Roman Gladiator Nutrition: They Were Fat.

I have many Heroes and Macho Icons who populate my personal mythology.

Don’t ask where I got them from, because I just wouldn’t be able to pinpoint it.

They have come from everywhere and through the eclectic nature of my existence, picked up higgledy-piggledy, here and there, along several walks of life; from history, from fairy tales, from science fiction novels, movies, cartoons, world religions, my imagination and the mythology of a universal collective unconscious.

They’ve all just got in there, somehow depositing themselves in my brain & soul as inspiration to create havoc and disquietude.

These icons, what are they?

They are variously, but not exclusively: clans of Samurai, Viking Tribes, The Immortals of Persia, The Spartan Hoplites, Mongol Hordes, Celts, Tartars and, of course, the Gladiators of ancient Rome.

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 Roman 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, ate and trained.

muscle Glad

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

Oh, how disappointed I was when I finally found out!

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 single huge masses of lard covered layers of subcutaneous and visceral fat.

Gladiatorial meals did not resemble the paleo or meat-and-fish diets of today’s elite warriors and athletes but were more in line with the food choices of Japanese Sumo wrestlers.

Surprise! Surprise!

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


Their main meal was based on barley & spelt, flavoured with honey and spices. Any variation to this meal plan would have been legumes, beans and, very rarely, a morsel of red meat, fish, fowl or an egg.

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

Why? Why would he want to do this?

Because, when you have a spear or sword thrust into your guts, the muscle being vascular tissue, bleeds out and reacts more acutely than layers of less active & complex fat mass.

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


To wash down their carbohydrate-rich meals, Thracian Gladiators also had their own 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 an 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 a more hapless warrior’s fate.

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