Did the most successful ancient Olympian eat a full grown bull in a single sitting and was his trainer a devout vegan? What did other ancient Greek athletes eat? The interaction between diet and exercise were of great importance to them, just as it is to us now.
Blog - Lessons from athletics
Socrates reportedly said that, “No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training”. In Ancient Greece, amateurism was closely associated with incompetence. This doesn’t mean you should give up your job if you want to get fit, but try to think and behave like an athlete.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus created Man from clay, moulding and perfecting it. He was also the first being to improve his own body through training. Hermes was the first to train others, teaching them the art of wrestling. The Greek trainer or γυμναστης (gymnastês), following the tradition of these gods, was almost a kind of priest. Today’s personal trainers are surely no less divine.
In Ancient Greece attitudes towards athleticism were mainly based around three broad benefits: civic duty, wisdom and virtue. There were advocates and critics and it is difficult to summarise the opinion of an entire civilisation that spanned a massive area and a millennium. Similarly today, the benefits to health and appearance are well known and widely appreciated but there are many for whom these do not rank as priorities. Some, too, admire or even strive for competitive success and glory in athletics, while others scoff at it.
The Ancient Greeks invented the ideal of athleticism and they were, without doubt, the most athletic civilisation in history. This is not to say that they were necessarily the fittest or healthiest (although they clearly were among them) – athleticism is more than physical capacity but it is a virtuous ideal.