The Gladiator Diet How Vegetarian Athletes Stack Up

"The Gladiator Diet –
How Vegetarian Athletes Stack Up" Recently, the remains of
dozens of Roman gladiators were discovered in a mass grave. The clue to their identities
were the rather distinct types of mortal injuries they found, like being speared in
the head with a trident. Using just their skeletons
they were able to reconstruct the death blows, show just
how buff they really were, and even try to reconstruct
their diet of barley and beans. You can look at carbon isotopes and
see what kinds of plants they ate; nitrogen isotopes reflect any
intake of animal protein.

You can also look at the
Sulphur in their bones and the amount of strontium,
leading commentators to submit that the best athletes
in ancient Rome ate largely plant-based diets. Then there were the legionnaires,
the Roman army troopers, famed for their abilities, also
eating a similar kind of diet, suggesting “the best fighters
in the ancient world were essentially vegetarian.” So, if the so-called
perfect fighting machines, the great sports heroes of the day,
were eating mostly grains and beans, should that tell us anything
about sports nutrition and the preferred diets
of elite athletes? Well, most of the Greeks and
Romans were basically vegetarian, centering their diets around
grains, fruit, vegetables and beans, so maybe the gladiators’ diets
weren’t that remarkable.

Plato, for example, pushed
plants, preferring plant foods for their health and efficiency. So yes, the Roman gladiators
were known as the ‘‘barley men,’’ but is that because barley
gives you strength and stamina, or was that just the basic food
that people ate at the time, not necessarily for performance,
but because it was just so cheap? Well, if you look at the modern
Spartans, the Tarahumara Indians, the ones that run races where
they kick a ball for oh, 75 miles just for the fun of it,
running all day, all night, and all day, maybe 150 miles
if they’re feeling in the mood. What do you get if you win? A special popularity with the ladies
(although how much of a reward that would actually prove to be
for a man who had been running for two days straight is questionable; though, maybe their endurance
extends to other dimensions). “Probably not since the
days of the ancient Spartans has a people achieved such a high
state of extreme physical conditioning.” And what did they eat? The same kind of 75 to
80 percent starch diet based on beans, corn, and squash.

And, they had the cholesterol
levels to prove it, total cholesterol levels down at an
essentially heart attack proof 136. And it’s not just some
special genetics they have— you feed them enough egg yolks and
their cholesterol creeps right up. Modern day Olympian runners
eat the same stuff. What are they eating over there in Kenya? A 99 percent vegetarian diet centered
mostly around various starches. But as in all these cases, is
their remarkable physical prowess because of their diets, or
in spite of their diets? Or have nothing to do with their diets? You don’t know…until
you put it to the test. In spite of well-documented health
benefits of more plant-based diets, less is known regarding the effects
of these diets on athletic performance. So, they compared elite vegetarian
and omnivore endurance athletes for aerobic fitness and strength. So, comparing oxygen
utilization on the treadmill, and quad strength with leg extensions. And the vegetarians beat out
their omnivore counterparts for cardiorespiratory fitness,
but their strength didn’t differ. Suggesting, in the very least,
that vegetarian diets don’t compromise athletic performance. But this was a cross-sectional study. Maybe the veg athletes were just
fitter because they trained harder? Like in the National Runners' Health Study looking at thousands of runners:
vegetarian runners were recorded running significantly
more on a weekly basis; so, maybe that explains
their superior fitness.

Though, maybe their superior fitness
explains their greater distances. Other cross-sectional studies
have found no differences in physical fitness between
vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes, or even worse performance, as in this
study of vegetarian athletes in India. Of course, there could be socioeconomic
or other confounding factors. That’s why we need interventional
studies to put different diets to the test and then compare
physical performance, which we’ll explore next..

Video Transcript – As found on YouTube

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