When it comes to sports nutrition, the immune-enhancing properties of omega-3 fatty acids might particularly help in situations where immune system function is reduced. Heavy training and sports competitions can stress the immune system, increasing the risk for infection—especially upper respiratory tract infections—in athletes. Athletes tend to have lower levels of omega-3s because their bodies use them much more quickly than non-athletes. To test the amount of omega-3s in athletes, researchers used the Omega-3 Index, a measure of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells, as a measurement in a pilot study (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Oct;24(5):559-64).
Of the 106 German athletes studied, only one was within the optimal omega-3 target range for lowering the risk of cardiovascular events and suboptimal brain function (reaction time and executive function). These surprisingly low omega-3 levels, which were even lower than in heart disease patients, may be explained by the high energy need of athletes using these essential fatty acids (EFAs) as an energy source.