Meat is a big part of the diets of modern day, protein-obsessed athletes and tailgaters alike, but new research out of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria and the University of Bern in Switzerland has found that meat was exceptionally rare in the diets of the most macho arena warriors of them all: Roman gladiators.
The gladiator diet was determined by an analysis of bones from a cemetery where many of the fighters were buried, reports the BBC. The bones of 22 gladiators from about 1,800 years ago were examined, all excavated from graves in the Roman town of Ephesus, now a part of Turkey.
Food most typically consumed by the famed fighters was wheat, barley and beans. The barley component of their diet echoes a common nickname for gladiators, who are also sometimes referred to as "barley men." All of the remains were free of any trace of meat or dairy products, with the exception of two gladiators who are believed to be from a different part of the Roman Empire.
Gladiatorial games often resulted in the death of the losing gladiator. Estimates suggest that men taking part in the contests had a one in nine chance of being killed every time they armored up. So the stakes were high, and fighters needed to perform at peak performance. Diet had to be taken seriously, which for gladiators apparently meant staying away from animal protein.
Researchers also found that gladiators frequently consumed a sort of "energy drink" which was mineral-packed and made from plant ashes.
"Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing," said Fabian Kanz, from the Medical University of Vienna.
The benefits of the ash drink are kind of like when "we take magnesium and calcium, in the form of effervescent tablets, for example, following physical exertion," explained Kanz. The ash drink might perhaps be likened to a more medicinal, Roman-style Gatorade.
Gladiators were often prisoners of war, slaves and condemned offenders. They battled each other as well as exotic wild animals, which were often brought in as part of the spectacle. Perhaps the most famous arena where gladiator battles took place was the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.
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