Think you can eat what you want and still get results in the gym? This study says otherwise.
According to research carried out by Saint Louis University, in the US a Mediterranean diet can improve performance over a normal Western diet.1 First off, let’s make sure we understand which is which.
What’s a Mediterranean Diet?
A Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional diet of people from countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It includes whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, wholegrains, and fish. You must avoid red or processed meats, dairy, trans and saturated fats, and refined sugars on the Mediterranean diet. It’s become popular in recent years as a diet used for healthier living.
What’s a Western Diet?
The Western diet is often characterised by a low intake of fruit and vegetables, and high intakes of trans and saturated fats, dairy, red meat, refined sugars, sodium, and processed foods. This kind of diet is often linked to obesity, as well as other health problems.2
The study involved seven women and four men, who ran 5K on a treadmill on two separate occasions. The first time was after four days on the Mediterranean diet, and then the second was after four days on a western diet. These two 5K runs were separated by 9 to 16 days.
Participants ran the 5K on the treadmill 6% faster after eating a Mediterranean diet than eating a western diet for four days.
Edward Weiss, Ph.D., and professor of nutrition and dietetics at SLU headed up the research team. He explains that the Mediterranean Diet is said to have many health benefits. Weiss and his team have theorised that the diet’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, more alkaline pH, and dietary nitrates could mean better performance in the gym or on the track.
The study also switched people from the Mediterranean diet back to the western diet and found that the positives were quickly reversed in these cases. According to the research team, this emphasises the importance of sticking to the Mediterranean diet in the long term.
Although the study is small and should be done with a larger test group to cement these findings, it really seems to suggest that you are what you eat — light and lively, or heavy and sluggish. The study shows that diet can have more of an impact on your performance than you might think, so don’t let bad nutrition hold you back from your fitness goals.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
1. Baker, M. E., DeCesare, K. N., Johnson, A., Kress, K. S., Inman, C. L., & Weiss, E. P. (2019). Short-Term Mediterranean Diet Improves Endurance Exercise Performance: A Randomized-Sequence Crossover Trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1-9.
2. Heidemann, C., Schulze, M. B., & Franco, O. H. Dietary patterns and risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in a prospective cohort of women. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA. 108.771881 published online Jun 23, 2008. Circulation.