Study: Omega-3 intake helps reduce muscle stiffness and swelling after exercising
10/23/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

Omega-3 fatty acids deliver many health benefits to the brain, heart, and other parts of the body. That list includes alleviating stiffness and swelling in strained muscles after an intense bout of physical exercise.

Japanese researchers examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on people who did plenty of exercise. In their study, participants took either a placebo or a supplement of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) -- two main types of omega-3s -- for eight weeks.

The results showed that participants who took omega-3 supplements retained more muscle strength that those who got a placebo. They also took longer to experience the onset of muscle soreness. Finally, their muscles displayed reduced swelling.

The Hosei University researchers did not know how EPA and DHA achieved their beneficial effects. However, they did show evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids prevented stiffness in muscles that experienced "eccentric contractions."

During an eccentric contraction, an active muscle extends itself to better support a load. This places more strain on the muscle, leading to consequences like stiffness and swelling. (Related: Exercising too hard? Prevent heart damage with ginseng and red sage.)

Taking omega-3 supplements may help reduce stiffness and swelling in overworked muscles

Previous investigations by the Hosei research team established a connection between EPA and DHA supplementation and inflammation-reducing effects in sports nutrition. They also studied the role played by omega-3 in the activation of motor nerves and the loss of muscle strength.


“These results may be significant in identifying the mechanism associated with the preventive effect of EPA and DHA supplementation on muscle damage,” remarked the authors of the study.

Furthermore, the Hosei researchers weren't the only ones looking into omega-3 supplementation.

In 2015, their Canadian counterparts at the University of Toronto reported that EPA and DHA supplementation enhanced the function of athletes' muscles and nerves. The fatty acids also improved muscular aspects affected by tiredness.

Similarly, Seoul National University researchers and their American colleagues gave omega-3 supplements to mice before subjecting them to resistance training. The 2017 experiment showed that the fatty acids brought positive effects to muscle strength.

The recent Hosei study involved 16 male participants. Half of them randomly received omega-3 supplements while the remainder got a placebo.

The supplemented group took 600 milligrams (mg) of EPA with 260 mg of DHA. The placebo was a 300 mg soft gel capsule with corn oil.

Each participant took his capsule within 30 minutes of each meal. The supplement and the placebo were identical.

DHA and EHA are also good for the muscles of athletes

The participants performed six sets of eccentric contraction exercises. They either did preacher curls at maximum voluntary contraction or used the heaviest dumbbells.

The Hosei researchers evaluated the contraction torque, range of movement, and upper arm circumference of the participants. They used ultrasound scans to determine muscle stiffness.

Further, the participants answered survey questions regarding the soreness of their muscles.

The researchers and participants conducted their respective evaluations before the workout, immediately after the session, and on the first, second, and fifth days after the physical exercise. The former also took blood samples and measured EPA and DHA levels.

People who took omega-3 supplements enjoyed much better contraction torque and range of motion. Conversely, the placebo group reported much higher levels of sore muscles, stiff muscles, and muscle echo intensity.

The Hosei researchers also found that the upper arms of the placebo group were larger than the supplemented participants. This result ran counter to their earlier findings.

“We speculate that one of reasons for this discrepancy is caused by different exercise load, which is much greater in this study compared with previous study,” they reported.

To learn more about supplements that benefit the muscles after exercise like omega-3s, visit

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