Who doesn’t want - or need - some help when it comes to athletic performance? We want to be able to push longer, lift heavier and generally do better than those around us. That’s why we spend time in the gym, and money on performance-enhancing supplements like BCAAs, EAAs, creatine, shakes, powders and other potions we have been led to believe the body needs to get stronger and fitter.
What if we told you there was a diet that could do all of this in just four day?
No, not a cabbage soup diet, a juice fast, or any other crazy or extreme eating routine. This is a diet, traditional to countries like Greece, Crete and Southern Italy have been eating for thousands of years. Not only has it already been proven multiple times to boost overall health and wellbeing, now we have evidence to suggest it can improve athletic performance, in just four days.
Eat like they do in the Mediterranean
It takes nothing more than eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds as well as olives and their oils to boost your body’s ability to push during your workout routine, explains a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
The team of researchers who conducted the study, based at the Saint Louis University (SLU) in Missouri, wanted to see the effects of a Mediterranean way of eating on their participants who were categorized as being recreationally active. Having performed a couple of fitness tests to obtain baseline data, the group of people followed this pattern of eating and then on the fourth day, were asked to run 5 kilometers on the treadmill.
After a few more days, they were told to switch to a typical Westernized pattern of eating for four day, and again asked to run the same distance.
On average, there was a 6% faster 5km time while the participants followed the Mediterranean diet when compared to their time while eating ‘normally’. Interestingly, on both occasions, participants reported feeling the same amount of fatigue following the run, despite having done so with more effort after the Mediterranean-style of eating1.
Of course this is a simple study with few participants, and of short duration, which is not typically enough to base any real conclusions on for population-based changes to be implemented, however, it’s a good piece of evidence to show that what you eat significantly alters your exercise performance.
You are what you eat
We have all likely heard the saying, “you are what you eat”. If you’re going to eat poorly, not only will your health be poor, but so too will your gains in the gym. Eat healthy, nutrient-rich foods, and your body will have the compounds it needs to provide you with energy to get through your workout, and it’ll have the ingredients it needs for healing and repair, which is what is going to make you fitter and stronger in the long run2.
What’s more about the Mediterranean diet is that it’s a long-term, sustainable diet3,4,5. You can eat like this for the rest of your life. Because of the wide variety of foods you’re encouraged to include, you’ll never get bored like your typical ‘training’ diet of boiled chicken, bland rice, and broccoli.
Here’s how you can begin to include it in your own daily routine.
The principles of the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is easy to follow6,7.
The first principle is based on increasing your intake of plant-based foods. Plant-based foods make up a large majority of the foods you should eat, where you can fill half of your plate with them at every meal. Eat lots of rich, colourful vegetables that comes in all shapes and sizes and are all the colours of the rainbow. Try vegetables you’ve never had before, and be sure to source seasonal, organically grown types wherever you can.
Grains are also plant-based. Have a small amount of low GI, fibre-rich grains like barley, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, or old-fashioned rolled or steel-cut oats with your meals. What’s interesting to note here is that many of these wholesome grains are naturally gluten-free.
The second principle is to increase your intake of healthy fats. Add olive oils to food after cooking, use nuts and seeds to complement your meals and make up snacks, and eat white fish on most days of the week, alternating every two days with fatty fish to get those rich omega 3 fatty acids from natural sources. They’re anti-inflammatory and can help you to recover more quickly after a strenuous workout.
The third principle involves moderation. Limit your intake of red meat and alcohol, and enjoy dairy-containing food only on occasion.
With the dense nutrients you get from a wide variety of sources of protein, carbs and fats, you’ll not only feel full and satisfied, your body will have what it needs to perform, far better than when you were loading up on unhealthy foods and chemical supplements8.
Make the change now and you’ll see better results in your performance in the days that come; but you’ll also have the added gain of the long-term health benefits that the Mediterranean diet brings, which are for your overall health, significantly reducing your risk of chronic disease as you get older.
- Baker, M., et al. Short-Term Mediterranean Diet Improves Endurance Exercise Performance: A Randomized-Sequence Crossover Trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2018.
- Thomas, D., et al. n College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise [01 Mar 2016, 48(3):543-568].
- Martinez-Gonzalez, M., et al. Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Insights From the PREDIMED Study. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. Volume 58, Issue 1, July–August 2015, Pages 50-60
- De Filippis, F., et al. High-level adherence to a Mediterranean diet beneficially impacts the gut microbiota and associated metabolome. Gut microbiota. 65(11).
- Dernini, D., & Berry, E. Mediterranean diet: from a healthy diet to a sustainable dietary pattern. Front. Nutr., 07 May 2015.
- Tierney, A., & Zabetakis, I. Changing the Irish dietary guidelines to incorporate the principles of the Mediterranean diet: proposing the MedÉire diet. Public Health Nutrition. 2019. 22(2):375-381.
- Dernini, S., et al. Med Diet 4.0: the Mediterranean diet with four sustainable benefits. Public Health Nutrition. 2017. 20(7):1322-1330.
- Tosti, V., et al. Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 73, Issue 3, March 2018, Pages 318–326.