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How extra virgin olive oil boosts athletic performance: benefits for athletes

How extra virgin olive oil boosts athletic performance: benefits for athletes

When it comes to optimising athletic performance and overall health, diet plays a crucial role.  High protein foods and carbohydrates are often the focus for athletes; however, fats are another important consideration. Fats can provide many benefits to athletes and active individuals; however, the TYPE of fat is key.  Extra virgin olive oil is a great example of a healthy fat, as it has a high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids and bioactive compounds that are not only important for general health but could also have benefits for athletic performance.

Anti-inflammatory properties of extra virgin olive oil:

Extra virgin olive oil is known to contain a wide variety of bioactive compounds that have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity1. In particular, EVOO contains a polyphenol called oleocanthal, and research has shown that it has works in a similar action to the NSAID ibuprofen2. Specifically, it has been shown to inhibit cyclooxygenase enzymes COX1 and COX22.  Athletes are known to experience inflammation, due to the intensity of their exercise. The anti-inflammatory properties of EVOO could potentially assist in quicker recovery post-exercise, as well as minimising muscle soreness.

Weight management benefits of extra virgin olive oil:

Energy intake is a key focus for athletes, whether it be trying to increase or reduce calories/kilojoules. While extra virgin olive oil is a calorie/kilojoule dense food, it can play a role in the diet of all types of athletes.  For those who have high energy requirements, EVOO is an easy way to add additional calories, as it contains 124 calories per 15mL tablespoon (517kJ)3. And for those who have smaller energy requirements, using EVOO as a cooking oil can help improve satiety along with the palatability of nutrient dense foods that are low in calories/kilojoules such as vegetables.

Heart health benefits of extra virgin olive oil:

One of the most well-known benefits of extra virgin olive oil is its role in supporting heart health. A healthy heart is important for athletes, and also for the general population. Studies have shown that consuming EVOO can improve multiple aspects of heart health including blood pressure, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress4,5.

How to include extra virgin olive oil in your diet:

In order to get the maximum benefits from extra virgin olive oil, research recommends consuming 2-3 tablespoons each day6.  This amount may seem daunting but in reality, it is quite simple to achieve.  Some tips for including more EVOO in your diet include:

  • Use EVOO as your main cooking oil – it is safe and healthy to use for everything from roasting to frying
  • Use EVOO as a replacement for butter – this can be with bread, or even in baking
  • Drizzle EVOO over cooked meals for additional flavour and health benefits
  • Try adding EVOO to smoothies


Overall, the healthy fats and bioactive compounds in extra virgin olive oil can play a role in improving performance for athletes and active individuals. Along with being a delicious kitchen staple, this superfood can have benefits for inflammation, weight management, heart health and much more. So why not try incorporating 2-3 tablespoons into your daily diet and see for yourself how beneficial it can be.

View article references

  1. Boskou D. Olive oil minor constituents and health. 2009. CRC Press: Florida
  2. Beauchamp G, Keast R, Morel D, et al. Ibuprofen-like activity in extra virgin olive oil. Nature. 2005. 437;45-6
  3. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. (2022) Australian Food Composition Database – Release 2.0. Available from:
  4. Schwingshackl, L., et al., Impact of different types of olive oil on cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis, 2019. 29(10): p. 1030-1039.
  5. George, E.S., et al., The effect of high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2018: p. 01-138.
  6. Flynn, M. M., et al. (2023). "Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil the Critical Ingredient Driving the Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet? A Narrative Review." Nutrients 15(13): 2916.