Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of the omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. When you exercise, muscle damage occurs and is accompanied by inflammation. Evidence suggests that substances like omega-3s assist in the recovery from inflammation and therefore also result in faster recovery from exercise.
In a recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, investigators wondered how DHA might affect your workout.
41 untrained participants took either two grams of DHA every day for 28 days or took a placebo. After the 28 days, they began an exercise and testing protocol that lasted seventeen days. They continued their supplementation for sixteen of those days.
The workout was pretty extreme. The subjects did an eccentric-only curl (just the lowering phase) with 140% of their one-rep-max for six sets of two reps with two minutes of rest in between. This plan was designed to induce a ton of muscle damage, inflammation, and soreness. The participants did this same workout on days one, six, nine, eleven, thirteen, and sixteen.
On several occasions throughout the protocol, the subjects had their blood tested for markers of muscle damage, inflammation, and serum DHA levels. Strength was also tested.
DHA reduced both inflammation and muscle damage, significantly so in the first four days after the first workout. Muscle soreness and strength improvements were not statistically significant. However, we have to be careful when we interpret data like this. If you look at the actual numbers, while the DHA failed to reach statistical significance on some of the studied parameters, there were trends in that direction.
When it comes to full recovery from a brutal eccentric workout, you’ll have a hard time finding dramatic results in any study, even one of moderate size like this one. That’s because no matter what you do, it takes a long time to recover from a hard bout of exercise. It’s just the nature of the beast.
When looking at the trends in this study, we see that DHA outperformed the placebo almost completely across the board on every measured factor. It appears that once the participants had familiarized themselves with the workout, their strength may well have returned sooner by taking the supplement, even if the improvements weren’t statistically significant.
We now know DHA improves post-workout inflammation and muscle damage, and it’s likely to also improve performance in the long term. In fact, these researchers called for long-term study using trained subjects to learn more. Over time, it’s possible that DHA might benefit strength and performance.
1. Frank DiLorenzo, et. al., “DOCOSAHEXAENOIC ACID AFFECTS MARKERS OF INFLAMMATION AND MUSCLE DAMAGE AFTER ECCENTRIC EXERCISE,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000617
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