Hucksterism in powerlifting? The peddling of bullshit in the guise of legitimate training information? Enjoy a warm welcome to the media, advertising, and the Internet. There is a parallel between the history of “providing” training information and then figuring out what exactly the interested party purchased, and the nutritional supplement industry, so a bit of background information will help as we wind our way back to the “routine” aspect of this specific discussion.
Unfortunately, many if not most lifters have bought into the same “you need nutritional supplements to succeed” mind-set that most athletes have. The segment of the general public that spends money on anything past a one-a-day type of vitamin tablet and perhaps “extra” Vitamin C has been constant since the 1960s but the real money for the supplement suppliers resides in the athletic community. I recently noted to some of our younger trainees that the presentation of the various “super-duper” supplements is cyclical. One of the advantages of having lifted weights at age twelve and continuing to do so into my early seventies is that I can truly state that “I have seen it all” and relative to supplements, “all” is usually something that has been recycled after initial failure to produce
results. Providing one example, in the late 1950s through perhaps the early 1970s desiccated liver tablets were the rage, beginning as one of the supplements “known only by the elite level guys” to a top seller despite the horrible smell and taste of the early compounds. The push to push liver tablets came from the results of a study by Benjamin K. Ershoff, PhD, in a July 1951 article published in the Proceedings for the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. Fortunately for those who got in early on the supplement business bandwagon, the so-called “anti- fatigue factors” possessed by liver made them a lot of money. Unfortunately a more careful analysis of that study indicated flaws that leave any scientist with the conclusion that “we just got hosed, this miracle factor doesn’t exist.”
By the time this specific supplement became a top seller in the late 1960s, I was fully in tune with taking liver tablets and like so many others trying to get bigger, stronger, and for the bodybuilding segment of our iron game, “ripped to shreds,” I was sucking down up to sixty per day. If sixty sounds excessive, and of course it was, there were guys at Zuver’s, Pearl’s, and Vince’s Gym downing 100 or more on a daily basis. Of course having a serving of cooked liver would have done a lot more for any of us but we bought in to the hype.
Rheo H. Blair products were a favorite of the author. I had the pleasure of working for Rheo packing boxes and drinking gallons of his protein powder mixed in heavy cream and whole milk. It worked for me, bringing my bodyweight up to 232 muscular pounds. I also rattled around with perhaps 200 tablets or more of various supplements in me each day. The best tasting protein powder of all time? I thought so and it provided calories and protein necessary for growth. All of the other supplements I took? Uh, probably not needed! Photo shows tennis pro Bobby Riggs preparing for his ill-fated match against Billie Jean King, downing the spectrum of Blair Supplements.
As written for Dave Draper’s site many years ago, here is a significant summary of “nutritional supplementation”:
I had a reputation of being willing to try anything that would help me succeed in gaining muscular size and strength for football (supplements, not drugs). I trained at Zuver’s, Bill West’s garage in Culver City, and at Bill Pearl’s in the old Redpath Gym on Manchester in Inglewood. However, we would occasionally visit other gyms to take workouts with guys we had met on the beach, in clubs, at meets or contests, etc. I met (famous bodybuilder to be nameless here) a few times and at one point, he was trying to have someone manufacture a glandular protein powder to distribute with a few other supplements he was selling. He then tried to get on the very early bandwagon of liquid protein supplements. He came into the gym one day, possibly the original Gold’s down by the beach or it could have been Pearl’s and asked if anyone wanted “to try a new protein”. Of course, I stepped right up and he explained that it was a liquid protein “made from fish” and went on to explain how there was no fat in it, it was pure protein, and being a liquid it went right into the bloodstream for immediate muscle use. It was so black and thick, it wasn’t opaque, it was solid in appearance. Holding it up to the light, all you saw was black! Everyone backed off and I, even though I hate fish and have never eaten it, chugged it down. As soon as I had taken in perhaps the four ounces that were in the glass, I immediately turned away from (famous bodybuilder) and threw up! The guys went nuts and I yelled, “I got it, I’m cleaning it up” while everyone fell down laughing. (Famous bodybuilder) was a bit upset and I said something along the lines of “Hey this should be a big seller!” It was just awful and wasn’t on the market very long. Working for Rheo, Jack and I had the advantage of living on protein powder, raw cream, raw milk (I used very little milk, preferring to mix the powder into the cream with a fork, as he suggested for his “pudding” mix), and all the supplements. We counted once and were, on a typical day, ingesting almost 200 pills and tablets per day, thank goodness we weren’t paying for most of it!!!! Meanwhile, with all the protein and fat, to this day, I don’t think I have been healthier, as full of energy, as hard and “cut” at such a high bodyweight, and with very good strength.
Glandular protein powder, dried/desiccated liver, thymus, spleen, and other bovine or sheep organs that otherwise would have gone into the production of dog food were blended into a nasty smelling and tasting powder that was perhaps even worse when mixed with water or milk. Needless to add, the supplement never caught on. A few years after this, a raft of products were marketed to health care professionals with the intent that these “new, improved glandular supplements” could alter body metabolism and hormone function. Really? There is no doubt that since the founding of the Republic, the government has fallen short on the expectations held by its citizens but if there was a nutritional supplement that could alter one’s hormonal balance for example, the FDA or some other agency would jump on it because one would now be dealing with an unregulated life threatening substance. If one is healthy and has a functioning hormonal system, one does not want to alter it yet tablets derived from “the adrenal glands of organically fed sheep” were touted as a way to enhance the function of one’s adrenal glands, the promise being that one could enjoy the more efficient release of adrenaline when needed for emergencies or in the case of lifters, when psyched up for limit squats and deadlifts. The “male enhancement products” that now glut the market, with their advertising that is just as prevalent, provide similar promises and these grew from the marketing of “gonadal supplements” of the 1970s. What? Our readers didn’t know if one consumed the dried and powdered testicles from an Argentinian cow they would have an “enhanced” production of testosterone? The idea being sold was that if you took a processed gland from an animal, it would evoke the same response in the human body as it did when functional in the cow or sheep. Thus, take the adrenal gland pill and produce more adrenaline, ingest the powdered and pressed gonads and produce more testosterone, protect one’s thyroid function by taking a sheep’s thyroid gland in tablet form.
Unfortunately, the only thing that occurs in taking any of these supplements is the breakdown of any protein portion of the tablet into its constituent amino acids through the digestive process, and then dealing with whatever was used as a binder. Any hint of getting something, anything out of the pill that would mimic or affect one’s own glandular function was and remains fantasy and I note all of this only because in the past two years, “It’s back!” The “normal recycling of supplements” has occurred and this time it’s the glandulars. Let’s face it; if the stuff worked, if any supplement or so-called nutraceutical worked, it would have been introduced to the market, done wonders as advertised and remained on the market. In fact, every powerlifter in the world would have taken and then continued to use whatever the miracle product was because it did in fact work. Because 99% of supplements did not and do not do what is advertised as their result-producing function, they are terminated until another generation of gullible suckers come along with the desire to bench press 500 for reps!
The male enhancement products have, over many years, played to the same audience as the nutritional supplement industry did and continues to do. Since “dried bull’s balls” came with the implied message that a guy’s hormonal system would not only be amped up but that his endowment and sexual stamina would also benefit, it was a short hop, skip, and jump to selling a product that could do even more, such as increase the size of the male penis. This could have been predicted, especially for athletic types seeking to exploit every avenue of improvement. One could summarize every one of these products as fraudulent and predictably, they all have
gone out of business, until the next one takes their place and only after first making millions of dollars. Even in the early 2000s it was estimated that the worth of the nutritional and herbal products industry topped $26 billion! The obvious conclusion is that there are too many individuals willing to believe absolutely anything. Taken to the extreme, one has Berkeley Nutraceuticals that made millions of dollars promising “male enhancement” with their Enzyte product and cheesy “Smilin’ Bob” ads. That the company’s owner, Stanley Warshak played Bob, the nerdy guy who was always smiling because Enzyte had him going big time in the endowment department, posing as the company’s poster boy sort of made the entire fraud even worse.
It should come as no surprise that Enzyte and similar supplements were as ineffective in promoting penis growth as yohimbe bark or your cat’s powdered lungs will allow for greater breathing capacity and more reps in the squat. As was stated more than a decade ago by consumer advocate Dr. Sydney Wolfe, “You’ve got an industry that just can invent something, grind up some root, put it in a bottle, [and] sell it.” When it was all said and done, the marketing of Enzyte resulted in company owner Warshak going to prison and bankruptcy of the company. While the promotion of a number of nutritional supplements has resulted in similar results, it has not yet occurred with the “marketing” or selling of lifting programs from Internet gurus or you tube sensations but it could and in many cases it should.
Part Three to follow