In a recent study out of Saint Louis University (SLU) in Missouri, researcher recruited a group of men and women to run five kilometres on a treadmill after four days following a strict eating regime. This involved four tablespoons of olive oil, at least three servings of nuts and fruits and at least two servings of vegetables. They also ate fish, legumes and red wine and limited their consumption of meat, sodas and sweets.
Nine to 16 days later, they were tested again – although this time they had spent the previous four days sticking to a Western diet that was high in refined sugars, salt and fat. They were also asked to eat two servings of fruit or less per day and one serving of nuts and legumes.
The participants moved six per cent faster during the first experiment than in the second, beating their times by an average of 1 minute and 50 seconds. Intriguingly, they had similar heart rates in both tests and also had the same rating of perceived exertion.
The researchers put these results down to the Mediterranean diet’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, as well as its alkaline pH and high level of dietary nitrates.
“Many individual nutrients in the Mediterranean diet improve exercise performance immediately or within a few days,” Dr Edward Weiss, the study’s senior researcher and professor of nutrition and dietetics, explained in a press release. “Therefore, it makes sense that a whole dietary pattern that includes these nutrients is also quick to improve performance.”
“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,” he said. “Like the general population, athletes and other exercise enthusiasts commonly eat unhealthy diets. Now they have an additional incentive to eat healthy.”