High-protein diet reduces symptoms of depression

Summary: Student-athletes who ate higher-protein diets had less severe symptoms of depression, according to a new study.

Source: Neuroscience News

A new study focusing on the nutrition and mental health of adolescent athletes found an association between high protein intake and decreased symptoms of depression.

Previous studies have demonstrated the importance of nutrition on mental health disorders. People with severe mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder tend to have poorer diets, higher calorie intake, and lower nutritional intake compared to the general public.

The importance of nutrition is receiving increased attention as a modifiable factor that can help alleviate symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

The main objective of this new study was to assess whether the consumption of certain macro and micronutrients was a predictor of future depressive symptoms in young student-athletes.

The researchers hypothesized that a higher intake of carbohydrates, protein, and polyunsaturated fatty acids would be a predictor of reduced depressive symptoms at follow-up. They anticipated a positive association between overall fat and sugar intake and future depressive symptoms.

97 elite adolescent athletes were recruited for the study. Symptoms of depression were recorded at baseline and again during a 10-month follow-up. Three months after the initial depression assessment, participants recorded their food intake for three days.

This shows the eggs and the avocado
Higher protein intake was linked to reduced symptoms of depression. Image is in public domain

The researchers then used linear regression analyzes to assess whether micronutrients could predict the severity of depression symptoms, controlling for covariates and baseline depressive symptoms.

The results showed that higher protein intake was associated with reduced symptoms of depression over the follow-up period. Additionally, several deviations from the recommended nutrient intake have been reported by athletes.

The researchers say more studies are needed with larger sample sizes and more in-depth assessment techniques. They recommend that future studies focus on nutrition education and examine whether dietary modifications could be implemented to improve depressive symptoms in student-athletes.

About this diet and depression research news

Author: Press office
Source: Neuroscience News
Contact: Press Office – Neuroscience News
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Macronutrient intake as a prospective predictor of depressive symptom severity: an exploratory study of elite adolescent athletes” by Markus Gerber et al. Sport and Exercise Psychology

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Macronutrient intake as a prospective predictor of depressive symptom severity: an exploratory study of elite adolescent athletes


Appropriate availability of macro and micronutrients has a significant impact on cognitive performance, mood, and mental health. Although the critical role of nutrition for the performance of elite athletes was recognized early on, little is known about whether consumption of specific macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) predicts the development of future depressive symptoms in elite adolescent athletes.


Participants were recruited from three Swiss Olympic Partner Schools (SOPS) in northwestern German-speaking Switzerland. A total of 97 elite teenage athletes (38% girls, Mage = 16.35 ± 1.19) participated in the study. Depressive symptoms (PHQ9) were assessed at baseline and after 10 months of follow-up. A 3-day dietary recall was performed three months after baseline assessment. Linear regression analyzes were used to examine whether macronutrients predict depression symptom severity after controlling for covariates and baseline depressive symptoms.


Higher protein consumption in athletes was a prospective predictor of lower severity of depressive symptoms at follow-up (β = -35, p < .05). Several deviations from recommended nutritional standards have been observed among elite athletes.


The results of this exploratory study support the idea that eating behavior may be prospectively associated with mental health in athletes. However, further research is needed with larger samples and more in-depth evaluation techniques. Future research should also examine whether nutrition education and diet modification can be used to prevent depressive symptoms in elite adolescent athletes.

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