The Ancient Warrior Diet

As we like to emphasize here with some regularity, the highly processed food grown in nutrient-depleted soil that many of us eat is a far cry from the nutritionally robust, locally grown diet that was the norm prior to the industrialization of the agricultural world. Despite a fairly arid climate, ancient Greek warrior societies like Sparta were incredibly self-sufficient. While the food they consumed was largely simple, it was highly nutritious.

A Diverse Range of Meat and Fish

meat and fish and shellfish

Greeks were both adept hunters as well as heavily invested in raising livestock. As such, the typical Greek diet consisted of plenty of pigs, goat and sheep alongside more gamey meat like wild boar and rabbit. Given their access to the sea, fish constituted a fairly meaningful part of their diets as well (though this could vary on a city-by-city basis). Both the amount and diversity of meat and fish consumed ensured that ancient Greek warriors had plenty of protein and healthy fats that would sustain them through their arduous training schedules, and further ensured they could recover and build the sort of lean, functional muscle and strength they were to become known for the world over. Somewhat interestingly, the kind of red meat that we most commonly associate coming from animals like cow and bison was largely absent.

Different types of meat have more nutritional merit than others, but a long-held belief within the nutritional community is that diversity in the foods we eat is important in optimizing our bodies (unfortunately deep fried food and dessert probably don’t make the cut as it relates to this rule). So if you’ve previously assiduously adhered to a white meat-only diet you may want to try incorporating – in small doses – a little increased diversity.

Spartan Black Broth

steaming black bowl on table

Within the Spartan community in particular, a black viscous soup was considered a staple of the diet. It was believed to be a source of nutrition and a key piece of sustenance. The broth consisted of pigs’ legs, salt, vinegar and blood. No precise recipe remains today, though the recent resurgence in popularity of bone broth in large part for its many positive effects on health and well-being may provide some clues as to why this was viewed as such a fundamental part of the Spartan diet. Bone broth provides gelatin which promotes gut health, glucosamine for joint health, collagen for joints and skin, glycine for mental acuity and a whole medley of minerals which all support strong bones, robust energy and a healthy immune system. It should come as no surprise this would become a staple of the warrior diet.

Some Carbohydrates for Energy

grain closeup

While bread was not a staple of their diet in the same way that protein-rich foods were, there was a fair amount of barley-based bread. This should come as no surprise to anyone exercising a significant amount, as you need to have plenty of glycogen to burn as energy. The bread commonly eaten by ancient Greeks, however, likely differed pretty drastically from what you and I would most commonly associate with bread. It was far coarser and lacked the huge amount of chemicals and preservatives that give modern bread the ability to sit on a shelf for days without mold, all the while tasting fresh and doughy. As such, their bread may have been a good deal less tasty but significantly better processed by the body. Our advice: bread, if active, can absolutely have a place in the diet, but keep it small and be very mindful of exactly what sort of bread you’re eating. There are better sources of carbohydrates than bread that ancient Greeks simply may not have had access to, and we generally advocate for those instead.

And Some Dairy

While it is much reviled by many in Western nutrition, dairy had an important place within Greek diets – it was a key source of fat in a time when people were not constantly eating deep fried food and other artificially fattened livestock and the like. It is easy to see how when we take away the huge amount of artificial sources of fat in our diets, that dairy could actually fill an important nutritional need. Today, however, few of us need even more fat in our diets, and many in the nutrition world are advocating for less dairy intake, and for good reason.

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