win in international competition.” Dr. Barry Sears, a research scientist of lipids and their inflammatory role, supports this as well, answering the question of whether supplements can improve athletic performance with “a resounding yes.” By the way, Dr. Spears has personally worked with athletes over the last 3 Olympics, who have brought home 21 gold medals collectively. Hows that for credentials?
We know that eating right and training hard in addition to raw talent are key ingredients in making an Olympic athlete. But why supplements? A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition asked athletes this same question. Their answers included: to increase energy, maintain strength, enhance performance, maintain health and the immune system, and prevent nutritional deficiencies.The same Journal published a research article in 2011 examining the frequency of the use of dietary supplements among a large sample of elite athletes. From 2002 to 2009, the study found a decrease in the consumption of all dietary supplements by athletes except for one: Omega-3’s, whose consumption increased. Cross-country skiing, which I believe to be the most difficult of the Winter Olympic games, had the athletes with the most frequent intake of Omega-3’s in the study.
Omega-3 supplements are gold medals in and of themselves, offering anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, cardiovascular health, and cognitive health benefits. These essential fatty acids play a key role in allowing nearly all of our cells to function properly. While everyone needs Omega-3’s, they are especially beneficial for athletes in the following ways:
1. They are a powerful and natural anti-inflammatory that can reduce pain and stiffness that often results from hard training; they also help prevent overuse injuries that are very prevalent when athletes are going through intense training. Dr. Spear says Omega-3’s anti-inflammatory agents “work like aspirin to relieve pain.”
2. They affect our collagen metabolism by increasing collagen production in tendons and ligaments, which addresses the symptoms of common problems for athletes including strains, sprains, and overuse injuries and allow for a faster recovery time.
3. They have been shown to improve oxygen-rich blood flow to active areas of the brain during mental activities, which may boost cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that Omega-3’s can be beneficial in improving attention, focus, and concentration for long periods of time, which are key aspects in athletic performance. Positive benefits for brain and brawn!
4. They can improve body composition by increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing fat mass and can even boost lung function of athletes both during and after exercise.
So, if you’re hoping to take home a gold medal one day your to-do list includes: eat right, train hard, and take an Omega-3 supplement. I prefer a vegetarian Omega-3 supplement because I don’t like the after-taste left behind from fish oil. Chia seed oil has a higher concentration of ALA Omega-3 than flax seed, so this is my favorite way to get my essential fatty acids while dreaming of winning an Olympic gold medal.