What Olympians Ate in Ancient Games

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Team USA values nutrition for its athletes so much that it sent sports dietitians to Sochi even before the athletes arrived.

While sports nutrition may seem cutting edge, its roots can actually be traced back to the ancient Olympics.

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In fact, evidence suggests that at the first Olympic games in 776 B.C., an altar was placed at the end of the only event of the Games: the Stadion, or 200-yard sprint. The victor would light the altar for a sacrifice, and the winner would get the best pieces of the meat.

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"It shows the status reserved for Olympic victors," said Charles Stocking, assistant professor of classical studies at the University of Western Ontario.

"Athletes were kind of the rock stars (of the time)," agreed Francine Segan, a food historian and author of "The Philosopher's Kitchen." "They were the pride of their community, and physicians were very interested in supporting the athletes and what they ate."

While there are bits and pieces of evidence about what an athlete’s diet may have consisted of, Stocking said, it’s clear there was a major emphasis on nutrition -- and debate about it. In fact, athletes’ nutrition was considered so important that doctors and athletic trainers appear to have argued about best practices, Stocking said.

"It’s not all that different from today," he said.

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Some evidence points to diets similar to current trends.

"They didn’t speak in terms of carbs, fat and proteins, but the way you translate it is a diet high in protein," Segan said. "They noticed by testing athletes what created the most energy, the leanest muscles and the most endurance."