VI. A glance at the practical side
In view of the fact that it has not yet been possible to arrive at any final scientific conclusions, it may perhaps be permitted to us to cast a glance at the results of experience. The most important aid in this regard is the food consumed in the Olympic Village on the occasion of the XI Olympiade in Berlin 1936. We built at that time a large refectory where the nations were able to run their own kitchens. The food service was in the hands of the Norddeutsche Lloyd, which prepared the food according to the wishes of the nations, in so far as it had not been brought by the nations themselves, which was the case with few exceptions. Where the nations were not accompanied by their own cooks, these were also supplied by the Norddeutsche Lloyd.
The report contains an exact survey in all details of the amounts of food consumed and of the average daily quantities in comparison with the number of consumers in each group, athletes and attendants, guests, voluntary helpers and staff. The results have been investigated by two scholars, Martin Schenk and Adolf Bickel. Even if the important objection can be made against the results of the investigations in the Olympic Village, that a large number of competitors did not adhere strictly to their actual sporting diet, because their Olympic event was over for many of them in the first few days after the preliminary heats and that the competitors who were no longer taking part, in consequence ate what was offered to them, and it was offered to them in a generous spirit of hospitality, that they ate a great deal of what they liked and that, therefore, the average calculations for the testing of sporting diet are correspondingly falsified, there nevertheless could be no doubt with regard to the chief conclusion which was that the basic food was meat. This meat was as far as possible quite lean and devoid of fat and was grilled or roasted in its own juice. The Official Report says: “It was shown that athletes when faced by great performances turned their chief attention to a mixed diet consisting principally of meat roasted in the English way. There were only very few vegetarians among the competitors, so that less importance was attached to vegetables than had been anticipated. A number of the teams also refused eggs before their morning training. Coffee and tea, and, in fact, all stimulating beverages were not particularly favoured and their consumption was moderate. Milk was and remained the chief liquid erfreshment. Milk with Ovomaltine, with malt or other concentrated foods such as grape sugar etc., milk with fruit juice, buttermilk, yoghourt and sour milk, in short, milk in every form was always the favourite beverage. And this was true of the majority of the nations.
India held the record with the daily consumption of two liters per person. During the Games, warm milk was also prepared every evening for the competitors. Only the French, Italians, Dutch and Belgians indulged in any alcoholic refreshment. The two first-mentioned nations took only wine, the two others beer., The French drank their red wine undiluted, whilst the Italians added abundant quantities of water. Strange to say, the fish requirements, in spite of its rich albumin content, were relatively small. Only Finland and Iceland desired fish several times a week and then only if prepared in its natural state. The other nations all desired to have fish only occasionally. Smoked fish such as smoked herrings, kippered herrings, salmon, etc., were hardly ever eaten, presumably on account of the large amount of salt they contain. All food, as a matter of fact, was required only slightly salted.”
The total consumption of food was considerable: more than 500 000 marks were spent on provisions.. The amount of meat consumed by the athletes and the people accompanying them in the Olympic Village was 719 grammes per person per day, in the rowing quarters it was only 616 and 665 respectively. The women athletes in the Frisian House consumed 385 grammes, and those in the Women’s Centre, who were for the most part Japanese, required only 203 grammes.
The daily average of vegetables for everybody was 568 grammes, of fresh fruit 370 grammes and in addition 2.2 oranges as well as 2.4 eggs, 412 grammes of farinaceous products, 87 grammes of tinned fruit, 0,75 liters of milk, to mention only the most important articles of food. The average daily quantity of food per person amounted to 3524 grammes which is almost as much as is allowed to a first-class passenger on the boats of the Norddeutsche Lloyd and exceeds the army ration of 2735 grammes by almost a third. It must, however, be taken into consideration when examining these figures that not the slightest restriction was made and that many things were ordered which were subsequently not consumed. The German Union of Doctors for Sport had requested Schenk (see above) to make observations upon the nutrition in the Olympic Village. His conclusions supplement the Official Report. He writes: “The athletes choose a mixed diet which for the most part includes a considerable quantity of meat and contains the best of all the earth’s gifts.” Among all the nations, the basis is formed by a good portion of meat either fried or grilled in its own juice with the addition of a certain amount of good butter or oil! Beefsteaks, not too small, juicy and lean, at midday and in the evening I Pork, veal and mutton were also eaten, but the quantities and the favour they enjoyed were considerably less. Many nations, such as the Americans and the Germans, consumed the steak red (“underdone”), just as many, however, ate it pink (“half done”) or well done. One or two steaks weighing approximately 250 grammes at each meal (according to the age and the length of time used for cooking, a loss of 29—40%, takes place when the meat is grilled).
Well roasted or grilled chickens were also much favoured. The heavy athletes for the most part consumed especially large quantities of meat, generally steak, eating without any difficulty as much as two and a quarter pounds of meat (gross!) per day, whilst the light athletes consumed less meat, but more eggs, fruit, stewed fruit and salads, as well as large quantities of starch in the form of sugar, honey and white bread. Two days before the contest, particularly nutritious and pure food was eaten. The last meal was usually taken three hours before the contest and according to the exertion and the probable duration it usually consisted of from one to three beefsteaks with egg or hash with egg-yolk and finely chopped liver. Subsequently only a few egg-yolks (to increase the endurance), milk, the juice of meat or beef tea, Ovomaltine or grape sugar were taken. The meat was, however, never dipped in bread crumbs, nor was a sauce containing flour ever made. The juice of the meat which was exuded during the process of frying and the butter which was added provide a sufficient “clair fond”. Many nations liked to eat vegetables or preferably mixed salad, which, however, usually contained no cucumber. Lettuce and many kinds of vegetables prepared in as plain a fashion as possible.
Only a certain amount of oil, lemon juice or sour cream was added to the mixed salads, and here too flour was hardly ever used for binding. The head chef of almost every kitchen stated that tomatoes, either raw or as salads, were consumed in large quantities. Fruit at every meal, two or three apples alternating with the same number of oranges or bananas. Some nations prefered jams or stewed fruit. A number of the athletes, especially those from Finland, Great Britain and Holland, partook of farinaceous articles of food-such as rolled oats in the form of porridge every morning. Those nations which followed American customs with regard to food ate wheaten products, such as shredded wheat, corn flakes, etc., in milk each morning. Then came the farinaceous addition to the midday meal in the form of macaroni (especially in the case of Italy and Chile) and spaghetti which was eaten either with the midday or the evening meal (most frequently in the case of Italy and France). The Czechoslovakian team particularly favoured noodles. — Besides Japan, whose consumption amounted to one pound per person per day, rice was particularly favoured by Chile, China, France and Jugoslavia.
The North-European nations ate black bread and the others white bread. Sweden required a daily ration of 150 grammes of rusks for each rower, Approximately 100 to 150 grammes of butter was consumed with the bread. The phosphates and cholesterines of egg-yolk which increase men’s endurance were usually taken in the morning in the shape of two or three eggs. The heavy athletes also sometimes consumed more eggs during the day together with their steaks, and in the case of the Germans, together with the raw beefsteaks and chopped or minced meat with the addition of chopped or minced liver.
A large, sometimes even a very large part of the explosive matter required by the muscles is consumed by the athlete in the form of sugar. Everything has to be sweet! Most athletes accepted 100 to 150 grammes of sugar. Only the Danes, the Germans, the Japanese, the North Americans, the Norwegians and the Swiss did not attach much importance to it. These peoples usually have large quantities of good honey at their disposal which they consume in “good portions”.
Liquid refreshment ? Milk, an abundance of milk. Most of the athletes require a liter of milk daily, many require more. As much as 2 and a half liters can be drunk, for example, by the Fins, the Dutch, the Icelanders, the Latvians and the Norwegians. The differences between the various nations can be seen in the figures from the national kitchens quoted below from the Official Olympic Report for the year 1936. Taking all these differences into consideration, Schenk has calculated that the average daily consumption amounted to approximately 320 grammes of albumin, 270 grammes of fat, and 850 grammes of starch, which provides a gross calory content of about 7300 calories. This corresponds well with an investigation conducted by Tigerstedt in 1907 into the amounts consumed by American football players, 270 grammes of albumin, 416 grammes of fat and 710 grammes of starch which equals 7885 calories, and the nourishment of Swedish wood cutters, 167 grammes of albumin, 350 grammes of fat, 870 grammes of starch which equals 7487 calories. Schenk hence comes to the conclusion that meat or muscle forming albumin must be of greater importance for the development of energy than had previously been assumed.
A difficulty already presents itself when it comes to comparing the same articles of food in different countries. Milk and meat are not always the same the world over. Milk in Brandenburg has a different nutritive value from the milk in Switzerland, Denmark or Finland, and the same applies to eggs, poultry etc. Animals nurtured in incubators and breeding stations have quite a different value from those reared in the open. The Argentinians came to a perfectly justifiable conclusion, when they decided to bring three and a half tons of meat with them from their pampas to the Olympic Village.
The different food values of the same kinds of nourishment, the different demands of the various kinds of sport, the different climatic conditions, the different national customs, the different types of constitution and personal idiosyncrasies all run athwart one another. Let us take milk as an example, which had no place in the diet of the founders’ era, and today, especially under American influence, plays a prominent part. The American boxer, Gene Tunney, regularly drank half a pint of milk after each bout of hard training. He drank this measure, however, slowly in sips during the course of half an hour. The German boxer Schmeling is also a great milk drinker. The Olympic weight-lifting champion (1932), Rudolf Ismayr of Munich, has written a special treatise on the value of milk. Even as a baby, he always wanted a good deal of milk. As a boy between the ages of eleven and fifteen, years which for him coincided with the Great War, he was at least able to drink milk of both cows and goats during the holidays on a farm, and he even tried mare’s milk. At the age of seventeen, he accustomed himself to drinking three and a half pints of milk daily. During his apprenticeship he ate for his lunch first of all about a pint of sour milk with bread, rolls and biscuits and followed it by about a pint of fresh milk. In the evenings, he ate vegetables or gruel, sometimes abstaining from meat for weeks at a time. With this nourishment, he developed into an athlete of tremendous strength. The sporting diet of the Finns in the same way as the Finnish national diet lays great stress upon the drinking of milk. The average daily consumption of almost two and a half pints of milk which is the norm for the Finns is considerably increased by their athletes. The latter also like to dissolve a table spoon full of honey in a glass of milk and drink this before going to bed, in order to ensure undisturbed, deep sleep. Thus, Nurmi was a great milk drinker. His compatriot and successor to the world record, Salminen, also drank large quantities of milk, but for the rest ate the national foods, meat, bread, vegetables and cheese. He did not indulge in alcohol or nicotine. Höckert, another Finnish long distance runner, also confirms this. It es reported of a Finnish Marathon runner, that when he attempted to give up eating meat and to compensate for this by eating more vegetables, potatoes, fruit and bread, the standard of his performances diminished. Professional boxers have the advantage of a long and carefully guarded experience in dieting. Their earnings naturally depend upon a relatively small number of contests which are, however, of decesive importance in their career. The physical danger also makes it essential for them to train carefully for every engagement. We therefore here reproduce the menu of the American heavy weight boxers: on rising, a glass of orange juice, for breakfast at 10.30 a. m., porridge, two soft boiled eggs, three slices of bread lightly spread with butter, a small cup of coffee, a glass of milk. No more food after this until 6 p. m. As their chief meal, steak, mutton cutlets, or other meat cooked on the grill, three or four kinds of vegetables, salad with lemon juice, a cup of tea, no bread, no potatoes, no soups which cause the stomach to swell. A few trifling deviations became known. The welter weight world champion for many years, Jack Briton, who still boxed in his forty-fourth year, used, for example, to eat a number of prunes early each morning. Another American professional boxer, Mike McTique, who also boxed until his forty-second year, enjoyed a glass of genuine Benedictine every day for 15 years. A third drank one and a half pints of ale every day. It is reported of only one professional boxer, the welter weight world’s champion, Jimmy McLarnin, that he was an adherent to a diet of uncooked food and was, moreover, a convinced food reformer. Even he, however, ate meat when he was to take part in contests.
In general, the total quantity of food consumed by heavy weight boxers is kept within moderate limits, a fact which can be deduced from the two meals to which they are limited. Some exceptions are particularly mentioned. Thus Firpo, the “Pampas Bull”, who even went as far as to demonstrate to reporters, ate as hors-d’oeuvre an Argentinian vegetable dish with braised meat, which he followed by roast beef, two or three steaks, across which he cracked a dozen eggs. He subsequently lay down for a few hours, which reminds us of the accounts of the Ancients. The Italian, Riccardo Bertazzolo, is also reported to have caused much amazement by his hunger when he first appeared in America. The dieting rules which in the case of heavy athletes are meant to ensure that the person in question remains in the low weight class which from the athletic point of view is particularly favourable for him, measures which often are quite risky, come under quite a different category.
Food before contests and the consumption of food during great feats of endurance, long distance walks, Marathon runs, mountain climbing and cycling competitions form a subject apart. In the latter case, there is also the question of the packing and transport on the bicycle. It is intended that the foregoing survey of sporting diet throughout the course of the centuries and among the various nations shall stimulate to fresh scientific investigations. It would also repay the trouble to draw up a survey of the totality of questions and their systematic organization. A lively interplay of scientific experiments and athletic experience should throw a further light on this subject. The results would benefit not only sport and its Olympic records, but daily life also.