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Splendid Specimens: The History of Nutrition in Bodybuilding
Splendid Specimens: The History of Nutrition in Bodybuilding
Splendid Specimens: The History of Nutrition in Bodybuilding
By Randy Roach
The sport called bodybuilding demands the ex-treme in body presentation. No other athletic endeavor requires such high levels of regimentation for muscle development and body fat reduction. To outsiders, such efforts may appear vain and self-centered, even looming out there on the lunatic fringe. Nevertheless, the sport has had considerable influence on other fields of athletics, not to mention the general public.
We must remember that the men (and women) who sweat it out in the gym year after year were using the low-carbohydrate diet long before Dr. Atkins made it popular. Many other dietary strategies of today such as all-raw diets, protein supplementation, eating multiple small meals a day, carbohydrate loading, meal replacement packages and macro-nutrient balancing all derived their initial popularity from the bodybuilding field.
Credit for the Physical Culture movement in North America, the precursor to the bodybuilding movement, goes to Bernarr Macfadden, an extraordinary entrepreneur who published physical culture magazines, organized physique competitions, wrote 150 books and accumulated millions in the publishing industry. Macfadden preached clean living and whole natural foods. He ate vast quantities of raw carrots, beet juice, fruits, dates, raisins, grains and nuts. He abstained from meat but recommended copious amounts of raw milk. In fact he even recommended an exclusive raw milk diet for extended periods.
The dominant star of the early years was Eugen Sandow, whose career spanned the late 1890s and the early part of the 20th century. He did not display the typical burly brute image, but a finely chiseled body, resembling those of Roman and Greek athletes. With the help of Florenz Ziegfeld, he marketed and displayed his physique in artistic fashion. In fact, it was through this artistic expression that Sandow inspired Macfadden in the mid 1890s. In an 1894 interview on his dietary habits, Sandow claimed to abstain from hard liquor, coffee and tea, but consumed the occasional beer. He ate mostly wholesome foods, but indulged at selected opportunities. Sandow, along with most of the other Physical Culturists of his day, placed more emphasis on the mechanical aspects of diet as opposed to the chemical. He believed in doing what was necessary to facilitate good digestion, including eating at regular intervals, selecting simple foods, applying thorough mastication, eating slowly and tying it all together with a good night’s sleep. He was critical of over-indulgence and recommended foods with a high nutrient value, although he admitted to eating what he wanted, when he wanted, and however much he wanted during his younger years.
Earle Liederman, author and friend of Sandow, also advocated whole natural foods. Liederman pointed out the importance of a strong digestive system enhanced by proper food mastication for men of strength and large appetites. He described the popularity of "beef juice" or "beef extract" for rapid muscle recovery. Liederman also felt obliged to mention that ice cream was very popular, referring to one lifter who often felt it necessary to finish his meals with a quart of vanilla ice cream.
Arthur Saxon of the famous Saxon brothers trio and a contemporary of Eugen Sandow, also recommended nutrient-dense foods for endurance athletes. He warned against the dangers of hard liquor, but condoned beer. In fact, Saxon had a reputation for hefty beer drinking as did many men of strength of the time. He warned against smoking while admitting to being a smoker himself. For gaining muscle, Saxon recommended milk mixed with raw egg after a workout, milk with oatmeal, cheese, beans, peas, and meat. He called milk the perfect food.
According to his brother Kurt, all three of the Saxon brothers had very hardy appetites. Along with his participation in the strength act, Kurt was also the trio’s chef. Kurt’s list of food consumed by the three brothers each day indicates substantial daily intake, with little self-denial. Milk is largely absent from Kurt’s menus.
RAW VERSUS COOKED
A debate that has been on-going since the early days of Physical Culture is the relative virtues of raw food versus cooked. Sandow referred to the eating of raw eggs and under-cooked meats as nonsense and a practice that was "passing away."
In the raw food corner was champion wrestler George Hackenschmidt, the "Russian Lion," a man rivaling Sandow’s strength, and surpassing him in athletic ability. Like Sandow, he was small by today’s standards, standing just under 5’10" and weighing about 200 pounds. However, he was enormously strong. Both a gentleman and sportsman, George Hackenschmidt reflected a spiritually conservative philosophy towards nutrition. In his book The Way to Life, he stated:
"I believe I am right in asserting that our creator has provided food and nutriment for every being for its own advantage. Man is born without frying-pan or stewpot. The purest natural food for human beings would, therefore, be fresh, uncooked food and nuts." He stated that a diet of three quarters vegetable food and one quarter meat would appear to be most satisfactory for the people of central Europe but conceded a hardy appetite which, in his early training years, was based on 11 pints of milk per day, presumably raw, along with the rest of his diet. A prophet before his time, he warned about the dangers of refined sugar and meat from artificially fed and confined animals. He believed that most people ate too much flesh food from these improperly raised animals and encouraged more emphasis on natural raw foods.
The early bodybuilders also debated the pros and cons of vegetarianism. Macfadden and Hackenschmidt inclined towards diets that excluded meat, or that at least derived a preponderence of calories from plant foods. Juicing was popular among some. In his book Remembering Muscle Beach, Harold Zinkin describes fellow beach comrade Relna Brewer. At 17, Brewer worked in one of California’s first health food stores, located in Santa Monica. Relna’s job was to run the juice press. Because the owners of the store could not afford to pay much, Relna took out her pay in the celery, watermelon, orange and carrot juice she made each day.
Jack Lalanne was probably one of Relna’s customers. Jack began his carreer as a vegetarian, bringing his own food, such as apple or carrot juice and vegetables, to train at the beach during the 1930s. However, Lalanne later ate meat when focussed on bodybuilding. In fact, Armand Tanny says that Jack would visit the local stockyards to acquire cow’s blood to drink while in training. Later Lalanne reverted back to his vegetarian ways, but allowing some fish and eggs.
Lalanne opened one of the first health studios in Oakland in 1936. A colleague writes that Lalanne would work 14 hours a day then drive through the night 400 miles so he could be with the gang at Muscle Beach to participate in all the activities. When it came to pure energy and vitality, Lalanne was, and at 90 today, still is unbridled.
Another vegetarian was Lionel Strongfort who promoted a system of raw foods based on fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk. He recommended very little meat and cooked fat. Strongfort suggested eating only two meals a day, a strategy shared by Macfadden that would re-emerge in the 60s and 70s. Strongfort and Macfadden both advised against overconsumption of food. They claimed overconsumption created a negative stress on the body’s systems, sensible advice that bodybuilding publications would ignore in the coming years.
Perhaps the most accepted food across all the early eating models for bodybuilders was milk. One of the most popular protocols for building size and strength was the combination of back squatting and drinking large quantities of milk. Joseph Curtis Hise was a pioneer of this system in the 1930s and after 70 years this strategy is still going strong in the drug-free world of bodybuilding.
Another Physical Culturalist who advised against over-consumption was Tony Sansone, but Sansone understood the importance of flesh foods, including animal fats and organ meats. He wrote extensively on nutrition for bodybuilders and recommended nutrient-dense "foundation" foods such as milk, eggs, butter, meat, vegetables, fruits, and some whole grains, in that order. He also stressed the importance of organ meats such as liver, kidney, heart and cod liver oil and recognized the need to drink whole raw milk instead of pasteurized and skimmed. He believed goats milk was more nutritious and easily digested than cows milk. Fresh butter and cream were his preferred fats. He also recommended six to eight glasses of water per day.
Tony Sansone wisely stressed the importance of generous amounts of fat in the diet to allow the complete utilization of nitrogenous (protein) foods in building muscle tissue--a fundamental and important fact that would be lost as the era of protein supplements took hold. He also knew that weight loss was not a matter of simple calorie counting, as cellular uptake or utilization of food varied on an individual basis. In anticipation of Dr. Atkins, Sansone recommended his foundation foods of milk, eggs, meat, vegetables and fruit for strength and health, and starchy foods as weight manipulators. His recipe for gaining weight was to add more high-carbohydrate foods such as bread and potatoes to the diet, and for losing weight to simply reduce or remove them. Tony Sansone’s caveat to lose no more than two pounds of fat per week is still the standard used in bodybuilding today.
Muscle Beach got its start in the 1930s as the meeting place of young athletes who lifted weights, built human pyramids, tumbled, juggled and engaged in any other athletic endeavor they could think of. That era gave us many recognizable names such as Harold Zinkin (creator of the Universal weight machine), Joe Gold (creator of Golds Gym), Jack Lalanne, Harry Smith, and the Tanny brothers, Armand and Vic (who created a popular gymnasium chain). In fact, it is safe to say that much of the fitness industry grew out of Muscle Beach--gyms, gym chains, TV exercise programs, fitness equipment, women lifting weights, even aspects of the natural organic food movement stemmed from this small stretch of sand.
According to Harry Smith, long-time gym owner, ex-pro wrestler and Muscle Beach alumnus, body builders didn’t think much about specialty food or supplements in those days. The emphasis was on training rather than eating and resting. Harry did state that many of them tried to keep their eating clean, and that on a number of occasions they would frequent a small deli about one-half block from the beach. The deli offered freshly ground beef to which some of the guys would mix some raw onions and a little salt and pepper. The meat was eaten raw along with raw milk. Harry said it was a cheap and easy way to eat hardy and keep out of the restaurants.
One important Muscle Beach raw food enthusiast was Armand Tanny. Originally a weightlifter, Armand had a fantastic physique and the strength to qualify him for the wrestling circuit. He visited the Hawaiian Islands just after the Second World War and came away with a lasting impression of the Samoans. "They ate everything raw," he noted. "You name it, fish, meat, beetles--everything! They were so strong and healthy." On his return to the US, he became interested in the work of Weston A. Price, stating that Price’s book Nutrition And Physical Degeneration served as his Bible.
In 1948 he shut off his stove and ate just about everything raw from then on--tuna, beef, liver, lobster, oysters, clams, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Armand recalls wading out into the surf along the Santa Monica Pier and using his feet to kick up 6- to 7-inch Pismo clams, smashing them together to get at the pink and white flesh. Armand also took brewer’s yeast, desiccated liver, yogurt, black strap molasses and wheat germ oil, all recommendations of Gaylord Hauser, a nutritional guru of the era. Hauser also recommended fish liver oil, but Tanny felt he was getting plenty from all the raw fish he was consuming.
Armand credited his 1950 Mr. USA and the Pro Mr. America titles to his raw meat diet. In the 1950s, he helped his brother Vic in the gym business and appeared in a Mae West act. His bodybuilding articles appeared prominently in bodybuilding publications for the remainder of the century, thus providing a link to Weston Price during the decade of the 50s.
BULKING UP WITH JOHN GRIMEK
The biggest influence on bodybuilding in the 1930s and 1940s was John Grimek, the second American Athletics Union (AAU) Mr. America and the first to win back-to-back titles, in 1940 and 1941. Many commentators believe that Grimek represents the beginning of modern bodybuilding as we know it today, describing him as the best physique of the mid century.
During the early 1930s, at the start of his career, Grimek came under the influence of Mark Berry, editor of Strength magazine and an advocate of an eating protocol in which an athlete would bulk up in bodyweight and then train it off. At one point, Berry had Grimek beef up his 5’ 8" frame to 250 pounds. The practice would become commonplace by the 1950s and maintain a foothold for several decades after.
Grimek bulked up on whatever was put in front of him, reports his wife Angela in a 1956 Health and Strength article entitled "Life with John." "John has an enormous appetite. . . John has yet to find a restaurant that can do justice to his appetite. . . . Sometimes he goes on a restricted diet--and it is surprising how little he can get by on then. But when he goes all out, he can never be filled. . . . but the ‘hog’ (our pet name for John) just eats and eats and still remains trim and muscular."
By the 1950s, Grimek’s diet included Hershey chocolate bars and hi-protein tablets manufactured and promoted by Bob Hoffman, publisher of Strength and Health, a magazine that provided a platform for Grimek along with the new-fangled supplements coming on the market. Hoffman used Hershey chocolate in his products, so Grimek and the rest of the York gang had easy access to some empty calories.
PROTEIN POWDERS AND SUPPLEMENTS
In the late 1930s a young pharmacist named Eugene Schiff developed a method of processing whey from milk for human consumption. He created Schiff Bio-Foods, a whey packaging company. This was a half century before whey concentrates would emerge as a popular supplement in the bodybuilding scene. For a short time he sold his packaged whey to local drug stores, then sold his own store to enter into the manufacturing and packaging of health foods.
Schiff focused on supplements made from natural products. He began to experiment with whole foods such as brewer’s yeast, wheat germ and liver. He found that these foods were naturally rich in vitamins and minerals. The Schiff company claims that he was first to discover that rose hips was a superior source of vitamin C. Along with the first rose hip vitamin C supplement, he also launched one of the first multi-vitamin products, called "V-Complete."
The demand during World War II for non-perishable foods allowed the food industry to expand and popularize the market for powdered or dehydrated foods and bodybuilders would eventually find their way into this market. Powdered milk and eggs, and later powdered soy protein, were promoted as an easy way to get additional protein into the diet. Breakfast drinks based on a protein powder emerged into the diet of the legendary Steve Reeves who years later wrote about this practice in his book Building The Classic Physique. Reeves’ impressive natural physique landed him starring roles in the films Hercules and Hercules Unchained in the late 1950s and inspired thousands of young men to adopt weight training. His recipe for a breakfast drink included fresh orange juice, Knox gelatin, honey, banana, raw eggs and a blend of skim milk, egg white and soy protein.
The first protein powders "tailored" specifically for athletes appeared around 1950. One of these was called 44, "The Supplemental Food Beverage," produced in California by a company called Kevo Products. The principle ingredient was dehydrated powdered whole soy beans, along with kelp, wheat germ, dextrose, and various dehydrated plants, herbs and flavorings. The supplement was sold at health food stores, body-building studios, and health institutes.
Another popular product was Hi-Protein, "a protein food supplement derived from soya flour, milk proteins, and wheat. The free amino acids which include natural tryptophan and the other natural essential amino acids where produced by an acid hydrolysis." The product was developed by bodybuilder and nutrition guru Irvin Johnson with before and after photographs of weaklings turned musclemen. Bob Hoffman quickly capitalized on Johnson’s success by following immediately with his own soy-based product marketed heavily in Strength and Health. Hoffman’s infamous protein claimed many a victim with hives or gym-clearing gas.
The debates on raw versus cooked and vegetarianism versus meat eating that appeared in bodybuilding magazines during the 1940s gave way to numerous articles on protein supplements in the 1950s, including "Building Biceps Faster With Food Supplements (Iron Man, December 1950," "More and Better Protein Will Keep you Well (Strength & Health, March 1953)," "The Magical Power Of Protein (Mr. America, February 1958)," "Food Supplements Build Rock Hard Definition (Muscle Builder, June 1958)" and "Everyone Needs More Protein (Strength & Health, July 1959).
Meal replacement products also appeared during the 1950s, with much hype. One product, called B-FIT, was recommended as a replacement for two or three regular meals per day. According to its promoters, B-FIT "is scientifically formulated to contain all the needed vitamins and minerals, plus ample supplies of the effective proteins and yet is so low in calories that the fatty tissue literally melts away. . . . You will not suffer from any nutritional deficiencies because B-FIT is a complete food insofar as scientific experiment and research is possible to develop. Approved by dieticians."
Advocates for new diet theories--food combining, alkaline-forming diets, even strict vegetarianism--promoted their ideas throughout the 1950s, but the big emphasis was on protein powders and supplements. For the 1954 world weightlifting championships, team coach Bob Hoffman hauled more than 100 pounds of his Hi Protein powder to Vienna, hailing it as the "secret weapon" for his athletes. But Russia, whose athletes finished no lower than second place, had a secret weapon of their own.
THE SECRET WEAPON
It was John Ziegler, a doctor accompanying the American team to Vienna, who exposed just what this Soviet weapon was. Ziegler claimed that after a few drinks, a Russian doctor told him that the Soviet athletes were using--and abusing--testosterone. Ziegler was no stranger to testosterone. With his background in rehabilitation therapy and his connection with CIBA Pharmaceuticals, he was already experimenting with testosterone on himself, his patients and some novice athletes. In fact, author and historian John Fair writes that even the great John Grimek was cooperating with Ziegler and trying his drugs in the summer of 1954. Grimek reported disappointing results.
Both American and German research scientists had identified testosterone and noted its effects as far back as the mid 1930s. CIBA Pharmaceuticals was already targeting bodybuilders with ads for synthetic testosterone in 1947. With Ziegler’s help, CIBA manufactured the most popular anabolic steroid of the 20th century. The drug was Dianabol, which came out in1958.
The acceptance of steroid drugs among bodybuilders got off to a slow start. Drinking a gallon of milk or swallowing 2000 protein pills seemed more logical to them than taking a tiny pill to do the job. Even those who did take them were slow in accepting or acknowledging the fact that it was the steroids that were giving them such tremendous gains in muscle mass.
Out on the West Coast, bodybuilding great Bill Pearl was also curious as to what the Russians were doing, so he took it upon himself to do his own research. During a visit to the University of California at Davis in 1958, he learned from a veterinarian about the successful use of steroids in beefing up cattle. Bill figured that if it was good enough for a bull, then it was good enough for him. While continuing to train hard, he took 30 mg of the steroid drug Nilevar (three times the recommended dose for humans, but an absolute joke by today’s practices) for 12 weeks and brought his bodyweight up from 225 to 250 pounds.
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