Sometimes, amidst fuelling and refuelling, figuring out how to stay hydrated and energy filled on your run, and then doing this on repeat for weeks on end as part of a training cycle, certain components of best practices for runners get pushed to the wayside. We forget certain things, (hello foam rolling!), run out of time for certain things, or maybe, sometimes, just aren’t aware of certain things we can be doing to enhance our running performance.
One of my favourite things about running is the ability to be constantly learning – learning about new training ideas, new ways to stay motivated, new methods of fuelling and refuelling, and of course, new ways to improve my running and always be at my best. One of those, that you may not be as familiar with is essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids play an incredibly important role in the diet, for both runners and non-runners alike, but for us, their importance is increased due to the positive effects they can have on the body. Here’s what you need to know:
What are essential fatty acids (EFAs)?
Our body requires fat to function. It plays a key role in everything from insulation to metabolism to brain function to proper digestion. Much of this fat we get from our diet in our every day foods, and some our body makes as it needs it. These fats are synthesized out of fatty acids, the building blocks of the fat molecules within our body. Some of these fatty acids however, must be consumed through our diet, in a specific form in order for our body to be able to use them: these are the essential fatty acids (EFAs). You probably know them as your Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, and while they work together (with other nutrients and chemicals in your body), they also function individually.
What do they do?
EFAs have several functions in our body, just like fat as a whole, including reducing blood clotting, boosting immunity, decreasing blood pressure and supporting digestion. In terms of runners though, the big one we care about is their role in inflammation. Even if you don’t see the outward signs of swelling, regular running, especially at long distances, (like when you are marathon training), puts stress on your body, resulting in low grade inflammation. Things like stretching, foam rolling and proper nutrition help reduce and eliminate this in the hours following your run as part of the recovery process. However the other part of reducing it is at the cellular level. This is where the EFAs come in!
Where do I get them?
Omega 6: Most oils, like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and sesame oil; evening primrose oil, black currant oil and hemp oil
Omega 3: Flax oil, black currant oil, hemp oil and fish oils
How do they work?
This is the important part when it comes to runners and inflammation. Our body produces substances called prostaglandins: hormone-like substances which are short-lived and that play a role in inflammation. These substances either act in an anti-inflammatory, or an inflammatory path within the body and essential fatty acids are the building blocks of these prostaglandins. The Omega 3, or Omega 6 EFAs go through a series of reactions after consumption which converts them to prostaglandins for the body to use. Depending on your source and amount of fat, as well as the availability of other nutrients in your body will determine which prostaglandin is formed. There are 3 types:
Prostaglandin 1: Anti – inflammatory
Prostaglandin 2: Inflammatory
Prostaglandin 3: Anti-inflammatory
As you can see, we want to encourage the formation of PG 1 and 3, and discourage the formation of PG 2. The trick though, is in the balance of these fatty acids within the diet, as the body competes for metabolism of them both.
- Omega 6 and Omega 3, in the presence of vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin B3 can be converted into PG 1 and PG 3 (anti-inflammatory) respectively, when consumed in proper amounts.
- Excess Omega 6 has the same effect as eating excess meat, producing arachidonic acid and causing the formation of PG 2 (inflammatory).
- It is less likely to have excess Omega 3, as it is converted to DHA, a form of Omega 3 that is essential in the body for healthy brain and skin.
Here’s a summary:
What’s the take away?
As runners, if we want to aid in recovery and improve performance, it is imminent that we reduce our inflammation. To do so, we need to consume Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids (some of each, from a variety of sources), so our body can have the building blocks it needs to produce Prostaglandin 1 and 3 and reduce inflammation. This means we also need to make sure we are consuming the essential nutrients that are required to facilitate this process. We can further enhance the fight against inflammation by consuming anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric and cinnamon.
Have questions? Want some more information? Send me an email! In the meantime, whip up some of these anti-inflammatory foods to help you keep running at your best:
- Turmeric Roasted Chickpeas
- Energizing Turmeric Tea
- Cinnamon Raisin Breakfast Cookies
- Cinnamon Spice Cranberry Biscotti