Feeding mice on a diet high in sunflower oil improves their running abilities by about 6.3 percent, which is equivalent to the 0.6-second improvement in the men's 100m sprint that has been achieved between the 1932 and 2008 Olympic Games.
This is the finding reported by researchers at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in Austria at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Meeting on Monday.
The researchers attribute their finding to n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids present in sunflower oil.
They revealed that the mice fed for two weeks on a diet high in sunflower oil, which contains n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, ran on average 0.19m/s faster than mice fed a diet rich in linseed oil, which is high in n-3 fatty acids.
They said that their finding suggested that, over a 2 second sprint, a mouse fed on a high n-6 fatty acid diet would have a 0.4m advantage, representing a 6.3 percent improvement which equals that achieved in the 100m world records over more than 75 years.
According to them, for a mouse or other small mammal, this would be significant in evolutionary terms when escaping from a predator or catching prey.
"The results of the current study on mice suggest that moderate differences in dietary n-6/n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake can have a biologically meaningful effect on maximum running speed", says Dr. Christopher Turbill, who presented the research.
"The application of this research to the performance of elite athletes (specifically those in sports that involve short distance sprints, including cycling) is uncertain, but in my opinion certainly deserves some further attention," he says.