I’m sure most of my readers are aware of the ongoing controversy surrounding dietary supplements: vitamins, minerals, weight gain, weight loss, “energy drinks”, the whole schmear. I regard all of them with suspicion, given the number of studies that have shown them to have little, if any, positive effect.
Many people aren’t aware that the dietary supplement “fad” began in weightlifting and bodybuilding circles in the 1960’s. It was unscientific, but promoted by the suppliers of equipment to the sport, as they realized they could make a lot more money out of bodybuilding supplements than they could out of one-off sales of equipment (because barbells, etc. don’t wear out and never need replacement). A very interesting six-part article by Dr. Ken Leistner recalls the period, and how supplements grew into a multi-million-dollar industry.
If you trained with weights during this era, you also had an interest and a financial investment in any number of nutritional supplements. One of the oft-quoted summaries regarding this came from famed collegiate and NFL strength coach Dan Riley, who in one lecture remarked, “For those of you familiar with the statue on top of the York Barbell Company building, I want you to know that I paid for half of that with all of their supplements that I bought.” I immediately piped up from the audience, “Dan, I believe you because I paid for the other half!”
My own odyssey that wound through the nutritional supplement field was no doubt as typical for the era as it is possible to be. It began with the awareness that my training efforts needed a boost, some sort of push forward that training alone could not and would not provide. At least the muscle magazines told me this. Of course this wasn’t true, as weight training was in the process of taking me from an undersized 120-pound youngster to a 232-pound collegiate athlete. The training was doing its job, but like so many, I read the ads that were aimed at fourteen and fifteen-year-old trainees and fell prey to the purveyors of protein powder, vitamins, minerals, wheat germ oil, and brewer’s yeast. In the early 1960s these were the “standard fare” for anyone involved in weight training who deemed themselves to be “serious about things.” No one was more serious about their training than I was, and I believed the advertising copy, much of which passed for legitimate articles in the various muscle magazines.
Please allow for another reminder, especially for those young readers of the Internet Age: the dissemination of information was extremely limited – often limited to what was printed in the magazines, if one could not actually get themselves to a storefront gym, garage, basement, or warehouse where serious lifters or bodybuilders trained. The “information” in the York publications clearly boosted “the fact” that the featured lifters and bodybuilders used York Hi-Proteen powders, tablets, Energol germ oil, and their other supplements. The Weider magazines, published under an almost dizzying array of titles, focused primarily on bodybuilders, but again the key feature was the intake of the Weider brand of nutritional supplements, many of which mimicked what York was selling.
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A true observation about training with a barbell … was made in 1970 by Arthur Jones in his Nautilus Training Bulletin. He noted that once a trainee purchases a barbell set, he is effectively removed from the marketplace as a consumer unless the barbell itself is defective. Any failure in performance of the barbell set becomes evident and a replacement will be sought. He clearly stated that it is much more difficult to judge the efficacy of a can of protein powder, and once established as a customer, the purveyor of nutritional supplements will have the user as a monthly customer, perhaps for a very lengthy period of time as he replenishes his depleted supplement supply.
This was also the realization of Hoffman, Weider, and a few smaller manufacturers or distributors who jumped onto the supplement bandwagon.
There’s much more at the link, which takes you to the first article in the series. Links to the other parts are at the foot of the article.
Reading Dr. Leistner’s recollections of supplements in the weightlifting and bodybuilding “industries”, one can see many similarities to how supplements are promoted for general use in TV advertisements and other media today. The comparison is interesting, and thought-provoking. Recommended reading if you’re interested in fitness and/or strength training, which is the discipline Miss D. and myself are following. We’re very happy with the results so far – and no supplements are needed!