A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition and reported on by Science Daily is showing startling results: after only four days on the Mediterranean diet, athletes ran six per cent faster in a 5K time trial than after consuming a Western diet.
The randomized-sequence crossover study (meaning subjects followed the different protocols in random order) by researchers at Saint Louis University, had an admittedly small sample size of 11 subjects (seven women and four men). The two 5K time trials on a treadmill were performed between nine and 16 days apart, after four days on each diet. While times were six per cent faster after consuming the Mediterranean diet for four days, heartrate and RPE (rates of perceived exertion) were similar for both.
The Mediterranean diet includes a lot of olive oil, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and nuts, and is low in red and processed meats, dairy, trans and saturated fats and refined sugar, whereas the Western diet typically contains more trans and saturated fat, refined sugar and sodium from red meat, dairy products, and processed foods, and is lower in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
Experts have long trumpeted the health advantages of the Mediterranean diet, such as its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and its alkalinity. Only recently have its possible athletic performance benefits begun to be studied.
There was no difference in performance between the two diets in anaerobic tests.