Roman gladiators, contrary to popular belief, were not heavily muscular but rather carried excess weight. Their diets were predominantly plant-based, much like the majority of the Roman population. Meat was considered a luxury item and not a dietary staple.
Gladiators were often referred to as “hordearii,” or barley men, due to their high-carbohydrate diet, which consisted of grains, legumes, and vegetables. This diet provided them with the necessary energy for their rigorous training and battles while the extra body fat offered some protection against cuts and wounds. Additionally, they consumed a calcium-rich drink made from ashes to fortify their bones and reduce the risk of fractures during combat.