Many people today drink protein shakes or chocolate milk as part of their post-workout recovery plan. New research suggests this may hardly be a new idea. Gladiators from 150 A.D. may also have had a sort of recovery drink. But their beverage of choice could have had a very interesting ingredient — ash. 

Researchers wanted to know more about the dietary habits of these historic fighters, so they studied the remains of 22 gladiators from the ancient Roman city of Ephesus (now in modern Turkey). Through stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratio analysis, they found that these men had a varied diet. Some were heavier on the grains and greens, while others appeared to eat more meat. Overall, their results were similar to the average men of their time — with one exception. The gladiators had a much higher ratio of strontium to calcium. Researchers determined that they were replenishing their bodies with something high in calcium, but what? 

Pliny the Elder may have revealed the answer in his book, "Naturalis Historia," when he wrote, “Your hearth should be your medicine chest. Drink lye made from its ashes, and you will be cured. One can see how gladiators after a combat are helped by drinking this.” 

As crazy as it sounds today, ash was often used by different cultures in food preparations, including in Mexico to get corn ready for cooking. It provides important minerals, such as calcium, manganese, copper and iron, so it would not be surprising if an ash drink were indeed used by ancient gladiators. 

But then again, Kristina Killgove, a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida, points out that gladiators may have just been consuming more dairy than the average person at the time. 

Regardless, the dietary habits of gladiators will remain of special interest when we consider that their very lives depended on keeping their bodies fierce and in shape. 

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