Shellfish in Sport – a new angle for muscle rest and repair.

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Shellfish in Sport – a new angle for muscle rest and repair.

With the physical and emotional traumas of the World Cup still raw and a varied summer of sporting activities ahead of us, athletic ability is at the forefront of our nation’s thinking.

Our consultant nutritional therapist, BANT registered nutritionist, Eva Humphries, of reports on how shellfish may hold the key to enhanced performance. 

Whether you are hoping to become the next national triumph, raising a team of challengers or want to get that little bit extra out of your workouts, there is one food source that shouldn’t be ignored: our great British shellfish.


Take a peek in the cupboard of any self-respecting sportsperson and a number of supplements emerge as standard. Protein powders, omega 3 fatty acids and certain minerals and vitamins have become accepted as not just the go to but the required nutrients in assisting with various processes of recovery from sport, muscle building and (legally) enhancing performance.

Protein powders in particular continue to be the topic of intense marketing with not just athletes but the general gym-going population reaching for them to build lean muscle.
There is some truth behind the hype since protein is an essential building block of most human structures, including muscle tissue and on the flip side, a lack of dietary protein is associated with muscle wastage, poor healing and recovery from sport.

Think of it this way: during exercise muscle is torn, which, in most cases, results in sore muscles the following day. Protein is the building block that fills in the tears, increasing that muscles capacity and repairing it.
Protein powders may assist with this to an extent but seeing as it’s protein that’s doing the bulk of the rebuilding and remodelling work within the muscles perhaps it’s time to look at more superior sources of it. A small bowl of mussels, clams, brown shrimp or crab all have enough protein to rival any protein powder, plus they come with the added benefit of being incredibly delicious.

The good news don’t just stop there. Shellfish is also a source of those extra muscle building and repairing nutrients that in supplement form will set you back a small fortune.

Omega 3 fatty acids, a special group of unsaturated fats, are amongst those expensive supplemental nutrients. Marketed under names such as fish oils, cod liver oil and Omega 3 fish oil, the fatty acids within them are thought to reduce inflammation, improve joint pain and enhance cardiovascular and brain health amongst others. With credentials like this, it comes as little surprise that the fish oil market is worth $33 billion globally.
When it comes to athletic performance, Omega 3s play an important role in recovery

Exercise is a necessity for even the general population but everything has a flip side and this is the same for physical activity. During exercise, unfavourable substances are released resulting from energy production which increase inflammation and may cause a small amount of damage. It’s, mostly, controlled damage leading to muscle soreness, and one that supplementing with Omega 3 fish oils is thought to modulate to some extent.

A small 2011 study published int the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found Omega 3 supplementation to reduce muscle soreness after exercise and made reference to its benefits for both elite athletes undertaking strenuous training and those about to embark on an exercise regime following a sedentary period. These findings are further echoed by a 2013 review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism which also points out further athletic advantages to Omega 3 fatty acids.

What is lesser known however, is that these fatty acids aren’t necessarily well absorbed from a supplemental pill. Very obviously, the quality of the supplements and unnecessary additives vary dependant on the price paid but even with the higher end, pricier products, the body has a hard time recognising them as nutrients. 
Herein lies the beauty of shellfish: they are food and therefore recognised as one by the body and contain generous levels of Omega 3 fatty acids. Having a small bowl of mussels, oysters or crab is a good way to obtain bountiful amounts of Omega 3s whilst also benefitting from muscle building protein.

There is a further reason shellfish shines as performance fuel thanks to superior levels of zinc found within most species. In fact, shellfish is amongst the best food sources of this hard to obtain nutrient. Gram to gram the mineral zinc is so abundant in crab, oysters, lobster and other shellfish that no other plant or food can compete.
This is a big deal since zinc has a particular important job in assisting with the key process of repair, especially from a perspective of healing. Without this nutrient, protein wouldn’t be able to patch up those torn muscles or heal that grazed knee.

Second to it’s impact in healing, zinc levels are directly correlated with levels of testosterone. Despite its bad name, largely thanks to substance abuse, testosterone is essential in lean muscle synthesis and getting a sufficient quantity of zinc may be a good way to boost, healthy, legal levels of this performance enhancing hormone.

The list of muscle repairing and performance supporting nutrients within British species of shellfish is surprisingly long, far longer than this article will allow. Shellfish truly shines as athletic fuel.
Running your next sporting challenge on it, whether it’s just losing those last few pound by going back to the gym or taking it to the next level to compete in the race of your dreams, may well be the most efficient and truly British way to do so.

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