- The Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of whole foods.
- The diet is linked to lowering risks of chronic illness.
- Eating the Mediterranean style supports athletic performance.
- Losing weight on the Mediterranean lifestyle requires cutting back on carbs and filling up on protein.
Ever wonder why the people who live in Greece, Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries are healthier and live longer than most Americans? It’s because of what they eat.
Clinical evidence indicates a strong link between the Mediterranean diet plan and longevity. This eating pattern may increase lifespan, protect against chronic diseases and keep your heart healthy.
The average life expectancy in Spain, for example, is 83.1 years. Most Italians live to be quite old — many over the age of 82.7.
Cardiovascular problems, cancer, and other illnesses are causing American life expectancy to drop. Each year, heart disease alone claims over 610,000 lives in the United States, as reported by the CDC.
Obesity, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and diabetes are all major contributing factors to heart disease and premature death. Many of these problems could be prevented through simple lifestyle changes, such as cutting down on sugar and trans fats. Switching to the Mediterranean diet plan is a good start.
But what is the Mediterranean diet and how does it work? Is it suitable for athletes and regular gym goers? Most importantly, does it live up to the hype?
Let’s find out!
Mediterranean Diet 101: What to Expect
This dietary plan is based on the traditional cooking style and eating habits associated with the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. It promotes the consumption of whole foods, including fresh produce, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, herbs, spices, and extra virgin olive oil. Dieters can also enjoy a daily glass of red wine.
The Mediterranean way of eating has been shown to protect against stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and even cancer. Compared to the Western diet, it’s significantly lower in sugar, trans and saturated fats, refined carbs, and processed food ingredients. It also limits the consumption of red meat, alcohol, and soda.
There are no set rules on what to eat and what to avoid. Just make sure your food comes from natural, healthful sources. Fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, Greek yogurt, cheese, eggs, and lean meat are all an excellent choice.
The Mediterranean diet supports overall health and well-being. It’s not specifically designed for cutting or bulking, but you may use it to get leaner or pack on mass.
Think of it as a lifestyle or eating pattern, not an actual diet. It doesn’t require counting calories, weighing your food or planning your meals — however, you can do these things to reach your weight loss and fitness goals.
What Does the Science Say?
Scientific research confirms the potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet plan. For example, a recent review published in Nutrition Today has linked this eating pattern to a lower risk of chronic illnesses. Rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, the Mediterranean diet may improve cardiovascular function and protect against heart disease.
Dieters are encouraged to drink a glass of red wine each day, which may further lower their risk of cardiovascular problems.
This beverage is high in resveratrol, a phenolic compound that scavenges free radicals and improves the bioavailability of nitric oxide. In clinical trials, resveratrol has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol levels, decrease blood pressure and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries.
According to the review featured in Nutrition Today, the Mediterranean diet may also lower your risk of diabetes, inflammatory bowel disorders, breast cancer, and age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Study on Diabetes & Cancer
In one study, older adults prone to heart disease experienced a 40% reduction in diabetes risk after switching to this plan. In other studies, the Mediterranean way of eating decreased breast cancer risk by up to 35%.
The foods allowed on this dietary plan are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients. These bioactive compounds may protect against colorectal cancer, premature aging, and chronic inflammation.
The Mediterranean diet is also high in fiber, which supports digestive health and regulates blood sugar levels. On top of that, fiber-rich foods increase satiety and improve appetite control.
Is the Mediterranean Diet Plan Suitable for Athletes?
If you know a thing or two about nutrition, you won’t be surprised to find out that eating the Mediterranean style supports athletic performance.
Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand. Clean eating can help you torch fat and keep the pounds off while building lean mass. The Mediterranean diet is high in protein, heart-healthy fats, and complex carbs — that’s what clean eating is all about.
What you may not know is that a Mediterranean-style diet can boost your performance in just four days. That’s right.
Clinical Study Data
According to a study published earlier this year, the Mediterranean diet plan may increase physical endurance in as little as four days. Recreationally active men and women who followed this diet had a 6% shorter 5K run time than after eating a Western diet.
In addition to macronutrients, this dietary plan provides plenty of vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, and carotenoids, which may help reduce muscle loss and improve muscle metabolism. It’s also rich in vitamin K, potassium, antioxidants, calcium, and other nutrients that promote bone health.
Another study, which appeared in the journal Nutrients in 2017, has linked the Mediterranean eating pattern to a reduced risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This health condition is common among rugby players, bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other athletes following high-calorie diet plans to build or maintain body mass.
Switching to the Mediterranean diet may help reduce fat storage in the liver while improving insulin response and blood lipids. Antioxidant supplements can further enhance these beneficial effects, as reported in the journal Nutrients.
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What to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet Plan
As mentioned earlier, this isn’t an actual diet but rather a lifestyle that promotes healthy eating. Therefore, there are no strict rules on what to eat and what to avoid.
You have the freedom to create your own menus and meal plans based on your goals, whether it’s fat loss, weight maintenance, or hypertrophy. For example, if you’re trying to build mass, you can increase your calorie intake and fill up on carbs and protein. To get leaner, cut down on carbs and calories.
A major benefit of embracing this lifestyle is that most foods allowed are widely available in stores. Think seasonal and local produce, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, salmon, tuna, leafy greens, broccoli, and so on.
In fact, there are no forbidden foods. However, an authentic Mediterranean-style diet excludes processed foods, such as candy, deli meats, hot dogs, and frozen dinners.
What can you eat?
So what can you eat on the Mediterranean diet? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains should come first on your list.
Next comes fish, from tuna, sardines, and salmon — which are filled with heart-healthy omega-3s — to white fish, oysters, shrimp, and lobster. Remember, you can always supplement your diet with a complete omega-3-6-9 formula, like Vintage Balance™ from Old School Labs.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are scientifically proven to reduce inflammation, regulate blood pressure, and improve glucose tolerance. These nutrients also influence skeletal muscle metabolism and decrease exercise-induced oxidative stress, as reported in a 2018 review.
A diet rich in omega-3s, such as the Mediterranean diet plan, can boost your immune system, relieve joint pain, and lower the risk of sudden cardiac death — the most common cause of sudden death in athletes.
Additionally, omega-3 supplementation has been shown to enhance sports performance and accelerate recovery. But that’s not all.
What about fish and chicken?
Fish and poultry, which are a staple of the Mediterranean diet, contain lean protein that supports muscle growth and repair. Plus, they carry none of the risks associated with red and processed meats. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, eating more than 18 ounces of meat, pork, and other red meats per week may lead to colorectal cancer.
The Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Food List
By now, you should have a better idea of what to eat on the Mediterranean diet. This lifestyle emphasizes the consumption of natural, unprocessed foods. Most meals are high in protein, fiber, and unsaturated fats, and low in saturated and trans fats.
Not sure where to start? Use this Mediterranean diet food list for inspiration:
Fresh and Dried Fruits (Every meal)
Vegetables (Every meal)
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce, etc.)
- Cruciferous vegetables
Legumes (Every meal)
- Yellow split peas
Poultry (Daily to weekly)
Red Meat (Once a week or occasionally)
- Lean ground beef
Fish and Seafood (At least twice a week)
Whole grains (Every meal)
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole grain bread
Nuts & Seeds (Every meal)
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Dairy & Eggs (In moderation)
- Greek yogurt
- Fresh mozzarella
- Goat milk
Herbs & Spices (Daily)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Walnut oil
- Red wine (In moderation)
- Raw honey
- Sundried tomatoes
- Canned tomatoes
- Balsamic vinegar
- Herbal tea
Dessert (Maximum 2-3 servings per week)
- Orange cake
- Greek custard pie
- Turkish yogurt cake
How Much and How Often?
Several versions of the Mediterranean diet exist, and each has slightly different guidelines.
For example, the Mediterranean Diet Foundation recommends eating two or more servings of vegetables, one or two servings of fruit, and one or two servings of bread and grains at every meal.
The 1999 Greek Dietary Guidelines, on the other hand, advise on eating approximately six servings of veggies, three servings of fruit, and up to eight servings of bread and grains daily.
Oldway’s Preservation and Trust, by comparison, recommends eating these food groups at every meal.
Beware that serving sizes are much smaller than you might think. So, how much is one serving?
- Citrus fruits: 3.5 oz
- Potatoes: 3.5 oz
- Melon: 7 oz
- Grapes: 1 oz
- Bread: 0.8 oz
- Cooked beans: 3.5 oz
- Milk and yogurt: 1 cup
- Pasta: 1.7-2.1 oz
- Meat and poultry: 2.1 oz
A typical Mediterranean diet plan is about 15% protein, 43% percent carbs, and 37% monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Again, these rules are not set in stone. However, you can use them as a starting point.
Let’s say you’re trying to slim down. In this case, it makes sense to cut down on carbs and eat more protein.
The Mediterranean diet is approximately 43% carbs, but you can customize it according to your needs.
Small changes, such as limiting your intake of fruits, whole grains, bread, potatoes, and other high-carb foods, are perfectly fine. Load up on fish, poultry, and eggs to meet your protein requirements and preserve lean mass while cutting.
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How to Lose Weight on the Mediterranean Diet
This dietary plan wasn’t designed for weight loss. However, it emphasizes clean eating and can help you torch stubborn fat and preserve lean mass.
A two-year clinical trial compared the effects of a low-fat calorie-controlled diet, a restricted-calorie Mediterranean diet, and a low-carb diet plan. The Mediterranean-diet group lost about 9 pounds and experienced improvements in insulin sensitivity. The low-fat group lost 6.3 pounds on average, while low-carb dieters dropped around 10.3 pounds.
Another study used a modified version of the Mediterranean diet, with five daily meals and two portion-controlled sweet snacks. Dieters lost approximately 10 pounds within three months. Their triglycerides and cholesterol levels have significantly improved by the end of the study.
These findings show that it is possible to lose weight on the Mediterranean diet. You do need to make some changes, though.
Fill Up on Protein
First of all, fine-tune your protein to preserve as much as lean mass as you can. This diet is largely based on plant-based foods, but it allows the consumption of poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese. Fill up on these foods to get more protein and prevent muscle loss.
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Cut Back on Carbs
Carbs are not the enemy, but they can stall your progress, especially when consumed in excess. After all, there’s a reason why the ketogenic diet works for so many folks.
The Mediterranean diet plan relies heavily on carbs, from fruits and grains to legumes. As an athlete, you need carbs to perform at your peak and recover from training. Just make sure you don’t go overboard.
Plan your meals around your workouts. Eat your daily carbs before and/or after hitting the gym to stay energized and replenish your glycogen stores.
More Carbs on Training Days
Consume more carbs on your heaviest training days, such as leg or back day, and cut back on carbs on your off days. With this approach, you’ll find it easier to stick to your diet and torch stubborn fat without sacrificing your gains.
Mediterranean-style diets don’t require counting calories or macros. However, it helps to get a general idea of how many calories you should eat to lose weight and keep it off. Determine your daily calorie needs, track your calorie intake, and adjust these numbers along the way.
For best results, calculate your macros. Protein, fats, and carbs — the three macronutrients — influence your metabolism and body composition. Once you know your macros, plan your meals accordingly.
So, are you ready to switch to the Mediterranean diet plan? This eating plan is nutritionally sound and has proven results, but it may not work for everyone. It all comes down to your goals and personal preferences.
Regardless of what you decide, stick to the five basic rules of workout nutrition!