Roman Gladiator Nutrition: They Were Fat.

I have Macho Icons & Heroes who populate my personal mythology.

Don’t ask where they came from, because I just can’t pinpoint it.

They have come from everywhere, picked up higgledy-piggledy along the way from history, fairy tales, science fiction novels, movies, cartoons, religions and the racial unconscious.

They’ve just always been there and somehow get deposited in one’s head as inspirations.

They are clans of Samurai, Vikings, Mongol Hordes, Celts, Tartars and, of course, the Gladiators of the Roman Empire .

But since I have never travelled in Japan, Mongolia or Iceland, but have done some travelling in Italy, Rome being one of my favourite cities,  it is the Gladiator who holds the lion’s share of my interest along with a big slice of my imagination.

I am interested in how these men of action lived, died, loved, fought, drank and of course, trained & ate.

How disappointing it was when I finally found out!

muscle Glad

Think this is what a Roman Gladiator looked like, bro? Think again!

According to recent archaeological research, Gladiator pectorals were far from being finely carved platters of beef, their abdominals were not 6 packs, but more like a single huge mass covered in quivering layers of subcutaneous and visceral fat.

Gladiatorial meals did not resemble the paleo or meat-and-fish diets now associated with elite warriors and athletes but were more in line with the food guidelines of Sumo wrestlers.


Gladiator Diets were mostly vegan, carbohydrate-heavy and fattening.


Their main meal was based on barley, spelt, flavoured with honey and spices. Any variation on this meal would have been legumes, beans and very rarely some red meat, fish, fowl or eggs.

This carbohydrate-rich diet would have allowed the gladiator to put on large amounts of subcutaneous and visceral fat.


Because, when you have a spear or sword thrust into you, because muscle is vascular, it bleeds out and reacts more critically than layers of less complex fat.

In other words, fat protects vital organs from damage better than muscle and therefore, the theory went, was more useful for survival in the deadly game played out in the arena.

To wash down their carbohydrate-rich meals, Thracian Gladiators had their own the equivalent of Red Bull, an energy and calcium supplement consisting of a boiled concoction of charred Fenugreek, ground and charred bone, fermented fruit and spices. This alcoholic beverage allowed the gladiator a certain anaesthetic, painkilling effect along with an absorbable form of calcium to help repair damaged bone and tissue, should the lucky gladiator either survive his wounds or the infamous official ”Thumbs Down”, which would seal the more luckless warrior’s fate.

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