Push over paleo, here comes the gladiator diet

Posted by Lani Thorpe on 4th July 2018

CARBS get a pretty bad rap these days. But back in ancient times, Roman gladiators were carb-loading like there was no tomorrow (which, in that line of work, there usually wasn’t).

Contrary to the current protein-heavy, carbohydrate-light diets favoured by athletes, gym frequenters and Instagram models alike (think Atkins, Keto, Paleo), it turns out the buff bods of gladiators were built on a base of mostly vegetarian, high-carb, high-fat foods.

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna studying gladiator remains from a 2000-year-old grave in Ephesus, Turkey — once the capital of the Roman province of Asia — noted the presence of minerals in the bones that suggested a mostly meat-free diet with a heavy focus on wheat, barley and legumes.

Their findings also revealed the professional brawlers regularly imbibed a tonic made from plant ash, giving them a calcium hit to help with bone repair. Seems the supplement game was strong in those days, too.

Revival of the gladiator diet

We all love to jump on board the latest food fad. Should the food industry be preparing for a revival of the gladiator diet?

Definitely not, according to nutritionist at Metro Dietetics Vivek Kumar. He suggests that for an active gladiator-type lifestyle, a lack of protein could have been a serious performance inhibitor.

“The main thing I’d be considering is where the protein was met — it is quite hard to reach optimal protein levels with a vegetarian diet, unless you’re eating kilos and kilos of food which is hardly very practical,” says Vivek.

The Colosseum in Rome was mecca for gladiator contests.

“It’s certainly not a diet I’d recommend. I’d almost recommend the opposite. I tend to advocate basic ratios of one-and-a-half to two grams of protein per kilo, and for carbohydrates, two to three grams per kilo.”

It’s safe to assume the gladiators weren’t calculating their protein ratios on frequent basis but it’s a diet that seemed to get the job done at the time.

Mind you, with an average life expectancy of a gladiator said to have been around 27 years, we’ll never know the long-term consequences for sure, will we?