Extra virgin olive oil, also known as EVOO, is an important feature in the Mediterranean diet and is associated with reduce inflammation and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality1. Off the back of these findings, EVOO has recently gained popularity among athletes, who are looking for the edge in maximisng their health and performance. Here we look at the benefits EVOO can offer for athletes.
What is EVOO?
EVOO is the highest quality of the olive oils. It is the fresh, healthy juice that is mechanically squeezed directly from the olive fruit without any heat or chemicals. The better the
quality of the olive fruit, and faster the juice is squeezed, the higher the quality of the oil produced. This versatile and flavoursome oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and contains a variety of bioactive compounds including phytosterols, oleocanthal, oleic acid, squalene, hydroxytyrosol and tocopherols.
5 potential performance benefits of EVOO
1. Anti-inflammatory properties: EVOO contains high levels of natural phenols, which work as antioxidants to reduce the damaging effects of free radicals and counteract the inflammatory process. These polyphenols can help maintain metabolic processes, immune function and cell proliferation, which may assist in speeding up recovery in athletes. A small Finish study in 2021 showed athletes who took 25ml of extra-virgin olive oil experienced a reduced inflammatory impact following intense aerobic exercise and showed an improved recovery at 24 hours post-training2, which may lead to improved performance at a subsequent session.
2. Reduction in exercise-induced inflammation: Many athletes experience muscle soreness, fatigue and inflammation of the joints following exercise. While this inflammatory process is a natural response caused by the intense exercise, the good news is EVOO may offer some protection. EVOO contains oleocanthal, which has anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen. Both ibuprofen and oleocanthal inhibit the activity of cyclooxygenase enzymes reducing inflammation and pain. Research shows that ingestion 50g of EVOO daily provides 10mg of oleocanthal which is equivalent to a low dose of ibuoprofen used for pain relief3.
3. Provide a mental boost: EVOO is a great source of vitamin E and K, both of which offer benefits to the brain. Vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting tissue from the damaging effects of free radicals and helping to slow cognitive decline. Vitamin K also plays an important role in brain health, playing a role in cognitive performance and improved brain processing speeds. Lastly, EVOO contains oleuropein, which is believed to provide a protective neuroprotective effect against cognitive decline including memory functions and behaviour4.
4. Assistance with optimal body composition: Achieving and maintaining an optimal body composition is an important component of athlete performance. EVOO has a high oleic acid content, which has been found to play a beneficial role in weight management. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acids that is used to make oleoylethanolamide (OEA). OEA is known to play a role in satiety, which it does via the gut signalling to the brain that it is full. This signalling reduces the likelihood of overeating5, which can assist athletes in aesthetic or weight class sports. At the other end of the body composition spectrum, the high kilojoule content of EVOO can assist athletes will large energy budgets to reach their daily kilojoule targets, helping them to better manage their weight and reach their desired performance goals.
5. Joint protection: Prostaglandins are made at sites of tissue damage or joints as a result on strenuous physical activity. These prostaglandins cause inflammation and pain. Through the blockage of cyclooxygenase enzymes, oleocanthal inhibits prostaglandin synthesis, which may play a role in reducing arthritic pain6.
How much EVOO is needed?
To achieve the maximum benefits associated with EVOO, studies recommend including 2-3 tablespoons of EVOO each day7.
Easy ways to get more EVOO in your diet
- Drizzle EVOO over your vegetables before roasting. Try this Roasted Beetroot and Sweet Potato Salad.
- Use in the cooking of breakfast options like homemade granola or ham and cheese omelette.
- Use EVOO to make a delicious dressing for your favourite salad. Enjoy this Papaya and Chicken Salad.
- Use to cook your stir-fry or curry.
- Make fresh pesto using EVOO and then toss through your pasta. Here is a delicious pesto recipe.
- Use EVOO with a dash of balsamic vinegar and dip bread into.
- Use EVOO in your baking like for these Orange and Ricotta Muffin
- Riolo R, De Rosa R, Simonetta I and Tuttolomondo A. Olive oil in the Mediterranean diet and its biochemical and molecular effects on cardiovascular health through an analysis of genetics and epigenetics. Int J Mol Sci 2022;23(24):16002.
- Esquius L, Javierre C, Llaudo I, et al. Impact of olive oil supplement intake on dendritic cell maturation after strenuous physical exercise: a preliminary study. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2021 Apri;18(8):4128.
- Beauchamp G, Keast R, Morel D, et al. Phytochemistry: ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Nature 2005; Sep1;437(7055):45-46.
- Klimova B, Novotny M, Kuca K and Valis M. Effect of an extra-virgin olive oil intake on the delay of cognitive decline: role of secoiridoid oleuropein? Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 2019;15:3033-3040.
- Mennella I, Savarese M, Ferracane R, et al. Oleic acid content of a meal promotes oleoylethanolamide response and reduces subsequent energy intake in humans. Int J Mol Sci 2015;Jan;6(1):204-210.
- Parkinson L and Keast R. Oleocanthal, a phenolic derived from virgin olive oil: a review of the beneficial effects on inflammatory disease. Int J Mol Sci 2914;11:15(7):12323-12334.
- Ferrara L, Raimondi A, d’Episcopo L, et al. Olive oil and reduced need for antihypertensive medications. Clinical Trial Arch Intern Med 2000 Mar 27;160(6):837-842.