Study links eating Mediterranean diet with better exercise performance

A new study out of Saint Louis University has found an association between eating a Mediterranean diet and increased performance during endurance exercise. The positive effects were observed after consuming the diet for only four days, and were compared to the performance noted in athletes who had consumed the average Western diet.READ: Study finds diet that mimics fasting may reverse gut inflammation

The study, which was published in a nutrition journal this month, looked at the effects of a Western diet and Mediterranean diet on participants who ran a 5K race while on specific diet protocols. Though neither diet was associated with performance differences during anaerobic exercise (such as lifting weights), there was a difference in endurance exercise, such as running.

In this case, a Western diet was one high in dairy, trans/saturated fats, highly processed and refined vegetables, high in sodium, processed foods, and refined sugars. In comparison, the Mediterranean diet was high in whole vegetables and fruit, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil, while avoiding processed and red meats, trans/saturated fans, and refined sugars.

After four days of eating a Mediterranean diet, the researchers noted that participants ran the 5K race 6-percent faster than they did when consuming a Western diet. The beneficial diet's more alkaline pH, anti-inflammatory nature, and antioxidant effects may have contributed to the performance boost, though that hasn't been proven.

Talking about the research was SLU professor and senior researcher Edward Weiss, who explained:

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. However, these benefits were also quickly lost when switching to the Western diet, highlighting the importance of long-term adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

It should be noted that this was a small study involving seven women and four men.