The training diet of the founders’ era, each time it was adopted by young sporting nations, came into conflict with their habits. The life experience of the people under the influences of landscape and climate is reflected in the nature of its food. A fundamental opposition, quite independent of geographical conditions, also arose, however, from the reforms in the way of living which set in around the beginning of the century and resulted in revolutions with regard to clothing, food, drinking habits and conduct. The fact may perhaps be remembered that the winner of the first Marathon race held in Athens in 1896, the Greek, Luis, caused his friends to distribute wine along the course so that he could quench his thirst. At that time the principle was already being established in many other countries, that alcohol in any form had an undesirable effect on any athletic performance and that, finally, a glas of champagne was permitted only in such cases as, for example, hurdling, where the runner’s nervousness in face of the extremely strenuous exertion had to be calmed down. The prohibition of the use of narcotics which was championed by the youth movement and by sport was closely and obviously connected by its very nature with the other strivings towards rejuvenation: Less stuffy clothing, sun-bathing, regular exercise and as has already been stated, "lighter" food. Even if vegetarianism did not give rise to any new law governing diet in Europe, it at least has the great merit of having paved the way for new outlooks. One of its chief methods of propaganda was reference to the athletic successes of its adherents.
Vegetarians were able to point to amazing performances in every quarter of the globe and under all climatic conditions. Participators in feats of endurance particularly favoured a meatless diet. The two winners of the first great endurance walk in 1893 from Berlin to Vienna, a distance of 368 miles, Elsässer and Peitz, were vegetarians. The first six in the endurance walk from Dresden to Berlin in 1902, a distance of 126 miles, were vegetarians. Of the 29 competitors who in 1907 took part in the endurance walk “‘All round Berlin”, a distance of 128 miles, 14 were meat-eaters and 15 were vegetarians. Only six walkers completed the course on that burning hot day, of whom one was a meat-eater and five were vegetarians. The first four were vegetarians.
In the 18 pack marches over a distance of 31 miles which took place between 1905 and 19 13 in Berlin, Dresden and Plauen, the victors were exclusively adherents of the meatless diet, although only 9% of those participating did not eat meat. During the great endurance walks between 1905 and 1907, one quarter of those taking part were vegetarians. Two thirds of these completed the course whilst only 15% of the others held out to the end. The vegetarians occupied the best places and were also in good form after the exertion.
I particularly remember among these victorious vegetarians two outstanding endurance walkers: one of them was the winner of the walk from Berlin to Dresden and “All round Berlin”, Karl Mann, and the other was the winner of innumerable pack marches, competition endurance walks, long distance skiing contests and paddle-boat journeys, Emmerich Rath of Prague. Neither of these was in any way a thin man, as is often the case with vegetarians. On the contrary, they were stocky and athletic and Rath particularly had especially strong bones and tremendous muscular development, a true Hercules. Both inclined towards an ascetic form of life which, as far as Rath is concerned, with whom I have kept in contactuntil now, has proved efficacious into his fifties and even today enables him to accomplish strenuous performances. Karl Mann covered the distance of 126 miles in 26 hours 58 minutes, Emmerich Rath’s best performance was a pack march of 31 miles with rifle, bayonet, spade, ammunition pouch and pack, the latter weightng 62 and a half pounds, in 6 hours, 16 minutes and 50 seconds.
It was in general, however, the asthenic type which inclined towards feats of endurance. This type also tended towards vegetarianism and performed its feats fanatically and at the cost of tremendous efforts with the object of proving that in spite of a lack of muscular development he was a strong man. In the period before the Great War, the men with thin limbs and undeveloped muscles were regarded as unfit for military service. They were also unsuitable for feats of strength and their desire to demonstrate their worth consequently compelled them to accomplish strenuous performances and they more than all others inclined towards an asceticism, if it were going to help them show their value.
The adherents of a diet of uncooked food provided vegetarianism with its last show of life. Here too, I have been able to make observations on great athletes capable of outstanding performances who took only two meals a day, strictly avoiding breakfast. In the course of the morning, they ate only a certain amount of fresh fruit and their meals consisted for the main part of cereals such as rolled oats, as well as of salads, raw vegetables, root vegetables and herbs. In addition, they partook of olive oil, honey, unrefined sugar, nut butter, jam and milk cheese. The only exception to this strict diet of uncooked food was wholemeal bread or rusks.
The meatless diet also had its scientific supporters. The Danish investigator in food problems, Hindhede, for example, conducted experiments in 1896 with a diet deficient in albumin. He fed himself for six weeks exclusively on new potatoes, a certain amount of butter, strawberries and milk three times a day. He did a great deal of cycling during this time and in spite of this food and his physical exertions, he experienced no loss in weight. He then extended his experiments to the members of his family whom he fed on a minimum of meat, eggs and cheese with the addition of a pint of milk per day. His four children prospered magnificently under this treatment and were even superior to their comrades at games.
This movement led to the recognition of the fact that such a diet which was deficient in albumin permitted of physical performances, more especially of feats of endurance. On the other hand, however, there was no lack of examples to the contrary, and of great feats of endurance by non vegetarians. The 1936 winner of the 31 mile walk, the Englishman, Whitlock, ate meat and drank beef tea, as did also his compatriots, as well as the Americans and Italians.