Believe it or not, sports nutrition and exercise have been part of man’s life and his culture since the earliest time. Of course, sports during this time was known as athletics. Earliest forms of athletics, however, were part of man’s basic need for survival, either to gather food or protect his family from physical harm.
To a simple cave man who knows nothing about martial arts, a sturdy bone from his last dinner may serve as a weapon against wild animals. This bone remnant, coupled with some sharpened stone chips from his cave, is used for hunting. Eventually, his regular hunting activities had developed into some form of physical acts, without so much need to hunt.
Athletics was thus born. Athletics eventually developed into a contest of strength, speed, and other skills. Sports would later developed out of this, with the simple contest developing into a more complicated form of physical activity, and with it the need for sustenance, completing the equation of sports nutrition and exercise.
But even during the earliest time, athletics or sports was never a monopoly of the male sex. In the Heraen Games for instance, women raced in honor of the goddess Hera. The Egyptians had their acrobatic gymnastics for their temple related activities. And, of course, the sports dance had evolved from religious related dance performed in every major temple in antiquity.
To the early Greeks however, belongs the honor of elevating the sports into an art form. The Olympic Games is the strongest argument for this. Also, the Greeks, apparently knows that sports nutrition and exercise are two important factors in any physical exercise. Even during this time, the Greeks had special set of foods for their athletes.
Nutrition patterns of the early Greeks
In the Mediterranean world, Greeks particularly, goats is the most common source of meat, and occasionally, beef from sacrificed cattle. Just like in the modern day, milk was also considered as a must for a good meal, especially for the athletes. Sports nutrition and exercise among the early Greeks meant also the inclusion of other source of protein, fish for instance, which the seas of Mediterranean is known for in the ancient times. Poultry was also part of the early Greeks’ diet.
Vegetables and carbohydrates were also considered as important element of sports nutrition and exercise among the ancient people. Even among the soldiers of the Roman Empire, a balance diet is important to maintain their strength, both in the battlefield and during exercise.
Alexander the Great was known to have discovered the nutritional value of onions that from Egypt, he brought some specimens and had these planted and later cultivated in other parts of his empire. The Romans, just like the Greeks, used cabbage not only as food, but also as antidote for their drunken soldiers. Beets, turnips, artichokes, and radishes also form the long list of edible vegetables cultivated and used during this period.
The ancient athlete’s diet
Just like today’s coaches, trainers during the ancient times occupied an exalted place among their people, and also among the athletes themselves. They not only provide exercise regimen for their athletes but also directly involve in the preparation of foods for their charges. Sports nutrition and exercise apparently, is a concept not lost to the early coaches and athletes.
From the foods that consisted the regular diet of the ancient athletes, such as cheese, figs, and meal cakes, the attempt of the ancient trainers to developed special meal for their athletes were apparent.
Though meat was not consumed in large quantities by the athletes during originally, it was observed later that athletes who are given regular dosage of meat for protein source, had more long lasting strength. It was in the fifth century BC, when meat became a craze among the ancient athletes.
During this time, Slymphalos, an Olympic champion in the in the long-distance race, introduced the meat diet to help athletes in their exercises. It was the earliest attempt of a professional athlete to come up with a systematized sports nutrition and exercise. Milo of Croton, won five Olympic awards from 536 to 520 B.C., was reputed to have consumed 9 kilogram of meat during his training period.