Moving Fuel: The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet

The Med diet has been in the spotlight for the last decade.  If you haven’t yet heard of it then the principles are simple: opt for fat over sugar and swap out red meat for oily fish.  Not only is this Greek-inspired diet super simple to follow but it also allows you to reap amazing health benefits with little-to-no effort.  

With its roots being interwoven deep within Ancient History, The Mediterranean diet is an age-old eating practice adopted mainly by those residing in Mediterranean-bordering countries.  That not only means Greece but those who live in Italy, Sardinia, Spain, and parts of France.  Because of the scope, the Mediterranean diet does differ from country-to-country.  However, we are focusing here on the stereotypical ‘healthy eating’ diet, not the Mediterranean lifestyle. 

As the Med diet is famed for increasing lifespan, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and aiding weight loss, it is naturally popular with the likes of celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Penelope Cruz as well as the fitness powerhouse Kayla Itsines. But, is it good for movement?

In terms of moving fuel, a 2019 study by researchers at Saint Louis University found that athletes eating a Mediterranean diet for just four days can improve their performance in endurance exercises.  That means if you are a runner you may want to pay closer attention to this one!  

So, what are the basic components you actually eat on the Mediterranean diet?

If you are thinking of giving this diet a whirl, then be prepared to engulf a huge amount of fruit and veg, alongside some classic Greek cheese, lots of Omega 3-rich fish, and whole grains.   Carbohydrates like white bread and added sugar might be out, but instead, you can go wild with baked potatoes, brown rice, and even seasoned, salty popcorn! 

Other items which will quickly become cupboard staples are nuts, seeds, olive oil, and red wine.   Yes, you did read that right – red wine has the Grecian seal-of-approval!  Thanks to a 2017 study, researchers found that the concoction of “ethanol and polyphenols in wine can together help protect against chronic cardiovascular disease”.  The red wine light just turned green and mine is a Chianti, please. Thank god! 

Below are some food items which are stereotypically eaten on the Mediterranean diet:

 

  • Fruit & Vegetables: Go wild on fruit and vegetables as they are the cornerstone of the Med diet.  You can eat everything from kale to courgettes and sprouts to spring onions are up for grabs.  Fill your boots and dive in as nothing is off-limits here. Think fruit smoothies for breakfast, snacks as pieces of pineapple, and vibrant, packed nighttime salads.  Unlimited food?  Yes, please.

 

  • Nuts & Seeds: A sprinkle of sunflower seeds on your morning porridge or a handful of macadamia nuts in-between meals – The Med diet champions these little nodules of joy!  Not only are nuts and seeds great sources of protein but they also keep you full and zinging with energy between feeds. 

 

  • Fish + seafood: If you are a vegetarian or a vegan then you definitely don’t have to introduce fatty fish like salmon and sardines into your diet.  However, if you are partial to a slice of steak or a beef burger, swap that red meat out for a slab of trout or a side of shrimp and reap the benefits.  Fish is a great source of lean protein and is super versatile!  I love checking out Olive Magazine’s recipe pages for fish dishes. 

 

  • Dairy: It gets a really hard time, but like most things, the Greeks do dairy best.  Tangy, greek yogurt goes great with fruit as a snack while crumbly feta cheese makes that viral TikTok pasta sing.  Dairy should be enjoyed in moderation as it is brilliant for your gut and your bones.  Be careful with over-consuming diary however as it has been linked to nausea, stomach pains, and breakouts.

 

So, we’ve accepted the fish market and the Greek cheese section as our new temples, but what aisles and objects are usually omitted from the Med diet?  

Things to avoid when eating a Mediterranean Diet:
Photo Credit: Roberta Sorge

 

  • Refined oils: say goodbye to your dirt-cheap veggie, sunflower, and rapeseed oils, and instead, opt-in for Virgin Olive Oil.  While this particular oil may set you back a little more than your ‘1 Cal’ sprays do, olive oil does include a whole host of better benefits.  Not only does it taste delicious on salads, but olive oils also contain a huge amount of antioxidants and often has strong Anti-Inflammatory properties. This oil is definitely worth investing in.  

 

  • Unnaturally occurring sugar: Not all sugars are getting the boot on the Med diet, only the ‘added sugars’.  You know the ones which keep you bouncing at 3am?  Yep, them.  So, if you cut down on the sugary cuppas, Fox’s cookies, and the apple & raspberry juice from Sainsbury’s, then you are much less likely to see a spike in your blood sugar.  Expect more energy, fewer headaches, and a sharper focus on daily tasks.

 

  • Refined grains: Simply put, whole grain is that which has all three original parts  (the germ, the bran, and the endosperm) still intact.  A refined grain, however, has had the fibrous and nutrition parts removed. This makes refined grains finer, less nutrient-dense, and has a longer shelf-life.  AKA not as great for your body.  Refined grains to avoid include white bread, white flour, white rice, regular pasta, and cornflour. 

 

  • Highly-processed foods: When it comes to the Mediterranean diet, the rule of thumb is to create a less-is-more approach. If it looks like it was made in a factory it’s probably best to avoid it.  We’re talking about getting rid of all processed meats like hotdogs alongside granola bars, crisps, not-baked-at-home muffins, and takeaway pizzas.
Photo Credit: Mathild Langevin
Research into Mediterranean diet being linked to improved athletic performance:  

According to research, “Long-term adherence to the Mediterranean diet… improves exercise performance immediately or within a few days.” Says Edward Weiss, Ph.D., Professor Of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University. 

“It makes sense that a whole dietary pattern that includes these nutrients is also quick to improve performance,”  he continues.  While this specific research task contained a very small number of participants (seven males and seven females) it is one of the first studies linking positive athletic efforts to The Mediterranean diet.  

While the first of many aerobically-linked tests have come up trumps it has been however been confirmed that there is no difference in performance when anaerobic exercise is taking place.  It’s early days, but it does look like a positive outcome from following The Med diet when you’re training athletically.

So, what do we think?  Like the idea of The Mediterranean diet in relation to exercising?  Feel like the health benefits outweigh the restrictions you will have to make?  At CS, we are loving the idea of eating fish and greek salad with a glass (see: bottle) of red on the regular and improving our running ability. 

Stay clocked into CS for a first-person exploration and experience of The Mediterranean diet.  

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