American Health: a history of insanity pt 3

Posted on April 19, 2011. Filed under: Nutrition | Tags: , , , , , |

I have to say, my favorite metaphoric car wreck in relation to health is the supplement industry.

I say metaphoric, because there are actually a lot of good thing about it, and I believe a great benefit to the overall health of the planet can come from it.  Equal to the medical industry.  Honestly I do.

Biases up front, this is based on my view-point that there is no such thing as food with drug-based effects, only drugs with food-based effects.  The supplement industry is based on trying to capitalize on this.

First there was Schiff Bio-Foods.  The first company to start selling whey protein.   That’s right, whey protein which was heralded as the “new” big thing in the 90’s had already been marketed 60 years prior.

With World War II came the need for powdered or dehydrated foods.   Bodybuilders and industries catering to this group jumped on the possibilities quickly.

For the record, when I talk about bodybuilders in this case, I am referring to anyone wanting to get bigger stronger and leaner.  This is before results became dramatically affected by pharmaceutical choices.  Not that steroids didn’t exit back then, it just wasn’t as widely used.

Powdered milk and eggs, and later  soy protein, were easy ways for bodybuilders to get additional protein into the diet. In his book Building The Classic Physique,   Steve Reeves attributed his impressive natural physique to the added nutrition of protein powders.   And his  starring roles in the Hercules films of the 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.

Soon with this newly forming industry came the fitness magazine and newsletters popularizing them.  Along with the “super routines” to get results.   See if any of these article titles sound familiar.

  • Building Biceps Faster With Food Supplements (Iron Man, December 1950)
  • The Magical Power Of Protein (Mr. America, February 1958)
  • Food Supplements Build Rock Hard Definition (Muscle Builder, June 1958)

Hmmm, for some reason those titles sound familiar 😉

As the supplements and magazines became more popular, money increased.   As money increased so did the competition, until there were mainly 2 big factions.  Weider and Hoffman.

Joe Weider and Bob Hoffman dominated the supplement industry. And for a time, seemed to control all aspects of bodybuilding merchandising.   Weider saw the potential in promoting “muscle stars,” whereas Hoffman being a professional weightlifting coach, focused more on strength building and weightlifting contests.

Which in all honesty made Hoffman the one with the most credibility as he had definite knowledge and experience.
Unfortunately Hoffman lived in America, where the aesthetic is mot important.
Weider sought out the most  genetically gifted bodybuilders – for example Arnold 🙂 -, placed them under contract with the stipulation that they attribute all their success to the “Weider philosophy.”   Basically this meant that Weider could use their name and put out whatever info he wanted claiming the bodybuilder said it. Those words were most often an endorsement that gave all credit of the bodybuilders success to using Weider products.

This still goes on today where articles “written” by bodybuilders, merely have their name on the title, and is written by a ghost writer.  But I’m getting off track . .

Despite the varying marketing tactics of Weider and Hoffman, their supplement products were pretty much the same.  Mainly because there really wasn’t a lot out there at the time to really market.  They both sold vitamins, desiccated liver tablets, brewers yeast, and other health-related substances  of dubious value.  And possibly safety.
The foundation of their supplement line was protein. They each tried every conceivable way to sell as many versions of the same protein product as possible.   Again see if any of this sounds familiar.

  • A weight gain formula was something to be used in addition to one’s regular meals.
  • A “weight loss” product was used in place of a meal.

Funny thing was it was the exact shake being sold, only the application altered.

Be it pills, powders, or canned drinks (which I hear tasted beyond awful), both Weider and Hoffman used the same source for all of their protein products — soy. It was over 90% protein. It mixed well. It was flavorless…and it was cheap.

On a side note, this is why soy protein is commonly used in many food products today.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  The reason why whey protein came back into vogue as the protein powder of choice is cost.   I kid you not, it originally was a byproduct of cheese production.  It was such a common throwaway back in the day that it was fed to pigs.   Then one day a farmer notices his pigs are getting larger.

And since it was cheap, science was able to do an incredible amount of studies on it and tweak it left and right to make it a very viable commodity if it wasn’t cheap and was expensive instead, none of you would have ever used it, there would have never been one study done on it, nor the incredible marketing done on whey protein   It was dirt cheap, and company’s could make a bundle off it selling it to the public.

If egg white protein was the cost of whey protein all these years, and whey protein was double the price it was, every single bodybuilder and magazine would be using/selling egg white protein, It would be the commonplace protein widespread thru the industry.   But again, I digress.

So as Weider began to take over, there were others who were actually looking at the quality of protein supplements.

OK, so here is how the story goes as far as I know.

Irwin Johnson believed that the first food we ingest to induce growth, mother’s milk, would also encourage more muscle growth in adults. Enzymes found in milk, such as colostrum and lactoferrin, were also thought to have powerful immune system-enhancing properties. He came to the conclusion that cow’s milk did not have the same amino ratios that human milk possessed and set about “manipulating” the amino acid complex by mixing specific amounts of dried whole egg into the whole milk protein. Johnson was also the first supplement manufacturer to understand the importance of hormones in the development of muscle tissue, and he discovered that the fat in milk could increase hormonal production. For this reason, he recommended that his protein be taken with cream. He insisted that no one implementing his program should eat fruit of any kind!

The nutritional authorities at the time scoffed at Johnson’s theories and were convinced that the liberal use of cream would add unwanted fat. As it turned out, Johnson’s clients were losing fat at an alarming rate! What Johnson was advocating was strikingly similar to what is now known as the ketogenic diet. But a similar mainstream version would be the Atkins diet, the Zone diet, and the high-fat diet. Whatever the name, it was a low-carb, high-protein, high-fat strategy for ultimate muscle growth and optimum fat loss — and it worked.

This began another popular trend among bodybuilders.  Getting paid to endorse one product (Weider).  While taking another product in secret (Johnson).

Johnson was an eccentric man and supposedly a believer in the occult. On the advice of his astrologer, he was told that, in order to be successful, he would need to change the amount of letters in his name and add more “R”s.  By the time Johnson was ready to sell his product nationwide, it carried his new name, Rheo H. Blair.

Concerned with 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).

HCl supplements are still sold today.

At this time the ultimate supplement really began to take hold, steroids.

Blair, eccentric as he was, was no fool.  He had to know one of the dramatic results being seen 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.

And apparently, 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.  This is in 1965.

Keep that in mind when someone claims some study involving bodybuilders in the 60’s or 70’s is more valid because they didn’t use steroids then.

As the industry grew so did the need to stand out in order to sell.

Some did things in an interesting way, by trying new combinations of supplement that weren’t quite understood yet.  For example there was Ultimate Orange, a powdered drink containing both caffeine and ephedra.  Which was known for it’s surprisingly “energizing”effects.

Others did things in a less reputable way.

It is believed certain products were given a “kicker” to start a word of mouth endorsement of it. Once the product is established, it can live off of its popularity long enough for all parties involved to make a handsome profit.  And yes by kicker, I mean small dose anabolic hormones.  Never proven mind you, but I have yet to find anyone who has tried a “first batch” back in the day, who doubts it.

Then came the next step in supplement industry.  And it all started with 2 little words, which I will expand on in the next blog.


Best Health,

Coach W


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