Runner's Guide: The Mediterranean Diet

Carbohydrates:

Build a strong base by centering each meal around fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables are often overlooked for their carbohydrate contribution.These foods are also rich in the many vitamins and minerals that are vital to the metabolic processes that accompany physical activity. And not to be forgotten, foods rich in fiber can aid in digestion. If your diet is currently low in fiber, you will want to gradually add high-fiber foods into your diet to allow your body to get used to it. Try switching out one processed grain for a whole grain each week, and add one to two servings of fruit or vegetable each week. If you have a sweet tooth, try switching out one sugar-based dessert for a serving of fruit, such as a bowl of mixed berries with 1 to 2 tablespoons of whipped cream.

Protein:

The Mediterranean diet pyramid suggests eating fish or seafood at least twice a week. Best sources include cod, walleye, salmon, tuna, trout, shrimp, scallops and crab. Furthermore, you could consider replacing red meat with poultry and trying to limit red meat to no more than a few times a month. Red meat may be the best source of iron in a runner's diet, but that doesn't mean it's the only source.

More: 6 Reasons to Try ad Plant-Based Diet

Supplement your protein intake with the addition of beans and lentils, which are great vegetarian sources of iron in addition to being packed with carbohydrate, fiber and protein. Leafy greens like spinach are also a great source of iron. Combining these foods with a vitamin C source (red bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato sauce, citrus fruits) will enhance the absorption of iron.

Fish such as salmon, tuna, herring and sardines are great sources of protein in addition to having a fair amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to promote heart and brain health.

Fat:

The Mediterranean diet does not shy away from fat, but rather focuses on making smart choices about the types of fat consumed. The healthiest fats are the mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that come from olive oil, nuts and seeds. Canola oil is also a healthy choice as it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower blood triglycerides, decrease blood clotting and help moderate blood pressure.

More: Meatless Mondays: How to Adopt a Plant-Based Diet

If you consume butter or margarine, try switching them out for healthier fat choices. Also consider replacing a serving of fat with a serving of nuts. Nuts are full of healthy fats, fiber and antioxidants. The FDA has approved a health claim for nuts that says eating 1.5 ounces (or 1.5 servings) of nuts per day, along with a diet low in saturated fat, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Some of the best nut choices are walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and pecans. Remember, though, nuts are still high in calories, so they should be used as a substitute for other fat sources, not as an addition.

Remember that the Mediterranean Diet is not a strict eating plan, but rather a style of eating that allows the consumer to choose what to incorporate and how. It is predominantly a plant-based diet that still allows for plenty of variety in protein sources, ranging from vegetarian to pescatarian to omnivore. The Mediterranean diet is best known as a heart-healthy diet that works best for adults who are at high risk for heart disease. However, the tips above show that even for a runner at low risk for heart disease, there can still be numerous benefits of this style of eating.

More: 3 Plant-Based Power Meals for Athletes

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About the Author

Emily Brown

Emily is a former professional runner and the 2009 U.S. cross country champion. She formerly trained with Team USA Minnesota, and is currently the resident nutritionist for RunnersConnect.net. Find her on Facebook.
Emily is a former professional runner and the 2009 U.S. cross country champion. She formerly trained with Team USA Minnesota, and is currently the resident nutritionist for RunnersConnect.net. Find her on Facebook.

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