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DHA and Omega-3 Supplementation Improves Reaction Time In Elite Soccer Players

“Training” reaction times is very subjective and left primarily to modes of psychological efficacy; self-esteem, mood, perception, visualization etc. While these are all very relevant and necessary components of athletic success, it is difficult to say with certainty how each of these components will affect individual performance. If we strip away these more subjective aspects of improving reaction time, we are left only with the physical component of RT; the physiologic neuronal conduction system itself.

Several studies show the effect of DHA on discriminative reaction time. Is there a case for coaches to recommend, if not require, DHA supplementation for athletes who participate in sports requiring decision-making skills?

Guzman, et al. (2011) found that DHA supplementation improved complex reaction time in female elite soccer players by as much as a tenth of a second. Also of noted importance, the study included a higher dose of DHA supplementation than was recommended because of the training effects of elite athletes. This would present the need for further investigation into the dose-dependency of DHA supplementation as well.

Interestingly, in a second study, Fontani, Lodi, Migliorini, and Corradechi (2009) included a profile of mood states along with a battery of reaction tests. Not only did reaction time improve, but so did mood state. Furthermore, mood was found to remain elevated for as much as 21 days after the study. It is difficult to say whether performance improvements were due to physiologic effects of supplementation, improved mood state, or a combination of both. So while one might not be able to “coach” a mood state, or other performance-enhancing state of mind, DHA supplementation has shown to chemically improve these areas and in turn improve performance outcomes.

Additionally, Benardot (2012) states that omega-3 supplementation may help improve muscular recovery by increasing growth hormone response to exercise and sleep. However there remains to be definitive evidence as to the dose-response relationship, which may also be affected by age and training status.

Although the exact mechanisms of improvement remain unresolved, DHA supplementation has shown to improve reaction time in female elite athletes and karateka (karate practitioner). Further dose-dependent and activity/fitness-dependent studies are needed. Fortunately, this is one area where there is no harm in recommending DHA to athletes, and may even have a placebo effect if it shown to be physiologically insignificant among other groups.

 

References
Benardot, D. (2012). Advanced Sports Nutrition (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Fontani, G., Lodi, L., Migliorini, S., & Corradeschi, F. (2009). Effect of omega-3 and policosanol supplementation on attention and reactivity in athletes. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28(4), 473S-481S.

Guzman, J.F., Esteve, H., Pablos, C., Pablos, A., Blasco, C., & Villegas, J.A. (2011). DHA-rich fish oil improves complex reaction time in female elite soccer players. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 10, 301-305.

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