A new study finds that switching to a Mediterranean-style diet can improve endurance exercise performance.

A Mediterranean-style dietary pattern rates as one of the world’s healthiest and most well-researched patterns of eating. The diet is typically abundant in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and olive oil. It also features fish and poultry more so than red meat.

Heart health is linked to a Mediterranean diet, but researchers are also looking at a range of other health conditions. One of the lesser studied areas is how a Mediterranean diet may help to improve sports performance.

When it comes to sport, good nutrition is a cornerstone of high performance. A Mediterranean diet is rich in nutrients linked to positive exercise benefits, so could a switch to this way of eating promote a boost in real-world sports performance?

In a small proof-of-concept study, a research team from Saint Louis University in the United States recruited eleven healthy and recreationally active men and women in their late twenties. Each person undertook exercise performance tests both before and after being randomly allocated to follow a typical Western diet or a Mediterranean diet for four days. After a one-to-two week break, each person swapped to the alternative diet for four days.

The key result from the trial was a six per cent improvement in a five kilometre run time when on the Mediterranean diet. The faster time was achieved despite having similar heart rates and ratings of perceived exertion compared to when on the Western diet.

Performance on the other exercise tests which included anaerobic exercise tests, peak power output, vertical jump and hand grip strength showed no clear difference between the different diets. On face value, this points to nutrients in the Mediterranean diet influencing metabolic pathways involved in aerobic exercise rather than shorter more-intense anaerobic exercise. With only 11 people in the study, and the short duration of the diet, it is premature to say if there is a clear sports performance benefit.

Implications

For athletes with less than a stellar diet, there could be merit in taking heed of this latest research and making the smart choice of eating healthier with a Mediterranean twist.

Last Reviewed: 24/03/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Baker ME et al. Short-term Mediterranean diet improves endurance exercise performance: a randomized-sequence crossover trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition Epub online 13 February 2019 doi: 10.1080/07315724.2019.1568322.

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