Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fitness throughout the ages

According to U. of Leeds exercise physiologist Dr. Harry Rossiter ( New Scientist, 2/8/2007), average Athenians around 500BC were as fit as today's top elite athletes. Using a reconstruction of an ancient trireme, a warship powered with 170 rowers in three tiers, Dr. Rossiter measured the metabolic requirements to drive the replica at published speeds. We have good records of many trips made by such ships. Distances, departure and arrival dates and times, very dependable data.

Dr. Rossiter found the rowers would have been top elite endurance athletes by today's standards. Given that Ancient Athens had up to 200 triremes at any one time, for a total of at least 34,000 individuals, rowers were not some small elite force. 

They were average young citizens. No heart rate monitors, no power meters, no cardio-zones, mesocycles, microcycles, periodization, or what have you. No Powerbars here either. No protein supplements, Gatorade, no GU, no special vitamins or micro-nutrients, just plain old food, water and exercise. Certainly no amphetamines, steroids, EPO or Cera in this crowd.

Dr. Rossiter leaves open the possibility that ancient athletes were genetically better adapted to endurance exercise. If that is so, then we have lost some pretty good genes. I doubt it however. I think those Ancient Greeks just worked hard and worked hard all the time.

This is one of the best documented cases showing that there were fit people throughout history. And a clear indication that no "special" foods, drinks, measuring instruments, etc. are needed for high performance. 

Unfortunately that view is not what sponsors like to hear. It does not sell books, magazines, training plans, gadgets, drinks, bars, gels, vitamins, computrainers, and what have you.

But I can surely attest to the fact that the less you buy into all those gimmicks the better off you will be. And faster too. 

Eat normal food, avoid sugary sweets, listen to your body, add variety and rest when you are tired. It is too simple, isn't it? Makes you wonder where the catch is.

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