A small study found that 11 athletes who consumed a Mediterranean diet for less than a week increased their performance in a long-distance running test. The researchers hypothesize that the diet’s anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidants, higher alkaline pH and dietary nitrates might be behind the improved performances.
The Mediterranean diet includes whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil and whole grains, and avoids red and processed meats, dairy, trans and saturated fats and refined sugars.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, show that athletes finished a 5-kilometer (5K) run 6 percent faster after eating a Mediterranean diet compared to their time after eating a Western diet.
A Western diet is characterized by low intake of fruit, vegetables and unrefined or minimally processed oils and high intakes of trans and saturated fats, dairy, refined sugars, refined and highly processed vegetable oils, sodium and processed foods.
No difference was found between the two diets regarding performance in anaerobic exercise tests.
Senior researcher Edward Weiss, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University (SLU), said the Mediterranean diet is well-established as having numerous health benefits. “Many individual nutrients in the Mediterranean diet improve exercise performance immediately or within a few days. Therefore, it makes sense that a whole dietary pattern that includes these nutrients is also quick to improve performance,” Weiss said.
“However, these benefits were also quickly lost when switching to the Western diet, highlighting the importance of long-term adherence to the Mediterranean diet.”
The study enrolled seven women and four men. The participants ran five kilometers on a treadmill on two occasions; once after four days on a Mediterranean diet and then again 4 days after starting a Western diet, with a period of nine to 16 days separating the two tests.
Weiss says the study found the 5K run time was six percent faster after the Mediterranean diet than the Western diet despite similar heart rates and ratings of perceived exertion.
“This study provides evidence that a diet that is known to be good for health is also good for exercise performance,” Weiss said. “Like the general population, athletes and other exercise enthusiasts commonly eat unhealthy diets. Now they have an additional incentive to eat healthy.”
Source: Saint Louis University