A review and evaluation of study design considerations for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation trials in physically trained participants

Publication Name

Nutrition Research Reviews


Long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (LC n-3 PUFA) supplements, rich in eicosapentaenoic acid and/or docosahexaenoic acid, are increasingly being recommended within athletic institutions. The wide range of doses, durations and study designs implemented across trials make it difficult to provide clear recommendations. The importance of study design characteristics in LC n-3 PUFA trials has been detailed in cardiovascular disease research and these considerations may guide LC n-3 PUFA study design in healthy cohorts. This systematic review examined the quality of studies and study design considerations used in evaluating the evidence for LC n-3 PUFA improving performance in physically trained adults. SCOPUS, PubMed and Web of Science electronic databases were searched to identify studies that supplemented LC n-3 PUFA in physically trained participants. Forty six studies met inclusion. Most studies used a randomised control design. Risk of bias, assessed using the design-appropriate Cochrane Collaboration tool, revealed that studies had a predominant judgment of 'some concerns', 'high risk', or 'moderate risk' in randomised controlled, randomised crossover, or non-randomised studies, respectively. A custom 5-point quality assessment scale demonstrated that no study satisfied all recommendations for LC n-3 PUFA study design. This review has highlighted that the disparate range of study designs are likely contributing to the inconclusive state of outcomes pertaining LC n-3 PUFA as a potential ergogenic aid. Further research must adequately account for the specific LC n-3 PUFA study design considerations, underpinned by a clear hypothesis, in order to achieve evidence-based dose, duration and composition recommendations for physically trained individuals.

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