Omega 3 fish oils have been hailed as something of a wonder supplement lately. Many of us have started taking them (me included!) to reap the vast amount of benefits they offer. From enhancing brain development to aiding weight loss, adding a daily fish oil pill to your routine seems like a great idea for most people.
However, choosing a high quality fish oil supplement is only half the battle. As with most supplements, timing is key to getting the most out of your omega-3 pill. So what is the best time to take fish oil? I’ll explain everything in this article.
Timing Is Everything
When it comes to medicines – and health supplements to some extent – taking them at the right time often has a big influence on side effects and how well they work. Some pills work better pre or post workout, with or without food or alongside another supplement. To complicate things even further – some supplements will interact with each other and with food, making them completely ineffective!
Don’t let this put you off, however. The dosing instructions are usually listed on the label, and if not, it’s easy to do the research yourself. Let’s take a look at the different things to consider when getting the most out of your omega-3s.
What are Fish Oil Supplements?
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are long chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 or alpha-linolenic acid, is a form of polyunsaturated fatty acid which is incredibly important for our health.
We call these fatty acids “essential” because they are just that. Our bodies are unable to synthesize them in-house. Therefore, we must take them in via our diets. Nevertheless, most people are severely deficient and therefore require a daily supplement.
The docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which make up omega-3 fatty acids are involved in a number of functions in the human body including:
- Promoting healthy hair
- Thyroid and adrenal gland activity
- Brain development
- Production of many hormones
- Breaking down cholesterol
- Healthy cell membrane formation
What are the Benefits of Omega-3s?
The many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively documented. Omega-3 fatty acids aid a number of conditions including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Cardiovascular disease
What Foods Contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
The best way to get your essential omega-3 fatty acids is through diet. Although supplements are an option, this should never replace proper nutrition. Therefore, aiming to consume more foods rich in omega-3 is key to getting enough essential fatty acids.
You can get omega-3 from eating more cold water, oily fish. The American Heart Association recommends 2-3 portions a week. The types of oily fish you should aim to add into your diet include:
- Albacore Tuna
- Rainbow Trout
- Salmon (Wild)
You can also get omega-3s from plants such as English walnuts and flaxseeds.
Who Needs a Fish Oil Supplement?
As most Americans are significantly deficient in dietary omega-3 fatty acids (source), it is safe to say that most people could benefit from a daily fish oil supplement.
Fish oil supplements can also be helpful for those looking to lose weight. There is significant research into omega-3 fish oil and the ways in which it can promote weight loss including:
What is the Best Time to Take Fish Oil?
Most recent research suggests that taking fish oil in the evening is the best way to go. There are a number of reasons for this including better absorption when sleeping to increased anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s.
Many people take omega-3 fish oils to ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis which is strongest first thing in the morning. A recent study showed that NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) were most helpful when taken 8 hours before peak pain, therefore before sleeping. (source) So, as omega-3s work on the same biochemical pathways as NAIDS (source), this would suggest for those taking fish oil supplements (especially for anti-inflammatory purposes) would be best to do so in the evening.
Should You Take Fish Oils With Food?
The simple answer is yes – fish oils should be taken with food. The best time to take fish oil is with one of your main meals. Many people do not tolerate fish oil supplements easily – at least for the first few days. The side effects are dampened when taken on a full stomach.
Another reason why fish oils are best taken with food is because the fat consumed in your meal will stimulate the pancreatic lipase enzymes, these cause dietary fat to be broken down in the digestive system. The more of these enzymes that are present when you take a fish oil supplement, the more omega-3 fatty acids will be broken down and absorbed by your large intestine. (source)
It is important to remember that it’s the fat content within your meal which stimulates these enzymes. So, you should make sure that the meal you take your fish oil supplement with is the one with the highest fat content.
Studies have shown that omega-3s are absorbed up to 300% more with a high fat meal (44 grams of fat) compared to with a low fat meal (8 grams of fat). (source) With that said, that doesn’t mean you have to rush out and dive face first into 10 slices of pepperoni pizza! But a meal with a higher content of good fats, with ingredients like avocados, olives and nuts, is the best meal to take your fish oil supplement with.
You can even take your omega-3 supplement with breakfast if it is filled with healthy fats. You can try one of my all time healthy breakfast recipes like an avocado breakfast guacamole recipe that will fill you up as well as providing high levels of nutrition.
I know what you’re thinking though, ‘But Helen, sometimes it’s just not that easy to take a supplement directly with food’. For many people whether you’re a busy mom or a high flying corporate executive, it’s not always easy to plan your meals in advance. Whether you need to eat in the car during the school run, or at a unforeseen restaurant for a last minute meeting, having your supplements at the ready isn’t always an option.
But, fish oil supplements will work just as well as long as they are within 30 minutes of your main meal. So, you can try keeping a bottle of fish oil in your office drawer or in your purse to have them at hand.
Should Fish Oil Be Taken Before a Workout?
Unlike some weight loss supplements, fish oil, or any other omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as krill oil, does not need to be taken immediately prior to a workout in order to reap the benefits.
Although carbohydrates can take up to 2 hours to empty from your stomach after you eat and protein takes up to 6 hours. As your digestive system can only process 10 grams of fat an hour, fats take a lot longer to leave your stomach. Because of this, fatty acid supplements like omega-3s can actually cause indigestion if taken too close to a heavy workout.
Therefore, the best time to take fish oil for those following a fitness plan to aid weight loss, is with a main meal after your big workout.
Should I Take Fish Oil With Any Other Supplement?
This is an excellent question that is regularly neglected. Should you take fish oil with any other supplement?
Although fish oil supplements shouldn’t interact with other supplements, it’s best to take all fat-soluble supplements together. These include multivitamins and vitamin D supplements.
If you are currently taking any prescription medications or if you have a long term health condition, you should consult your doctor before starting a fish oil supplement to ensure there is no risk of interactions.
Drugs like warfarin or aspirin should never be combined with omega-3 supplements. Fish oils are natural blood thinners and if used incorrectly can cause anything from bruising to internal bleeding. If you are taking blood thinners you need to be very careful with supplements – never take anything new without checking it with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Here’s a video giving more information on some common questions related to fish oil.
Take Fish Oils Frozen
Another great time to take fish oil supplements is after they’ve been frozen. Not only does freezing fish oil supplements help keep them fresh and prevent them from going rancid, but this can also reduce the fishy odor. Frozen fish oil capsules also dissolve slower, making the unpleasant fishy side effects like ‘fish burps’, less of an issue.
When considering what is the best time to take fish oil, we now know that you should take your omega-3 supplement frozen with your evening main meal, alongside your vitamin D supplement. This will aid optimal absorption while reducing unpleasant side effects.
If you have any other questions about fish oils or any other supplements, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment and we’ll do our best to come up with an answer.