Volume I - Preface - Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors

Volume I – Preface

“Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors” originally started out as an article written for the Wise Traditions magazine, a publication put out quarterly by the Weston A. Price Foundation. This organization is built upon the works of nutrition pioneers such as Drs. Weston Price, Francis Pottenger, Edward Howell, and others who stood out in a unique manner over the past 100 years. With great insight, these men clearly saw and established a solid relationship between diet and disease.

Their years of study strongly illustrated the physical degeneration of both man and animal due to dietary deficiencies. This work has contributed to an excellent historical and anthropological record of the powerful role food has played in our general physical and mental health — a role that has been tragically ignored by a vast majority of the medical establishment.

Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, requested an article on the historical eating habits of the bodybuilders. Hardly a century’s old culture such as the subjects of Weston Price’s research, this was still a group of men and women who would produce some of the most wild and outrageous eating habits ever to be recorded. The arduous task at hand, then, was to ascertain the documented eating habits of the athletes who have yanked, tugged, heaved, pulled, and lifted everything conceivable over an established period of time.

It quickly became apparent that in order for the reader to understand and follow the historical eating habits of the bodybuilder, the evolution of the sport itself would have to be unraveled to enrich the context of this story and to make it complete. Its origins and growth have been intertwined, segregated, and at times worked in harmony with other barbell and health advocates. And with little irony, the pioneering nutritional work of Weston Price, along with both his forerunners and successors, would significantly impact the evolution of this tale.

The sport has both spawned and traversed several arbitrary eras. Each stage seemingly built itself upon its predecessor, acquiring momentum and technologies that produced the most outlandish caricatures of the human body to walk the earth in modern history. However, it can also be argued that the industry really only incorporated 2 eras, as we shall see.

These athletes, along with the power players that ruled over them, have left their footprints in the beach sands, gyms, and posing daises over the past few centuries. In some areas, these prints are deep and clearly defined. Nonetheless, as the sport grew into its own, these tracks would become less distinct as a veil would rapidly descend to shield many of the antics of the industry from a naïve public. Though Europe played a huge role in the origins of the strength game with many of its contributors, the centre stage for this story is the North American continent. America did become the mecca of bodybuilding, but again, not without enormous influence from other countries worldwide.

The process of unveiling and presenting the dietary eating history of bodybuilding would represent a significant challenge since it involved piecing together a record that had not been attempted in this field before. The advent of the actual sport of bodybuilding, along with its idiosyncrasies, is fairly well documented for various reasons. First, many of the bodybuilders who lived through the decades of significant change are still alive and accessible. Some may want to discount the memories of these men since a few go back to the 1930s and 1940s.

To compound the issue, it is reasonable to assume that some or many would hold personal biases that would simply represent history as they saw it, which may or may not have reflected accurately what really happened. With bodybuilding, there is no dispute over the fact that there were strong warring factions in the formative years and young athletes were sought and recruited to pledge their allegiance to one camp or the other.

Acknowledging a good percentage of truth in the above statements, the interview process would still prove extremely beneficial for this project. These men are the root of the booming fitness industry we see today. They are the true die-hards, who in the decades past, trudged for miles to remote, dingy and often hard-to-find gyms. In many cases, they would simply build their own in basements or garages using any scrap material accessible to them. Take away all the modern conveniences made available by today’s super-fitness facilities, and you would lose 95 percent of those gym populations, leaving only the likes of these men.

They have been pointed at, labelled, clinically categorized, and even laughed at, but to the men of the Iron Game, the way they are is simply the way they were wired. Most of the individuals interviewed were now senior in age and looked back at their era with a maturity, not to mention a good sense of humour. Yes, a good number of their biases still remain, but they were now perceived with a broader mind and a more educated view that comes with years and wisdom. Often the stories they told were not self-flattering. This was apparent with many of these men who look back with a sincere honesty and a willingness to own up to mistakes they made.

Does this make their statements more accurate? Not necessarily, but their sincerity certainly commanded a deeper respect, and a more careful analysis of what they had to say. Although many of them do not appear within the story, their input added historical context and personality that resonated with the source material representing their eras.

However, as would be expected, their recollections often didn’t reconcile with the written record. Due to the “smoke & mirror” nature of the Iron Game industry, a mitigation process would often lean towards the vocal anecdotes of the senior athletes over that of the documentation, for reasons which will become apparent further below.

Regardless, much of the information would in fact come from the written record. Bodybuilding has a pretty solid trail of documentation going back over 100 years. The industry was producing magazines from the very early 20th century from both Europe and North America. The magazines would proliferate as the decades rolled by with some of them becoming powerful vehicles of influence. These publications definitely reflected partisan views. Bob Hoffman’s passion was weightlifting and his magazine Strength and Health clearly echoed that passion; Joe Weider’s material was primarily dedicated to pure bodybuilding.

A more moderate publication drawn upon in hopes of clearer accuracy was Peary and Mabel Rader’s Iron Man magazine. It did not command the largest circulation, but was by far the most endeared muscle resource for the vast majority interviewed. The Raders ran a pretty open forum and reported on all the muscle disciplines and their related events. They were liked and respected by all, including the factions at war.

The decades of books and magazines actually offer a fascinating walk through a segment of time viewed through the Iron Game lens. Most of the magazines had gossip columns that kept the reader up to date on the superficial happenings of the bodybuilding scene on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Often, the editors or athletes would produce books and courses to be marketed and sold through the magazines, so many of these publications are still readily available through the sport’s collectors.

Men such as Bill Hinbern and Bob Adams have dealt thousands of copies of this material over the years. Authors such as David L. Chapman, David Willoughby, Terry and Jan Todd (of Iron Game History), Jim Murray, Vic Boff, John D. Fair and many others contributed countless articles over the decades that are available for all to read.

Another resource that has taken communications by storm is of course the Internet. It is virtually the world at your fingertips. Although vast in its wealth of information, it, too, must be judiciously sifted through in order to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. Nevertheless, a number of Iron Game historical websites have put forth tremendous contributions in presenting some early roots of Physical Culture, and the rise of modern bodybuilding.

R. Christian Anderson’s sandowmuseum.com, Gil Waldron and Roger Fillary’s sandowplus.co.uk, Tim Fogarty’s musclememory.com, and Bob Whelan’s naturalstrength.com represent just a short list of standout efforts worthy of salute and recognition. These are amazing websites loaded with classic photographs, biographies, film clips, entirely scanned vintage books going back to the 1900s, contest histories, and scanned covers from just about every bodybuilding magazine published, not to mention their table of contents made available for searching.

These men should not only be applauded for their tremendous efforts, but supported in any way possible for these priceless endeavours. This is material that, just a few years ago, was simply not available to the vast majority of researchers. To be able to view photos of any old time athlete, download segments or entire books from the turn of the century, or to search the table of contents of hundreds of magazines spanning 70 years in just seconds are unbelievable gifts for those who appreciate what these men have done.

These were the resources available from within the bodybuilding field for this project. Additional material from outside of bodybuilding, particularly from the nutrition field, was also drawn upon to support the primary research. The challenge for an author reporting on any historical chronology is to extract the pertinent data and assemble it in an objective manner. It is far too easy for one to become quite subjective through personal biases and agendas, both consciously and subconsciously.

Bodybuilding with all its history and politics is not by any means a pristine sport. It has participated in its share of controversy. The industry is open and ripe for attack from various angles. There are some observers who look upon bodybuilding as nothing but an egocentric cesspool of prostitution, homosexuality, and drug abusers, all governed by dirty politics. The sport’s media, primarily the major magazines, is looked upon as blatant sales catalogues that, for decades, covered the truth of what was really happening behind the scenes.

Although there is some degree of truth to this line of thinking, it by no means represents the totality of bodybuilding. To dwell on the seamier aspects would not give an accurate or full account of what bodybuilding eventually came to represent. Aspects of the sport may have left their original moorings or intent, but not all landed totally in the sewer. It is true that the major magazines in most part sheltered the public over the decades by substituting the negatives with the positives along with their presumed ideals, hence, the necessity of mitigating truth through both the written record and vocal rendition.

In presenting so much ideology, the millions of young aspiring lifters devoured these magazines and naively made these ideals become a reality. Over time, this readership grew to drive the industry’s economy and finally came to represent the vast majority or real totality of the sport of bodybuilding.

As easy as it would be to attack this seamier side, an all out assault was not the agenda. This project certainly wasn’t written with any naivety, but at the same time there was no striving for a total discrediting of the sport. To use a worn out cliché, the goal was to venture out and write a story that has not been told, and Volume I is the “birth of bodybuilding and its amazing nutritional origins”, all cloaked in a world of “Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors!”