Fish oil may reduce muscle soreness after exercising: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / sergio_kumer
© iStock / sergio_kumer

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid Eicosapentaenoic acid

High dose omega-3 supplements may reduce delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) after resistance training in untrained women, says a new study from Baylor University.

Six grams per day of fish oil for one week prior to resistance training was associated with less muscle soreness in both upper and lower body muscle groups, according to results published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements​.

“Although the reductions in static and functional muscle soreness were not statistically significant, the lower effect sizes for the fish oil group reflect a rather large impact of fish oil supplementation on muscle soreness,” ​wrote the authors, led by Dr Grant Tinsley, who recently took up a position as assistant professor of exercise physiology at Texas Tech University.

“Fish oil supplementation does not completely abolish exercise-induced muscle soreness, however, the 33 to 42% lower effect sizes suggest fish oil supplementation may indeed be an effective means of reducing the magnitude of muscle soreness in those wishing to initiate an exercise program.”


Commenting independently on the study, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “The results are encouraging, yet not overstated. Like good research should, it raises many questions. The one that is top of mind is whether or not the decrease in muscle soreness impedes increasing strength and muscle growth. I suspect it doesn't, but the question should be answered. If it doesn't, the use of EPA/DHA supplements could very well break down the barrier (i.e. pain) that some people need to start (and continue) exercising.”​  

Study details

Dr Tinsley and his co-workers recruited 17 non-resistance trained young women to participate in their randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. The women were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or 6 grams per day of fish oils, providing 3,000 mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 600 mg of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for one week prior to a single bout of resistance exercise.

omega 3 fish oil sustainability marine sea epa dha Merrimon
The potential reduction in muscle soreness was postulated to be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of EPA and DHA.Image © iStock / Merrimon

Results showed that participants in the fish oil group had less static and functional muscle soreness compared with women in the placebo group, and these decreases were observed in both upper and lower body muscles. While the results did not reach statistical significance the researchers noted that the reduction in muscle soreness for fish oil supplementation compares favorably to the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

“Based on our results, we suggest that fish oil supplementation at doses higher than previously utilized may be effective in reducing the symptoms of DOMS in untrained females,” ​wrote Dr Tinsley and his co-authors. and their ability to ameliorate the local inflammatory environment produced by muscle damage. The optimal dose of fish oil should continue to be investigated, although appropriate caution should be exercised when considering utilizing higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids.

“While the present study utilized 3.6 g/d of EPA plus DHA and previous investigations of omega-3 consumption have exceeded this amount, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions against consuming EPA and DHA in excess of 3 g/d due to the risk of increased bleeding time. Future research should be conducted in male and female cohorts using multiple markers of muscle damage, inflammation and soreness.”

Dr Tinsley told us that no follow-up studies on fish oil and muscle soreness are currently planned. "If the opportunity presented itself where a fish oil producer wanted a follow-up study, I would be happy to do it, but it just isn't planned at the moment,"​ he added. 

Source: Journal of Dietary Supplements
Published online ahead of print, doi:
“Effects of Fish Oil Supplementation on Postresistance Exercise Muscle Soreness”
Authors: G.M. Tinsley et al. 

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