The History of Nutrition in Bodybuilding
May 02, 2018
(this article is an excerpt from the book: Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors by Randy Roach)
The sport called bodybuilding demands the extreme 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 wheyconcentrates 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 proteinclaimed 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 in 1958.
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.
steroid use among athletes paralleled the challenge to conservative moral standards that characterized the era of the 1960s. It was a time that seemed ripe for the liberation of one’s desires. Individual freedoms took precedence over the rules, morals and ethics dictated by a long established culture–and by Mother Nature. If the new generation could take mind-altering drugs, it could take body-altering drugs as well. Anabolic (“building-up”) steroids such as testosterone ushered in a new bodybuilding look that was larger and more muscularly pronounced than ever before.
During the early 1960s, the magazines emphasized caution about steroids. They acknowledged the rumors concerning Bill Pearl and others but tried to steer their readers away by stating that the drugs didn’t work, wouldn’t produce what bodybuilders expected, or were outright dangerous. Both Iron Man and Muscle Builder magazines warned of side effects and published articles claiming much better results with high-protein products. But behind the scenes, the athletes knew that they worked. Pearl openly acknowledged that he used them for a final time in 1961 to prepare for the 1961 National Amateur Bodybuilding Association (NABBA) Mr. Universe contest. He stated that the drugs by then were no longer underground but well known to the top bodybuilders.
STEROIDS AND CREAM
Still, most athletes relied on diet for strength-building, and protein occupied a large percentage of that diet. In the early 1960s, Irving Johnson targeted elite bodybuilders with a milk-and-egg protein blend considered far superior to competing products–including an earlier product of his own–based on soy. By the mid 60s, ads for Johnson’s protein blend began appearing in the bodybuilding magazines. At that time he changed his name to Rheo H. Blair. Blair claimed that his protein powder was made from milk and eggs obtained from animals raised on the rich soil of Wisconsin and that the proteins were extracted at very low temperatures. Wary of the difficulty some might have digesting all that protein, he endorsed hydrochloric acid supplements, to be taken with any protein meal. He also sold supplements such as amino acids, liver extract, B-complex and soybro (a combination of wheat germ, rice germ and soy germ oils). In 1966 he introduced a new protein formula which he claimed had a biological value resembling mother’s milk.
Blair promoted his products with skillful salesmanship but he also made an important suggestion that would ensure that his products actually worked–he insisted that his protein be taken with raw cream or half and half. He was smart enough to know that you must replace the fat removed from protein during processing. He also recognized the benefits of raw dairy products. Athletes of the 1960s used a variety of recipes, varying the proportions of Blair’s protein product with raw cream, raw milk and raw egg yolk. Weight-trainer Don Howorth remembers eating 3 dozen eggs, 1 quart raw cream, and 2 pounds ground sirloin along with 2-3 cups of Blair’s protein powder per day.
Blair had a special method for cooking his eggs. He did not cook them in boiling water but recommended cooking many eggs at one time in water maintained at 181 degrees for 31 minutes. The eggs were then left in the water to cool down slowly. Blair claimed that putting the eggs under cold water “shocked” many of the nutrients, rendering them ineffective and that cooking eggs in this fashion preserved much of their nutritional value.
It is interesting to read Perry Rader’s “Reader Roundup” column in his Iron Man magazine during this time. He tries to explain the spectacular gains made by some of the popular bodybuilders who were using Blair’s products. Many of them were eating 6000 to 9000 calories a day in the same fashion as Don Howorth and gaining muscle while maintaining or even trimming their waist size. Rader published Blair’s response in a 1966 issue of Iron Man. Blair claimed that his protein powders, along with all of his other supplements, were formulated in a special manner to metabolize fat more efficiently. He also warned that taking cream with any protein powder other than his own would result in fat accumulation.
But Blair could not help knowing that these dramatic results were not achieved on food and protein powders alone. Bodybuilders knew that they could expect to build muscle consuming 8000 calories per day, but not lose fat at the same time. That required some additional anabolic assistance. Blair knew his guys were taking steroids. Don Howorth readily admitted his past use of Dianabol, but was adamant about the importance of diet along with it. In fact, some bodybuilders were quite open about drugs. When Larry Scott, two-time winner of Mr. Olympia, was asked about his steroid use he said without hesitation, “Sure, doesn’t everyone?” However, the bodybuilding magazines continued the deception that the new, larger physiques were built on powders and supplements. Thus steroid use artificially inflated the already marketable commodities of bodybuilding.
One man who had definition dieting mastered and who never used drugs was the Iron Guru Vince Gironda. Pioneer of a technique involving intense abbreviated training routines rather than long workouts, Gironda began competing in the 1950s and then trained both athletes and movie stars for many decades after. So defined was his physique, he often found himself penalized by judges who seemed confused over his appearance. Says Gironda, “The men who judged physique contests at this time were puzzled by so much muscularity. Quotes from physique magazines stated I didn’t place higher in whatever contest because of too much muscularity. They thought that this type of cut-up physique was slightly repugnant so I lost most muscular titles to smoother men who had that type of definition for that day.”
Gironda often stated that nutrition was 85-90 percent of bodybuilding. His alternative to drugs was eggs. Like Blair, he advocated up to 36 eggs a day for 6 to 8 weeks to produce muscle buildup. (He also took, among many other supplements, “orchic tissue tablets,” that is, dried testicles.)
He recommended following this “anabolic phase” with a short-term vegetarian diet to “re-alkalize” the body. Similarly he alternated a low-carbohydrate diet with periods of carbohydrate loading. He was careful to point out the difference between natural and refined carbohydrate foods. He presented research data that strongly indicted refined carbohydrates as the real culprit in much of the century’s degenerative disease. His articles went into surprising detail on the biochemical pathways through which sugar did its damage, pointing out the relation between sugar and atherosclerosis, abnormal increases in height and weight and skeletal anomalies.
As for protein, he believed the average American could get along fine with just 45 grams of quality protein a day. However, he insisted that bodybuilders needed over 300 grams daily for several weeks to force the growth process. He believed in quality protein powders and used Blair’s milk-and-egg blend until he came out with his own product. When he used the powders, he blended 1/3 of a cup with a dozen eggs and 12 ounces of raw cream or half &amp; half. He was also big on steak and often ate his meat raw. He recommended germ oils, amino acids, vitamin and mineral supplements, and hydrochloric acid (HCL). He recommended mineral rich sea kelp for its iodine content and dried liver extract for blood building and oxygen capacity boosting. Many bodybuilders used desiccated liver after the early 1950s experiments of Dr. Benjamin Ershoff. Ershoff who conducted the famous liver study wherein rats fed 10 percent desiccated liver swam far longer compared to controls.
In his early years, Blair recommended a very low carbohydrate diet. Later he advocated a diet consisting of 1/3 protein, 1/3 fat and 1/3 carbohydrates to build muscle; then he reversed himself and again urged avoidance of carbohydrate foods. But other bodybuilders included high levels of carbs in their diets. For example, teenage sensation Casey Viator, who became the youngest Mr. America ever at age 19, had his own special peanut butter pudding that consisted of 2 pounds of peanut butter, 1 jar of grape jelly and 3 or 4 bananas. The bananas were optional. This was part of a diet that also included 2 dozen eggs and 2 gallons of raw milk per day. Casey recalls his father not shedding too many tears when he finally moved out.
A columnist in Strength & Health magazine recommended the following carbohydrate-rich concoction for “getting big” along with a diet that allowed unlimited meat and eggs:
A one day supply of Hoffman’s Gain Weight formula (based on soy protein) 2 quarts milk 2 cups skim milk powder 2 raw eggs 4 tablespoons peanut butter ½ brick ice cream 1 banana 4 tablespoons malted milk powder 6 tablespoons corn syrup
By the 1960s, bodybuilders had figured out what they had to do to attain specific goals. Getting lean or “ripped” for a contest required stripping the diet of all carbohydrates, including milk and cream. Milk was a favorite for building muscle, but for losing fat, it contained too much carbohydrate and held water under the skin. Ketogenic diets consisting of meat and water were commonly used to prepare for the shows. During the 1950s, two English researchers–Professor Kekwick and Dr. Pawan–claimed to have isolated a fat-mobilizing substance that showed up in the urine along with ketone bodies after 24 hours on a no-carb diet. In spite of considerable scientific debate, the Ketogenic diet remained a constant in the field of bodybuilding until the 1980s.
Yet it was in the early 70s that the lipid hypothesis began to take hold. The result was a series of diets that emphasized carbohydrates over protein and fats. The pre-game meal of beef was giving way to one of lasagna or spaghetti.
The magazines of 1970 mirrored this confusion. For example, in an issue of Strength & Health, publisher Hoffman praises the African Masai tribe for their reverence of whole milk, while in his other publication, Muscular Development, he recommends skim milk because it is lower in saturated fats. (The vast majority of the nation was now drinking pasteurized milk–long time strength trainer Jim Bryan remembers avoiding raw milk because he was given the impression that it was dangerous.) MuscleMag publisher Bob Kennedy told his readers not to let anyone scare them away from eggs. Frank Zane, Mr. Olympia champion from 1977-79, was still eating the old way with plenty of eggs, lamb, beef, pork, heart, liver, raw milk, protein powder, vegetables, fruit with some potato and brown rice, educating his readers on the misconception of cholesterol and warning against over-consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils. But in Iron Man, Sterri Larson was telling readers that the diet of the bodybuilder was not necessarily one to produce good health. He believed that eggs were the best for both building muscle and losing fat, but that saturated fat and cholesterol could prove hazardous. According to bodybuilder Brian Horton, some of the athletes were now eating chicken and fish instead of beef and eggs.
Meanwhile, by the end of the 1970s, professional bodybuilders were using a number of metabolism-enhancing substances such as amphetamines, Armour (Thyroid), human and animal growth hormone, and multiple steroids (a method referred to as “stacking”). Some of the top pros worked with physicians to monitor their blood parameters as they prepared for their competitions. During the months before an event, these athletes would swallow and inject any substance that would facilitate tremendous muscularity. Very few, if any, bodybuilders could attain such condition without this assistance.
steroid use suffered a setback with the revelation that 1988 Olympic gold medal sprinter Ben Johnson had tested positive for anabolic steroids, which had been banned from use in the Olympic games since 1975. In 1990, the Food and Drug Administration added steroids to the Schedule III list of the Controlled Substance Act. Since then, any athlete seeking to build muscle via anabolic steroids could just as easily find his next workout conducted in a Federal prison gym — and several have, to the dismay of many in the legal, medical and sports arenas.
The ban on steroid use was no surprise to the bodybuilding world since abuse of the drugs, even at the high school level, was well known. Not only was the number of users growing, but so were the dosages and arsenals in professions where size and strength really made the difference.
The magazines were not yet labeling heart disease as a side effect of steroid use. However, by 1970 they were starting to mention the fact that a number of strength athletes were succumbing at their prime. Columnist Bob Brown described his concern over losing friends at an early age to heart disease and wrote an article in Iron Man entitled “Will Weight Training Kill You?” Brown compiled some death statistics on prominent men of the iron game throughout the century and compared them to some mortality stats supplied from an insurance company. He concluded that even though strength trainers were not immune to early death, they fared better than the average American and stood a much better chance at living a longer life.
Others noted the shortened careers of top bodybuilders. The 1967 Mr. America Don Howorth considered a comeback, but stated he knew his body would not do well with what he had to take at that stage of his life. Even the genetically blessed Casey Viator who was a serious contender for the Mr. Olympia title, walked from any more attempts in 1983 knowing that his body had had enough.
NEW DIETARY TRENDS
In the early 1980s, bodybuilders became interested in the glycemic index of carbohydrate foods. A team of researchers at the University of Toronto, led by Dr. David Jenkins, demonstrated that different foods affected blood glucose levels at different rates. They developed the Glycemic Index in which many carbohydrate foods were measured against selected reference foods on how quickly they raised glucose levels.
Many bodybuilders and other athletes used the glycemic index to plan their daily menu and carbohydrate selection. With the insurgence of carbs into the diet, along with a well-established reverence for protein, bodybuilders discovered there wasn’t much room left for fat. In fact, by the end of the decade, many found themselves in a competition for who could get their dietary fat the lowest. Some even attempted a theoretical zero fat diet.
But not everyone was taken in. I interviewed bodybuilder Ron Kosloff who said he didn’t change a thing. “I knew what I saw,” he told me. “My grandparents lived on a farm and ate whole milk, cream, eggs, butter, meat, potatoes and homemade bread. My grandfather often ate 6 eggs a day for years, many of them raw, along with lard sandwiches. He lived to 98 while my grandmother lived to 101. What astounded me most was their farmhand who went by the name of Indian Joe. When I first saw him he looked in his 40s and was incredibly cut and muscular. He looked like Conan. I was shocked when I found out he was well into his 70s. Indian Joe lived to 115 years of age and ate nothing but meat, glands and intestines!” Kosloff had consumed a minimum of 6 eggs daily for the previous 20 years with no ill effects. Ron also noted that bodybuilders like Gironda and Blair were warning him back in the late 60s of the real hazardous fats–hydrogenated oils!
Armand Tanny, now in his 60s, was also writing articles contradicting this new trend. All through the 1980s he wrote articles for Joe Weider’s Muscle and Fitness magazine such as: Caveman Diet (March 1986), Meat and the Bodybuilder (Dec 1986), Good Nutrition and Sex (June 1987), Streamline Meat (Oct 1987), Uncooked Delicacies (Dec 1986), and Those Beefs About Meat (Oct 1985).
In the midst of the cholesterol scare in 1984, Vince Gironda released his book Unleashing The Wild Physique, still recommending 36 eggs a day to produce an anabolic effect. However, he also wrote an article defending carbohydrates and warning of the potential risks of high protein consumption.
PUTTING THOSE CARBS TO WORK
A major trend in the 80s and 90s was the concept of carbohydrate loading, first popularized by Vince Gironda back in the 50s and 60s. “I believe that every 3 to 5 days you need to get a ‘carbohydrate loading meal’ into your body
. . . I feel that carbohydrate is necessary every third or fifth day in order to get the glycogen back into the liver.”
Also back in the 1960s, cyclists were using a technique of loading their muscles with carbohydrates to give themselves an endurance edge. Bodybuilders were also loading their muscles just before a competition to give them a fuller look. Into the 1980s, the competitive bodybuilders had brought it into a science with their knowledge of the hormones vasopressin and aldosterone and how they controlled the sodium/water balance in the body. The challenge was to stand on stage on competition day with as much body fluid sucked into the muscles with the carbohydrates and not under the skin. The effect of this technique was so dramatic that hit or missed timing could represent a victory or looking terrible for bodybuilding standards. Often bodybuilders would be banging their heads off the wall one to three days after a big show when all the fluids would shift into the right places–too late!
Similar diets followed including Cyclical Ketogenic Dieting (CKD) variously known as the “Ultimate Diet,” the “High-Fat Diet,” the “Anabolic Diet,” “Bodyopus,” the “Metabolic Diet,” “Anabolic Solution,” and the “Ultimate Diet 2.0.”
THE SUPPLEMENT BOOM
Amino acids in their many forms (peptide-bonded, free-form, branch chained, L-crystalline) were popular in the 80s, based on the notion that certain isolated amino acids could stimulate the pituitary gland to release growth hormone. Claims that the free-form amino acids arginine and ornithine could help bodybuilders lose fat and gain muscle actually led to a world-wide shortage of arginine and ornithine. I remember contributing to that shortage. Others touted the amino acid lysine as a growth hormone releaser. Lysine is plentiful in milk, which is what bodybuilders used in the days before amino acid supplements.
soy protein powder made a big comeback in the 1990s with enough market hype to force the bodybuilding community to take another look. However, soy has never been accepted as a quality protein by the bodybuilders who knew anything about protein. Blair dumped it decades ago for the higher quality from milk and eggs. Vince Gironda simply referred to soy as “that shit!”
Carbohydrate loading was made easier with drinks like CarboPlex, containing maltodextrin. Other products contained medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) derived from coconut oil, to provide energy while bypassing the normal fat-assimilating channels in the body.
It was almost impossible to keep up with the new ergogenic and anabolic aids promoted in the magazines. They had bizarre names like Gamma Oryzanal, Osterolwere, Dibencozide and Inosine. A product called Metabolol containing glucose polymers, MCTs and various ergogenic agents became popular. Completing products–with names like “Ultimate Orange” and “Hot Stuff”–were promoted with clever and outlandish marketing tactics.
MORE ANABOLIC AIDS
During the 1980s, the world of competitive bodybuilding could be summed up in one name–Lee Haney. Haney ruled the Mr. Olympia competition from 1984 to 1991. He was followed by Dorian Yates, winner for six straight years and then Ron Coleman who is the reigning Mr. Olympia in 2004. These two men ushered in a big jump in size and hardness. To put the size in perspective, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge athlete back in the 70s competing at 235 pounds at 6 feet 2 inches. In the 2003 Mr. Olympia contest, Ron Coleman stood under 6 feet and weighed 287 pounds–and he was even leaner than Schwarzenegger!
Were these men better bodybuilders than Schwarzenegger and Haney? Not necessarily, just more daring chemists. Two very anabolic compounds had muscled their way to prominence in the pro ranks in a much bigger way than ever before. These compounds were insulin and growth hormone. Bodybuilders were using natural growth hormone from human cadavers and rhesus monkeys back in the 1970s. However, with the introduction of recombinant Human Growth Hormone in 1985, this product became more widely available. Another anabolic compound was creatine monohydrate, a muscle-hydrating substance. whey protein came into prominence. Bodybuilders will ingest just about anything in the quest to build muscles–powders, pills, raw meat, blood, glands, and a whole assortment of esoteric concoctions that have been slam-dunked for the sake of the gain.
Until the end of the 1980s, athletes sat on two distinct sides of the line–those who took steroids and those who did not. As Nelson Montana once stated, “steroids do what all bodybuilders want –they build muscle!” That distinct line became blurred in the 1990s with the fall of the Berlin wall and the introduction of Eastern Block performance enhancing compounds known as “pro-hormones.” In the mid-1990s, supplements of Androstenedione, Androstenediol, Norandrostenedione, Norandrostenediol and DHEA appeared in the magazines. Originally deemed safe alternatives to steroids, the same side effects that manifested with steroids soon became apparent–male pattern baldness, prostrate enlargement, acne, reduced libido, liver and kidney toxicity, and–every bodybuilder’s favorite–gynecomastia (bitch tits).
As more side effects revealed themselves, more precursors (pro-hormones) came on the scene to replace their predecessors. Baseball’s Mark McGuire helped the market in a big way. Bodybuilders started stacking these hormones like regular anabolic steroids along with estrogen blockers, growth hormone enhancers, cortisone inhibitors, stimulators (ephedra), creatine, protein powders and, if there was any cash left, perhaps some vitamins. The recommended diet today is high-carb, high-protein, and low in fat–skim milk, egg whites, protein powders. . . anything but real whole foods. It’s no surprise that early natural bodybuilders, such as LaLanne, Tanny, Gironda and Grimek, enjoyed good longevity in the sport while the health of today’s muscle stars is a huge question mark. As five-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl recently remarked: “The guy left standing on the stage today at the end of a bodybuilding show is probably the guy in the arena who is closest to death.”
It’s unfortunate that today’s young athletes who have that genetic potential to excel in bodybuilding really have no choice but to go down that pharmaceutical road if they want to achieve top honors at the shows. A friend of mine and long time gym owner Marty Hodgson stated to me, “We must remember it was in fact drugs that played a significant role in building those comic book characteristics that attracted us to the sport over the past 40 years. But those very substances that help make the sport are the same ones that are, with no doubt, destroying it.”
About the Author
Bodybuilder and trainer Randy Roach has followed most of the bodybuilding diet trends over the past 30 years including methods not so embraced in bodybuilding circles, such as complete vegan vegetarianism. During his protein-drink phase he ate egg whites and discarded the yolks. He has discovered that too many carbohydrates give him all sorts of problems. Over the past 3 years he has migrated to a total raw diet. This includes raw meat, dairy, eggs (especially the yolks), honey, green juices, and some fruits with their seeds. Food for a typical day includes 1/4-1/2 pound raw chicken,1/2 pound raw beef, 1/4 pound raw liver, 16- 32 ounces of raw milk, 2-3 ounces raw cream, 6-8 tablespoons raw honey, 32 ounces raw green juice (celery, parsley, lemon, zucchini, honey, beets) and occasional fruit.
This article is excerpted from his forthcoming book Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors
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