Krill oil research shows benefits to athletes

Recent research shows athletes’ omega-3 levels fall after intense exercise.

Katrin Berntsen

April 24, 2019

4 Min Read
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Exercise takes many forms, varying from person to person. From dedicated athletes and bodybuilders to frequent and even infrequent gym goers, the sports nutrition market is on the move, rapidly changing to meet the needs of every type of active lifestyle. Personalized nutrition is not new; in fact, it’s a topic that continues to reign. The “one size fits all” approach is out. Consumers can choose from tailor-made products and programs that fit their needs and preferences, and that is true for the sports nutrition space.

Consumers (and athletes) are savvier when it comes to supplements, and they are becoming more educated on nutritional values, ingredient makeup and dosage rates. Companies that operate in the natural products space need to innovate regularly and offer invaluable and unique products. Standing out in the heavily saturated sports nutrition market is not easy. The sports nutrition market is competitive.

Omega-3s are essential for maintaining and supporting cardiovascular,1 brain,2 eye,3 and more,4 but they also provide health benefits for sports nutrition. Having optimal omega-3 levels (8 percent or higher as assessed by the Omega-3 Index method) is particularly important for athletes since they are already at higher risks for health issues due to their intense physical activity.5

Krill oil power

Omega-3 supplements are plentiful in today’s market, but krill oil, an increasingly popular option, is a unique omega-3. Krill oil is gentler on the stomach and doesn’t produce fishy burps like other omega-3 options.6 Combined with a better delivery method, the bio-efficiency and stability of krill oil supplements allow for smaller, easier to swallow pills with less daily dosage requirements.

Krill oil comes from the Southern Ocean and occupies a low level in the food chain. It is also minimally processed and doesn’t contain additives or preservatives.

From a health benefits standpoint, krill oil is an interesting omega-3 option because its fatty acids are largely bound to phospholipids, which are integral to the body’s cells and cell membranes. Phospholipids are structurally different than omega-3 triglycerides, which are found in fish and algal oils, and this difference is crucial because it dictates how eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are delivered in the body. Omega-3s that are carried by triglycerides require a conversion in the liver to enter the bloodstream, according to Dr. Anne Carol Goldberg, professor of medicine, Washington University in St. Louis. Krill oil’s omega-3s, on the other hand, enter the bloodstream directly by phospholipids, speeding their availability for use in the body.

Furthermore, krill oil contains choline and astaxanthin. Often considered an underrated nutrient, choline is crucial for cell structure, function and signaling. Choline contributes to cardiovascular, liver and cognitive health and may help aid in sports performance.7

Astaxanthin, on the other hand, helps keep omega-3s fatty acids naturally fresh and stable, eliminating the need for added antioxidants or stabilizers. Krill oil’s astaxanthin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.8

High-intensity training has an impact on immune function and inflammation, making athletes especially vulnerable to illness and infection, as well as directly impacting the athlete’s physical recovery and performance. Cellular function is essential for maintaining optimal sports performance. Intense physical activity challenges our cellular functions. Excessive radical formation and trauma to the muscles during high-intensity exercise can lead to inflammation.

The EPA and DHA found in krill oil are associated with a reduction in levels of inflammation and have been shown to strengthen markers of immune function following maximal exercise.9 Therefore, krill oil may help reduce the risk of infections and potentially impact race performance and help to accelerate post-race physical recovery.

Recent research conducted by Aker BioMarine’s Pure Science Research Program team found that athletes experience a severe drop in DHA levels after competing in a high-intensity race such as a triathlon. Supplementation with krill oil restored the DHA drop and significantly increased the athletes’ Omega-3 Index.

To date the research shows promising for krill oil and the sports nutrition market. Study results are expected later this year.

Katrin Berntsen is director communication at Aker BioMarine.


  1. Mozaffarian D, Wu J. “Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events.” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011 Nov 8;58(20):2047-67. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.20106.063.

  2. Dyall S. “Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA.” Front Aging Neurosci. 2015 Apr 21;7:5 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052.

  3. Hodge W et al. “Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on eye health”. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Summ). 2005 Jul;(117):1-6.

  4. Swanson D, Block R, Mousa S. “Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life.” Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan;3(1):1-7. DOI: 10.3945/an.111.000893.

  5. Sharalaya Z, Phelan D. “Cardiac Risk of Extreme Exercise.” Sports Med Arthrosc Rev. 2019 Mar;27(1):e1-e7. DOI: 10.1097/JSA.000000000000021

  6. Lapointe J et al. “A Single-dose, Comparative Bioavailability Study of a Formulation containing OM3 as Phospholipid and Free fatty Acid to an Ethyl Ester Formulation in the Fasting and Fed States.” Clin Ther. 2019 Feb 21. pii: S0149-2918(19)30055-4. DOI: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2019.01.017.

  7. Penry J, Manore M. “Choline: an important micronutrient for maximal endurance-exercise performance?” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Apr;18(2):191-203.

  8. Park J et al. “Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 Mar 5;7:1 DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-7-18.

  9. Da Boit M et al. “The Effect of Krill Oil Supplementation on Exercise Performance and Markers of Immune Function.” PLoS One. 2015 Sep 25;10(9):e0139174. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139174. eCollection 2015.

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