Increased Muscular Power Resulting From A Suitable Diet

WE have already referred to the astonishing feats of the Congo negroes, and would like to cite here the almost unbelievable achievement of 30 oarsmen who rowed the boat of the Commissary-general of the Congo army, Captain Meulemeester, on the torrential Eau Blanche, a tributary of the Congo, for thirty-six hours, day and night, and this when rowing upstream. As food they had only a very young kid standing about thirty centimeters high ; they ate this with the skin—after burning off the hair—including even the eyes. (As we have previously stated, these wild tribes are vegetarians by compulsion; when they do occasionally get an animal as food, they eat it with the skin and entrails.) During the thirty-six-hour journey no habitations were to be seen any-where, so that the men were obliged to manage with this very limited quantity of food. Among some other strictly vegetarian peoples we also find examples of untiring capacity for work, as, for instance, in an Indian tribe the members of which carry tourists to the top of the Himalaya mountains, an ascent of 17,000 feet, in three and one-half hours. Their food is exclusively vegetarian. They live upon dates, rice, chapiti (a food made with “gram”), and a small amount of a kind of cooked butter (ghee). These people are so thin that they are truly “skin and bones,” but are so indefatigable on the march that they allow themselves but a very short time for the absorption of their scanty rations of vegetable food. Notwithstanding the cold in the high mountain regions, these people go about entirely naked, save for a cloth tied about their loins.

We must not believe, however, that this untiring and unusual muscular activity is the result of peculiarities of race or climate, for very much the same thing may be observed among Caucasians. It is an undisputed fact that vegetarians are always ahead in any athletic feats where success depends upon the powers of endurance. In bodily exertions where great strength is required, as in the lifting of heavy weights, etc., this is, however, not the case; nor would I be able to under-stand how this could be possible with their sparing albuminous diet. For such work very powerful muscles are required ; since these are built up of albumin, large quantities of the latter would have to be absorbed, and with a strictly vegetarian diet this is impossible. An animal which absorbs plenty of albumin, the lion, for instance, can jump over a hedge with a two-year-old ox in its mouth, but is unable to carry it very far. An ox would not be able to accomplish such a single feat of great strength, but it could drag a much heavier load for a consider-able distance. In other words, a sudden and single effort of strength and energy is best accomplished when albuminous food is being taken, while untiring endurance results from vegetable food having a great carbohydrate content, which builds up muscles such as can be best observed in severe cases of diabetes. On the other hand, muscular fatigue, as has been shown by Mosso, can be counteracted by the ingestion of sugar. When a horse is very much fatigued after a long journey it is greatly refreshed and invigorated by sugar. As was shown by Van t’Hoff, the breast muscles of pigeons contain more glycogen than the liver. This substance thus occurs in the largest amounts precisely where it is chiefly required, i.e., in the muscles used in flying. During the act of flying the quantity of glycogen in the breast muscles is diminished. Moreover, it becomes evident, from the results of a series of careful experiments by Pettenkofer and Voit, that muscular effort does not of itself cause a loss in albumin, but that the contraction takes place at the expense of the fats and carbohydrates, as was also shown by Fick and Wislicenus. Consequently, when work is being performed fats and carbohydrates in quantities amply proportionate to the labor to be accomplished must be taken in combination with a sufficient quantity of albumin, as the work is principally performed at the expense of these substances; otherwise, the albumin content in the body will be impaired and emaciation occur. When plenty of fat and carbohydrate is present, the albumin is saved and the work accomplished in part by means of the other substances. In the food of the negro tribes above mentioned the carbohydrates are well rep-resented in the form of bananas, sweet potatoes, and manioc. The wonderful feats accomplished by these men are to be thus accounted for. A negro carrier of the Zacongo tribe is able, for instance, to carry a load of about 37 kilos for eight hours, then to climb a mountain 300 meters high still carrying the load, and after a rest of one hour take the load up again and go on. In animals—horses–the same facts may be observed. A horse fed upon plenty of oats will get very tired after having run very quickly for several kilometers, while the Hungarian horses, fed upon much hay and very little oats, and which often do not stand much higher than a large dog, can proceed unceasingly for many hours. An ox gets food similarly poor in albumin, viz., hay, etc., and draws a heavy load for great distances. Just as animals require various foods according to the work they are expected to do,—the heavily worked horses in the mines in the vicinity of Sheffield are fed upon horse-beans, oats, and corn in considerable quantities,—so also with man the amount and nature of the work to be accomplished should be considered in determining his diet.