It’s another week, which means science has found yet another reason as to why the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest diet to follow. Published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, a new study has found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet for just four days is enough to boost exercise performance.
The diet involves eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, whole grains and a moderate consumption of red wine, while avoiding red and processed meats, trans and saturated fats, refined sugars and limiting dairy intake.
Because it contains high levels of antioxidants, nitrates and anti-inflammatory properties, researchers from the Saint Louis University (SLU) in Missouri wanted to find out whether the diet could improve endurance and exercise performance.
To conduct the study, seven women and four men were asked to run five kilometers on a treadmill after four days of following a Mediterranean diet.
Nine to 16 days later, the researchers asked the same participants to follow a Western diet – characterized by a low intake of fruit and vegetables, and high intakes of refined sugars, salt and saturated fat – for another four days and take the 5km treadmill test again.
The study found that the 5km run time was six per cent faster after the Mediterranean diet than the Western diet, despite similar heart rates and ratings of perceived exertion.
“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,” the study’s senior researcher and professor of nutrition and dietetics at SLU, Edwards Weiss, Ph.D, 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.”
Weiss added that this study especially provides an incentive for athletes to eat a healthier diet.
“This study provides evidence that a diet that is known to be good for health is also good for exercise performance,” Weiss explained. “Like the general population, athletes and other exercise enthusiasts commonly eat unhealthy diets. Now they have an additional incentive to eat healthy.”