Consistently rising to the top in terms of health benefits backed by research is the Mediterranean diet. Despite being referred to as a ‘diet’ in popular culture, it’s not all about limiting intake. The term ‘diet’ here essentially outlines a particular eating pattern and choice of foods, rather than a strategy to shed weight. Known for promoting health, the Mediterranean diet can also enhance athletic performance.
Focus on the mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet centers on the consumption of seasonal and locally sourced foods from Mediterranean Sea-adjacent countries such as France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. Although the specific foods consumed can differ across these regions, the diet typically promotes a balanced consumption of minimally processed whole foods rich in antioxidants, beneficial fats, and fiber.
Key components of the diet include:
- Olive oil
- Whole-grain bread
- Nuts, seeds, and herbs
While ingredients often seen in Western diets like meats, cheeses, sweets, and highly processed foods aren’t completely banned, they’re generally limited. Such ‘Western’ foods are recommended to be consumed sparingly, serving as side dishes or accompaniments rather than the main ingredient.
Performance enhancement via the mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet’s positive impact on cardiovascular health has long been acknowledged, with a decade-long study correlating this ‘diet’ with a 47% lower risk of heart disease. This heart-related benefit could translate into improved athletic performance as endurance exercises heavily rely on a robust cardiovascular system and a heart capable of efficiently pumping blood to muscles. This was tested in a 2019 study where a group of 5K runners ran a race after four days on a Western diet and then repeated it after four days on the Mediterranean diet. Even a brief four-day stint of Mediterranean eating resulted in 5K times being 6% faster — equivalent to shaving off over a minute from an 8-minute/mile 5K.
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