Saturday, December 20, 2008

Are Protein Supplements Necessary for Building A Classic Physique?

(Photos Upper Left: Clancy Ross - Mr America 1945; Upper Right: Steve Reeves - Mr America 1947; Lower: George Eiferman - Mr America 1948)

Today, in the mainstream bodybuilding and natural bodybuilding mags, there is a lot of hype about supplements. Each advertisement tries to convey the message that if you take their supplement, it will give you a physique like the one in the advertisement. What they don't tell you is that the physique in the ad is most likely a physique which got that way by using drugs and hormones (not by using their supplement). Nevertheless, the hype works and people spend hundreds of dollars in supplements that produce marginal effects at best.

But what about modern protein supplements (powders, drinks, amino acids, etc) for classic physique builders? In bodybuilding circles, there is a lot of discussion concerning the various types of protein supplements (whey concentrate, whey isolate, cassein, etc) and which ones are best. But what is the truth? Are they necessary for building a classic physique?

The truth is "No - they are not necessary!" And we have the proof!

Protein powders and tablets were first introduced in the early 1950s (the second decade of the Golden Age). First, there was a product called "44." This was followed by Bob Hoffman's "Hi-Proteen" and Weider's "Hi Protein." These were all low quality, soy-based protein powders and tablets. Very few people today would even think of using a soy-based protein supplement for serious muscle building. Now remember, these were introduced in the early 1950s and it took a few years to become popular and widespread. So protein powders were not used by most of the Golden Age (1940s and 50s) champs.

Now look at the physiques above of Clancy Ross (Mr America 1945), Steve Reeves (Mr America 1947) and George Eiferman (Mr America 1948). These classic physiques were built BEFORE the invention of protein powders! So there is the answer. We could have posted more photos of other classic physique building champs of the Golden Age prior to 1950 as added proof (but we are limited in trying to keep our posts short and readable).

These Golden Age champs had no commerical protein powders to rely on, so what did they do? They ate high protein diets to be sure. Drank lots of milk. There was also, at the time (shortly after WWII), powdered milk, powdered eggs, and powdered soy, that they could mix into a drink with juice, raw eggs, and other ingredients (to create their own protein drink). Steve Reeves is known to have done this. But this was not a universal practice.

So what does this tell us? Modern protein supplements are not necessary for building a classic physique!

But does that mean we (at CPB) are saying not to use them? No. In our fast-paced world, it is often difficult to find the time to eat properly during the day (note that Steve Reeves was on the 3 meals a day plan, not the 5-6 meals a day plan that is more common today - both plans work). Also, it may be harder for some to digest the amount of food required to get sufficient protein for muscle building. So, we acknowledge that protein powders and drinks may be more "convenient" than eating the equivalent amount of protein in food.

Does the type of protein powder matter? Should we be concerned about the difference between Whey protein isolate by cold-microfiltration versus ion-exchange or micellular cassein protein, etc? No. The difference is marginal and probably not noticeable. Any decent protein powder will do. A homemade milk, egg, and soy drink worked fine for Steve Reeves. So don't worry. Whatever is more digestable for you is a better guide than obsessing over the results of scientific studies showing that this or that protein powder mix is absorbed better or quicker than another. But try to get the majority of your protein in your food.

In a previous post, we looked at Steve Reeves diet. But to briefly recap, he had his homemade protein drink for breakfast. For lunch he had cottage cheese, raisins, nuts, and a couple pieces of fruit. For dinner, he had fish or some other meat and a large salad. At times, he also included goat milk and carrot juice in his diet, and would snack on figs. If you estimate his protein intake, it was probably less than 200 grams. He was 6 ft. 1 in. and weighed 215 lbs. So he was probably getting less than 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. You can see by this diet that the quantity of food he was eating was not overwhelming either.

So save your money and use protein supplements sparingly and for convenience. A good multivitamin is also helpful. To build a classic physique, you need proper training, proper nutrition, and proper rest. You don't need expensive, modern, high-tech supplements (which will decrease your pocket book size and not substanitally increase your muscle size)!



Anonymous said...

All right.
However we should remember the pastorized albumen ("egg white") on sale in every supermarkets or food stores. It's very cheap (1 liter is about 2 euros / 3 dollars ) and it's a simple, good quality protein source.

Keep on track, this is one of the best sites I have ever read !!

- CPB - said...

Hi Anonymous,

Great observation. Egg white is a good supplement!

We should note that Vince Gironda (the "Iron Guru," and a classic physique builder himself) used to say that the other elements in the yolk helped in the metabolizing of the protein in the egg white. He correctly noted that dietary cholesterol does not normally elevate blood cholesterol (contrary to what most people thought - which scared everyone off of egg yolks). In the Golden Age, whole eggs were good!

We can also follow Steve Reeves example today. He mixed his own protein powder by combining powdered egg protein, powdered soy protein, and powdered milk. So today, you can get a whey/cassein combo powder and mix it with some egg protein powder and soy protein to get a blend. This may be a less expensive way in which you can get a good mix of protein sources.

In any case, a high protein diet is a must. But, as we said, it looks to us like Reeves got about .75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (quite a bit less than some of the amounts recommended in today's mainstream bodybuilding mags). He used one, homemade protein drink a day and got the rest of his protein in real food.

All the best,


Johnny G said...

Even though I'm not supporting steroids, but Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that he won Mr.Olympia using supplements and won not using supplements, but he went on by saying I never won the Olympia not taking steroids...truth is that to much of anything is not a good thing...unless you had blood work done I wouldn't take a vitiman without knowing what might happen..Dr.Dean Edell who has a national radio show said that research has determined that supplements is just a waste of money...My neice did research thru the U.West Virginia & Stanford U. and found out that the only supplement worth buy was a Clacium /w/vitiman D all else was a all of you ready to drop a couple of hundred dollars on supplements just go out there and buy some good healthy food and train right & rest right---you Anthony it isn't rocket science

- CPB - said...

Hi Johnny (and Everyone)!,

Great advice - classic physique building isn't rocket science! All you need is: (1) proper training, (2) proper nutrition, (3) proper rest, and (4) persistence!

As the pre-roid, Golden Age champs between 1940-50 show us, you can go along way without any supplements period! If that is true, then at least don't be "hyped" into thinking you need creatine, NO boosters, fat burners, fluid/hormone/receptor manipulators, "legal steroids" or any of the other modern, high-tech supplements in order to build a classic physique - because the truth is "you simply don't!"

Save your money and instead, buy good food and a membership to a good gym (or set up your own home gym)!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Anonymous said...


The soy protein can be used as a good source of protein for the body?

Rafael (Brazil)

- CPB - said...

Hi Rafael,

The first protein supplements of the pre-roid Golden Age appeared in the early 1950s and were soy-based. These protein supplements actually weren't that good and even though some champs may have endorsed them at the time, these champs had all built their physiques without these supplements.

In the late 50's, milk and egg protein powder was introduced and this was a much better quality protein supplement.

Actually, Steve Reeves did a very smart thing. He made his own protein powder which included dehydrated powdered skim milk (1/2 cup), dehydrated powdered eggs (1/2 cup), and soy protein powder (1/4 cup).

Steve would then mix a couple of tablespoons of his custom protein mix into 14 ounces of orange juice with some honey, a banana, 2-4 raw eggs, and a tablespoon of gelatin. So you can see that he did not rely on straight soy protein.

So the idea of mixing different protein types (milk, eggs, soy) comes from the pre-roid Golden Age and is not a bad idea at all. It will give you the benefit of each source while minimizing any weaknesses that they may have (e.g., you will get a better blend of protein types and amino acids). Steve said, this way "you cover all bases."

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)