As a dietitian, I don’t love the term “diet,” nor do I encourage athletes to follow a strict diet. However, adopting principles of healthy eating can be beneficial by helping people feel confident when making proper food choices. Based on extensive research results, its heart-healthy focus, and its well-rounded base, the Mediterranean-style diet is one eating guide I can get behind.
Mediterranean-style eating is far from the Italian stereotype of a heavy pasta load. The plan emphasizes:
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Eating primarily plant-based foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
- Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
- Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
Whereas many eating plans are quite strict, the Mediterranean-style diet allows you to adapt its guidelines to fit your specific needs. Research shows that following this way of eating can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Considering the important role the heart plays during intense exercise, this style of eating is ideal for athletes.
Due to its emphasis on unsaturated omega-3 fats, the Mediterranean style diet can also help athletes reduce inflammation and alleviate muscle and joint pain. Its complex carbohydrates break down more slowly to sustain energy levels.
I would recommend this way of eating for athletes, because it is not a strict diet and it includes everything the athlete needs—healthy fats, whole grains and lean protein.