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Sporting Diet by Carl Diem
I. Antiquity

The stoic philosopher Epictetus, who lived in Rome at about 100 A. D. and later in Nicopolis in Epirus, wished according to his “Encheiridion’ ’ (III, 15,2), his doctrine of patience and frugality, to prove that all tasks should be executed with prudence and he gave, as a wellknown example, the preliminary conditions necessary for a victory in the Olympic Games: "You must there preserve good order, eat according to the rule refrain from eating sweet pastry, you must carry out your training according to precept at the determined time, during heat as in cold, you are also not permitted to drink anything cold or wine.”
We here have an established system of training combined with a definite sporting diet. Now we know from several accounts, especially from the writings of Flavius Philostratos (Athens, subsequently Rome) and Pausanias of Caesarea (both in the 2nd century A. D.) that the rules governing the food of athletes underwent many changes. The sporting diet was originally very simple and strict, later becoming abundant and dainty. If we can believe the actual words of the accounts, it was at first vegetarian, consisting of dried figs, wheaten cakes, fresh cheese and a sour bread made of barley such as was also eaten by the Romans and called "polenta". It is stated of one athlete that he ate nothing but figs. This need not all be taken literally, it means that the athletes of the early period ate simple peasant food, such as that of the shepherds of Arcadia and other districts of Greece even today. The consumption of meat was not introduced until the commencement of the fifth century B. C. As always in such a case, the historians thought it necessary to ascribe this change to an innovator. Mention is made of Periodonike in the Dolichos, i. e. 400-metre race, and of Dromeis of Stymphalos in Northern Arcadia, who in the 74th Olympiad in 484 B. C. is stated to have been the first athlete to eat meat. Another report names an Aleiptes, that is to say a trainer and masseur, Pythagoras, or as it apparently had to be a Pythagoras, even the philosopher Pythagoras.
Of the latter we know that he had settled in Croton in Southern Italy where he had established a school of learning which gave instruction in his philosophical system. Now Croton produced many Olympic victors, the two first of whom, Daippos (27th Olympiad) and Glaukias (48th Olympiad) at dates anterior even to that of Philostratos, Milon, however, the wrestling champion at the 60th, 62nd, 63rd, 64th, 65th and 66th Olympiads, for a period of 24 years from 540 B. C. to 516 B. C., during the very lifetime of the philosopher himself and later on Timasitheos (67th Olympiad), Astylos (73rd, 74th, 75th, 76th Olympiads) who were also magnificent athletes. The Milon whom we have just mentioned enjoyed great fame on account of his tremendous strength. He bore a young bull on his shoulders in the Stadium before the astonished spectators and then consumed it in one day. Another athlete from Thebes, who became the greatest athlete of his age, preferred goat’s flesh; the flesh of oxen, bulls, buck and roe, but especially that of the pig, are all quoted as being used for food. The latter was regarded even until the time of Galen (VI, 661) as easily digestible — Galen on the other hand will not consent to beef. It was not, however, to any sort of pork that the preference was given, but merely to the flesh of pigs which had been fattened on acorns and wild cherries. The great indulgence in meat had already aroused adverse comments in the Golden Age and at a later date when it began to be customary to level criticism at the life and conduct of the athletes, people said of them derisively that they were made of pork and beef. We thus even among the Ancients encounter the question of the relative merits of a meatless diet, a diet with large quantities of meat and a mixed diet. At the time when preference was given to a meat diet, no fish was consumed; it was, however, included in the diet later. The protagonists of a meat diet thought that this innovation would bring about the ruin of sport, for they regarded it as a regrettable sign of future weakness and, according to Philostratos, as the change which converted athletes into men unfit for military service, active people into sluggards and hardened men into weaklings. This daintiness gave rise to a whole science of the eating of fish. People ate different fish according to the effect they wished to produce, some choosing fat fish, that is to say, those which live in the mud, others preferred lean fish such as could be caught near the cliffs and a third group adhered to the fleshy fish from the open sea. The refinement also went as far as the bread; the athletes ate dainties such as wheaten bread to fine flour strewn with poppy seed. Only indulgence in pastry remained forbidden, as we saw from the introduction.
The method of preparation and the amounts were strictly laid down. The runners received less food than the boxers and wrestlers who were subjected to a kind of fattening treatment in order to attain the necessary weight. Galen compares this feeding with the fattening of pigs. According to the opinion of the day, weight was most easily increased if the athletes ate large quantities of food after strenuous training and followed this by a long and deep sleep. The food was as solid and dry as possible, bread and meat being consumed separately; this was thought to be more digestible. The quantity of food was increased during the course of the training. These regulations also extended to the manner of life during the ten months of obligatory training for the Olympic Games, which were spent in part or even entirely as a community at Elis.
In any case, decisive importance was ascribed to food; the regulations, whether they were praised or blamed, were the chief subject of discussion and the greatest medical experts, Herodikos of Selymbria and his pupil Hippocrates interested themselves in the problem. Of the former, who was the author of the first treatise on diet, a number of general indications have been preserved until the present day: “Eating and physical exercises work hand in hand in the interests of health” — and he mentions diarrhoea as an indication of over-exertion.
The latter was the first to express any great doubt concerning instructions generally valid, when in his treatise on diet he spoke of athletes whose constitution was unsuitable for the consumption of meat. Unfortunately we do not know what can be authentically ascribed to him. Galen, finally, expressed sharp criticism and sought to indicate once more the path leading to the simple and natural way of life. He was, however, unable, to put the clock back. The athletics of antiquity died out with the coming of the effeminacy, the decrease in the birthrate and the decline of the Greek people.

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