Roman gladiators were glorious combatants. These fighters—slaves and volunteers, men and women alike—were beloved by the masses and a core component of the Roman cultural identity. Though they sometimes (but not always) fought to the death, gladiators were also well looked after—subjected to a rigorous training, fed on a high-energy diet, and given expert medical attention,” says the BBC.
“Modern-day athletes often nurse their muscles with supplement shakes or chocolate milk after a workout. Similarly, gladiators, the sports stars of the Roman Empire, may have guzzled a drink made from the ashes of charred plants — a rich source of calcium, which is essential for building bones, researchers report this month in the journal PLOS One.”
Gladiators were getting more calcium in their diet than regular Romans, says NPR, and the source of this extra bone builder, the scientists hypothesize in their study, was the “frequent use of a plant ash beverage, as mentioned in ancient texts.”
Chemical analyses of the gladiators' bones shows they were getting more calcium than their non-combative countrymen. But whether the source was truly the ash beverage, says NPR, isn't as firm:
"It's entirely possible gladiators were drinking ash drink," she says, "but they haven't proven it." The problem? Dairy doesn't show up in isotopes, so the gladiators could have been chowing down on more cheese and yogurt than the rest of the population."
If it was the ash beverage, though, what would it have been like? As a mixture of vinegar, water and ash it sounds pretty gross. Or maybe not, writes Live Science: “With some good vinegar, the drink might have tasted like refreshing lemonade, Kanz said.”