Researchers at Saint Louis University have found that eating a Mediterranean diet can improve athletes' endurance exercise performance after just four days.
In a very small study (11 participants), investigators found that participants ran a 5K six percent faster after eating a Mediterranean diet than after eating a Western diet. Researchers found no difference between the two diets in performance in anaerobic exercise tests.
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 Western diet, in the other hand, 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.
The Mediterranean diet is well-established as having many health benefits. The researchers hypothesized that the diet's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, more alkaline pH and dietary nitrates might lead to improved exercise performance.
Many individual nutrients in the Mediterranean diet improve exercise performance immediately or within a few days. Therefore, it makes sense that an overall diet that includes these nutrients can improve performance. However, these benefits were quickly lost when switching to the Western diet, highlight the importance of long-term adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
For the study, the participants ran five kilometers on a treadmill on two occasions -- once after four days on a Mediterranean diet and on another occasion after four days on a Western diet, with a period of nine to 16 days separating the two tests.
The findings: 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.
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