Gladiators - Lean Athletes or Intentionally Fat?
Watching television program and movies about ancient Rome and gladiators, one is led to believe that gladiators were lean, bodybuilder-type athletes.
In fact, that couldn't be further from the truth. As explained by Andrew Curry's article "The Gladiator Diet" in Archeology Magazine. Gladiators were fed a vegetarian-based diet, rich in simple carbohydrates to gain body fat. Apparently, it was more of a show for the spectators if the gladiators could absorb more punishment via excessive fat stores.
Excerpt below from: The Gladiator Diet by Andrew Curry, from his interview with Karl Grossschmidt,
a paleo-pathologist at the Medical University of Vienna
"Consuming a lot of simple carbohydrates, such as barley, and legumes, like beans, was designed for survival in the arena. Packing in the carbs also packed on the pounds. Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat," Grossschmidt explains. "A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight. Not only would a lean gladiator have been dead meat, he would have made for a bad show."
Correspondingly, read the summary below about carbohydrate vs. protein intake from Science Daily (sourced from the Obesity Society): Read the full article here.
"Researchers explored whether high- or low- protein diets might lead to less weight gain when consuming excess calories due to the ability of the body to burn extra energy with a high-protein diet. They found that study participants all gained similar amounts of weight regardless of diet composition; however, there was a vast difference in how the body stored the excess calories. Those who consumed normal- and high- protein diets stored 45% of the excess calories as lean tissue, or muscle mass, while those on the low-protein diet stored 95% of the excess calories as fat."
So, a little different picture than the ripped, muscular physical appearance that we usually visualize of ancient gladiators fighting in a colosseum. The carb-heavy, weight-gaining diet they consumed gave them extra body fat to protect them so they could live to fight another day.
To learn more about Sports Nutrition and how nutrients affect performance, check out our Sports Nutrition Certification by clicking the link below.