The Anti-Inflammatory Value of a Mediterranean Diet for Serious Athletes
A Mediterranean diet is well known around the world for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant value and often is cited as improving authentic performance and increasing longevity. Here is former MLS Sporting Kansas City Nutritionist Amy Dirks on why the Mediterranean diet is a great choice for soccer players of all ages. Read: MEET SOCCERTODAY’S NUTRITIONIST AMY DIRKS – GREAT INFO FOR SOCCER PLAYERS OF ALL AGES
The Mediterranean Diet has been around since ancient civilizations but was modernized in the US around the 1960’s.
Over the last decade or so, it has made a huge comeback in research studies and in health, wellness, and nutrition articles as one of the healthiest diets one can consume.
It is actually not a diet, yet a lifestyle way of eating, which to me means practicality and something you can maintain long term.
A way of eating that developed from using what the land provided and what was in season … (a tip useful for anyone that wants to eat healthier). The diet itself originated in the areas around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, Spain, Turkey and Greece. The basic foods from origin were bread, wine and oil, which still constitutes some of the foods included in the diet, but now the emphasis is more on vegetables, which is what EVERY diet should be based on!
The Mediterranean diet is great for anyone that wants to be healthy and have longevity.
It promotes disease prevention, weight management, and mental health. It has a strong sense of community building because you take the time to enjoy your food together with friends, family, or teammates.
The reason why I love this diet (or lifestyle) for athletes is because of the ANTI-INFLAMMATORY properties.
Athletes create inflammation in the body through rigorous training and games. This inflammation is a natural process. Inflammation caused by poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices is inflammation that leads to disease.
The basis of the Mediterranean diet is food with anti-inflammatory effects. Foods that are high in fiber, foods that are high in Omega 3’s and healthy fats, and foods that are rich in antioxidants. Below are the foods included in the Mediterranean style of eating:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially non-starchy veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, artichokes and tomatoes.
- ***No fruits or vegetables are off-limits with the Mediterranean Diet.
- Olive oil, olives
- Nuts & Seeds (almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds)
- Legumes & Beans (garbanzo beans for hummus, lentils)
- Herbs & Spices (Rosemary, Oregano, Parsley, Mint & Cinnamon)
- Wild-caught Fish & Seafood (at least 2x/week)
- Red meat is consumed only once/week
- Organic, pasture-raised poultry, eggs, cheese, goat milk/goat cheese, feta cheese, andprobiotic rich kefir/yogurt on occasion.
- Whole grains (ancient grains such as buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa); opt for moregluten free whole grains.
- Water, coffee, tea, and red wine (one glass daily).
Foods NOT to be consumed on the Mediterranean diet are refined grains (white flour), refined sugars, processed foods such as fast foods, high fat/processed meats, refined oils and trans fats.
~63% of America’s calories come from refined and processed foods such as soft drinks, potato chips, and other packaged goods, including sweets.Essentially, the standard American diet or S.A.D.
The percentage of calories Americans eat from plant-based foods is only 12% with some of that being from french fries!
If every single athlete cared as much about what they put into their body as much as they cared about the physical aspect of their body, their performance would rise dramatically!
Doesn’t it make sense to control what you can and in order to be the best version of yourself in life and as an athlete, your diet is one of the main things you have control over…not just for performance but also for recovery!
Like any healthy lifestyle eating pattern you are following, it doesn’t have to be restaurant worthy or complicated in order to reap the benefits.
The Basics of the Mediterranean Soccer Player’s Diet:
The Mediterranean Diet is perfect for many athletes. It is not at all restrictive, especially when compared to other high performance diets. Just look at the list of all the foods you can include in this eating style … here are a few examples:
Bruschetta with grilled or baked chicken is a perfect idea of a fun and easy to eat and healthy menu idea.
You can also pair hummus (there are some great store bought versions now or make your own simple hummus from canned garbanzo beans) with sliced cucumbers, celery, carrots, peppers or apples.
Or use hummus on avocado toast or as the dressing on a Mediterranean chicken bowl.
It is simple: Boil some garbanzo bean noodles and throw in some tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic and sprinkle feta cheese/pine nuts on top OR roast the tomatoes and feta together to make a creamy sauce to add to the noodles. Throw the fresh basil on top after cooking.
Eggs are often overlooked in an athlete’s diet, and eggs can be used for any meal. For example, simply roast or steam broccoli, then make scrambled eggs and add the broccoli, fresh onions and tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and sprinkle with feta cheese. Use spinach in place of broccoli if desired.
Make a Greek salad but add garbanzo beans or white beans for extra fiber and plant protein. Buy or make pesto and spread on fish and bake. Throw in some veggies while baking for a full meal and serve with some quinoa you already had made.
Roast carrots with seasonings and then add parsley and feta after cooking for a tasty side dish.
Full fat Greek yogurt with local honey, fresh fruit, and nuts or seeds sprinkled on top can be a great breakfast or pre/post workout meal.
Salmon or Tuna salad made with Greek yogurt base (can add a little mayo for richness) and served on lettuce wraps are a simple high protein meal or snack.
Make a charcuterie board with olives, nuts, smoked salmon, Nut Thins crackers or almond flour crackers, sun-dried tomatoes, grapes, dried cherries, and goat cheese dip. It’s fun cleaning out the pantry and fridge and using what you have to create these boards.
Make your list of what foods you like and start there. By keeping it simple in the beginning, you will stick with it because you like the foods (you picked them from the list after all) and because it’s easy to maintain.
There are so many delicious Mediterranean style recipes and cookbooks out there for you to try. Here is one simple and delicious recipe you can start with from Eating Well:
The key to start this anti-inflammatory way of eating is to start adding some of the foods to what you are already doing.
When you introduce more of the healthy foods, the unhealthy ones start to find their way out the door and you don’t miss them.
The beauty of the Mediterranean diet is there’s not one food considered better than another, rather just a variety of whole food, plant-based foods that can taste delicious too! It is your job as an athlete to take care of your body. This is a great foundation for healthier eating habits!