Health

Mediterranean Diet Boosts Athletes’ Performance Within Days

Researchers believe characteristics of the Mediterranean diet, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, might improve endurance.

Apr. 1, 2019
By Mary West

Recent News

Ath­letes look­ing for some­thing to boost their endurance may want to try fol­low­ing the Mediter­ranean diet (Med­Diet).

A new study found par­tic­i­pants who adhered to this eat­ing plan had a six-per­cent faster speed in a five kilo­me­ter (5K) race than those who con­sumed a West­ern diet. The improve­ment was noted after only four days. How­ever, no dif­fer­ence in the two diets was found in aer­o­bic exer­cise per­for­mance after four days.

This study pro­vides evi­dence that a diet that is known to be good for health is also good for exer­cise per­for­mance.- Edward Weiss, pro­fes­sor of nutri­tion and dietet­ics at Saint Louis Uni­ver­sity

Most experts believe the health value of the Med­Diet is supe­rior to other diets. The eat­ing plan empha­sizes fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, nuts, fatty fish, whole grains and olive oil while avoid­ing refined sugar, red meat, processed meat and sat­u­rated fat.

In con­trast, the West­ern diet involves a low intake of fruits and veg­eta­bles, along with a high intake of processed foods, refined sug­ars, highly processed veg­etable oils, sodium and unhealthy fat.

See more: Olive Oil Health News

The researchers enrolled four men and seven women in a ran­dom­ized-sequence crossover study. Par­tic­i­pants ran two kilo­me­ters (1.2 miles) on a tread­mill twice – once after four days on a West­ern diet and another time after four days on a Med­Diet. Nine to 16 days sep­a­rated the two tests. Despite sim­i­lar heart rates and lev­els of per­ceived exer­tion, the 5K run­ning time was six-per­cent faster after con­sump­tion of the Med­Diet.

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Accord­ing to senior researcher Edward Weiss, a pro­fes­sor of nutri­tion and dietet­ics at Saint Louis Uni­ver­sity, stud­ies show the Med­Diet has many health ben­e­fits. He and his col­leagues the­o­rized that its anti-inflam­ma­tory and antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties, as well as the nitrates’ con­tent and more alka­line pH might improve exer­cise per­for­mance.

In dis­cussing the results, the research team said sys­temic inflam­ma­tion impairs phys­i­cal per­for­mance; there­fore, the anti-inflam­ma­tory foods of the Med­Diet and pro-inflam­ma­tory foods of the West­ern diet may have been a fac­tor.

More­over, because oxi­da­tion stress can hin­der phys­i­cal per­for­mance, the antiox­i­dants in the Med­Diet prob­a­bly played a role. Dietary nitrates may also enhance per­for­mance, and many veg­eta­bles are nitrate rich.

Some stud­ies sug­gest alka­lin­ity may boost per­for­mance. Although sys­temic pH was not mea­sured in the study, fruits and veg­eta­bles are alka­lin­iz­ing; but foods in the West­ern diet, such as meat and refined grains, tend to be acidic.

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.”

This study pro­vides evi­dence that a diet that is known to be good for health is also good for exer­cise per­for­mance,” Weiss added. Like the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, ath­letes and other exer­cise enthu­si­asts com­monly eat unhealthy diets. Now they have an addi­tional incen­tive to eat healthy.”

Weiss told Olive Oil Times he sus­pects that replac­ing a West­ern diet with the Med­Diet not only ben­e­fits ath­letes, but also reg­u­lar peo­ple going about their every­day lives.

I think it would be fair to spec­u­late that daily activ­i­ties requir­ing sus­tained phys­i­cal exer­tion, such as mow­ing the lawn or chas­ing around chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, might be accom­plished a bit more quickly and vig­or­ously or pos­si­bly with less fatigue,” he said. How­ever, I would cau­tion that any ben­e­fit would likely be small to mod­est.”

While this is cer­tainly worth­while, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing the fact the diet is also very good for health, fit­ness for life’s activ­i­ties can be improved sub­stan­tially by per­form­ing reg­u­lar exer­cise train­ing,” he added. At the end of the day, I’m a big pro­po­nent of encour­ag­ing a lifestyle that includes eat­ing a healthy diet and get­ting reg­u­lar exer­cise.”

The study was pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Nutri­tion.





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