Dietary and Biological Assessment of the Omega-3 Status of Collegiate Athletes: A Cross-Sectional Analysis

PLoS One. 2020 Apr 29;15(4):e0228834. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228834. eCollection 2020.


Omega-3 fatty acids (ω-3 FA) are associated with cardiovascular health, brain function, reduction of inflammation, and several other physiological roles of importance to competitive athletes. The ω-3 FA status of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I athletes has not been well-described. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the ω-3 FA status of NCAA Division I athletes using dietary and biological assessment methodology. Athletes from nine NCAA Division I institutions from throughout the U.S. (n = 1,528, 51% male, 34 sports represented, 19.9 ± 1.4 years of age) completed a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) to assess ω-3 FA from diet and supplements. Omega-3 Index (O3i) was evaluated in a sub-set of these participants (n = 298, 55% male, 21 sports represented, 20.0 ± 1.3 years of age) using dried blood spot sampling. Only 6% (n = 93) of athletes achieved the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics' recommendation to consume 500 mg DHA+EPA per day. Use of ω-3 FA supplements was reported by 15% (n = 229) of participants. O3i was 4.33 ± 0.81%, with no participants meeting the O3i benchmark of 8% associated with the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease. Every additional weekly serving of fish or seafood was associated with an absolute O3i increase of 0.27%. Overall, sub-optimal ω-3 FA status was observed among a large, geographically diverse group of male and female NCAA Division I athletes. These findings may inform interventions aimed at improving ω-3 FA status of collegiate athletes. Further research on athlete-specific ω-3 FA requirements is needed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletes*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Female
  • Fish Products
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Seafood
  • Universities*
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3

Grant support

This research was supported by the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association Research Award ( which was awarded to first author Peter P. Ritz in 2018. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.