Gladiators were the sports heroes of the ancient world. A new analysis of the bones of Roman gladiators suggests they ate a mostly-vegetarian, grain-heavy diet, along with a sort of sports drink made of ashes.

Ew, ashes? Study leader Dr. Fabian Kanz, a professor in the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, explains,

“Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing. Things were similar then to what we do today—we take magnesium and calcium (in the form of effervescent tablets, for example) following physical exertion.”

For the study, Kanz and his team analyzed the collagen and mineral content in bone samples from the remains of 53 men and women. The bones examined were from a gladiator cemetery uncovered in 1993, which dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century BC in the then Roman city of Ephesos (now in modern-day Turkey).

The Roman gladiators of yesteryear probably weren’t aware that vegetarian men tend to have lower sperm counts than non vegetarians. Maybe the minerals in the ash tonic helped with that? Whatever, ignorance is bliss.gladiator-thumbs-down

[via PLOS one, Medical University of Vienna]