Being endurance athletes we are more susceptible to inflammation from tissue damage in training due to impact and also oxidative stress. If some tissue or tendons get inflamed and is left unchecked you may not only end up with a full blown injury but increase your likelihood on development of certain diseases such as cancer.
Now Im not writing this to sensationalise it but just make you more aware of what happens when we ingest certain foods. Remember it’s all about adding to health & performance and not detracting from either.
So today we are going to focus on the ratios of Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids. They are called essential because we can’t produce them ourselves. I am not sure of the need to go into the depths of biology here because you just don’t have the time to go molecular but I will give a summary and thus tools and education to make better informed decisions.
Omega-6 essential fatty acids while important (coagulation, inflammation for outside aggression and cell growth) our typical western diet contains omega-6s in excessive amounts and the important functions can become problematic functions. The ratio sits anywhere from 10:1 and upwards to 30:1 which leads to the prominence of low level chronic inflammation (injury or diseased cell growth), heart disease, asthma, certain cancers and ADHD in kids. Omega-6s also stimulate fatty cells (help stock fats) from birth onwards. A side note is that chronic inflammation also destroys our immune system leaving us more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids on the other hand are slowly getting more attention, however still not enough! Omega-3s contribute to development of our nervous system, making cell membranes more flexible, the reduction of inflammation and limit production of adipose cells (body fat).
What happens is there is this competition between Omega-3s and Omega-6s to control our body functions and our physiological balance depends on the balance of this ratio. The ratio we need to be aiming to attain is preferably 1:1.
How do we get this ratio down to 1:1 and easily reduce the likelihood of getting low level chronic inflammation (thus holding onto injury), decrease our chances of cancer growth (all of us have dormant cancer cells but 1 in 4 people will die from cancer) amongst other health problems?
Simply by systematically reducing your intake of omega-6s and greatly increasing your omega-3s in your diet.
Lets look at what you need to consume more of before getting into the what and why you need to reduce aspect.
Foods rich in Omega-3s and ones you will want to significantly increase in your day to day diet. You will be healthier and recover better… all pluses here 🙂
* Green leafy vegetables
* Cold water fish such as salmon, Alaskan halibut, tuna, mackerel etc
* Macadamia Nuts and Walnuts
* Grass Fed Beef and Milk derivatives — butter, cream, yoghurt and cheese
* Free range Eggs where chickens are free to eat grass, grubs and if given feed it needs to be flax meal
* Omega-3 supplements such as fish oils and flaxseed oils
Now lets look at what you need to do to reduce Omega-6s in the diet and thus reduce inflammation and other non wanted nastiness!
As mentioned omega-6s are super abundant in our western diet. Foods such as vegetable oils, breads, snacks and feedlot raised animals (meats & dairy) have huge amounts of omega-6’s and anything containing trans fat (hydrogenated fats) ie. margarine, packaged meats and lots of tinned and packaged foods please run away from (fast stride rate of course). Use butter (better from grass fed cattle) because margarine uses industrial vegetable oils such as sunflower oil which has seventy times more omega-6s than omega-3s.
All in all that means avoiding anything with vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, soybean, canola… yes canola, standard cooking oils) including anything processed like salad dressings etc (make your own fresh ones) plus bread made with bakers yeast (choose sourdough but only post training), no refined cereals (oats are better, again post training only) and finally feedlot raised animals!
What is this about feedlot raised animals that is so bad to our health (not to mention the animals)?
In the fifties many farmers looked to increase the natural cycle of milk production and thus abandoned the pasture fed (grass rich in omega-3’s) for reduced feedlot areas where the cattle’s principle diet came from corn, wheat, and soy and thus contain practically zero omega-3s but bucket loads of omega-6’s. You can now see that the amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s in our bodies comes directly from the content of the foods we eat. Now unfortunately the chicken and eggs we eat are also affected by their diets. Corn fed chicken contains 20 times the amount of omega-6s to omega-3s.
If you cannot find or afford to buy grass fed beef then always make sure you buy the leanest cuts of grain fed beef. This means it will be lower in both omega-6s and omega-3s. With regards to chicken and eggs, I personally would not buy anything that wasn’t at least free range.
So as you can see, the ratios matter big time but in reality it is not that difficult to change. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.
As a final reminder on inflammation
* Over consumption of refined sugar and white flour will stimulate inflammation
* Over consumption of omega-6s in margarine, vegetable oils (including trans fats), and animal fats (meat, dairy products, eggs) coming from grain fed and other industrial farming methods also stimulate inflammation
There are many other anti-inflammatory foods then listed above in how to increase omega-3s which I’ll create a go to list of shortly.