A History of Bodybuilding Supplements

Posted November 16, 2021 in Bodybuilding, Supplements No Comments »
History of Bodybuilding Supplements - Eugen Sandow

The Evolution of Body Building Supplements

These days bodybuilding supplements are as common as bottled water. All our retail and grocery stores sell them, GNC is usually just down the road, but what about the history of bodybuilding supplements? From whey powder to creatine and everything in between, the bodybuilding supplements industry has steadily been growing both in popularity and in the sheer number of products available.  

But how did it ever get to be this way?  At what point in human history did we equate the intake of supplemental foods with the construction of the perfect physique?  Interestingly enough it started with a man named Eugen.

Nineteenth-Century Supplementation

Over a hundred years.  That’s how far back you would have to travel back in time to find the first traces of what is now known as bodybuilding supplements, consumable goods that were shown to have a direct impact on developing muscle and physique in the user.  

Regarded as the first modern bodybuilder, Eugen Sandow was a staunch advocate of the impacts that eating or drinking certain foods can have on muscle development.  Earle Liederman, a friend of Sandow’s, drank beef juice and extracts to help him his muscles and body heal faster after rigorous exercise, inadvertently developing what some argue to be the first post-workout supplement.

Introducing Whey Protein

The benefits of whey protein weren’t discovered until the 1930s.  It was also around this time that interest in the use of powdered forms of vitamins and minerals began to grow.  A couple of decades later a man with two names, Irvin Johnson also known as Rheo H. Blair, started marketing supplements to athletics comprised of high-quality protein derived from animal sources like milk and eggs.  

As the years rolled on, other players came on the scene looking to make a living hawking supplements and other enhancers.  The likes of Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider began selling supplements whose ingredients came from plant-based sources like soybeans, wheat germ, and kelp.  These were mostly seen as inferior to their animal-based counterparts.

The Rise of Supplement Manufacturing

The 1980s saw the birth of the bodybuilding supplement industry as small shops grew into corporations and the quest for stronger and better-looking bodies was replaced with the quest for profit.  The market saw a sudden influx of new companies and new products.  

Unsurprisingly, most of them were not good and more resembled the snake-oil merchants of old.  Culprits included Boron and sarsaparilla root, which were marketed as testosterone boosters, which of course is false, but nonetheless made the companies that sold them very rich due to gullible customers and excellent marketing. Fortunately, things have gotten better since the wild west days of the 80s.  

The 1990s brought with it a more informed community that was more cognizant of product quality.  More importantly, consumers were starting to research for themselves about the efficacy of products and ingredients.  The community started to regulate itself and midway through the decade regulatory bodies started to crop up to ensure that quality and safety were made front and center.  

The FDA Steps In

In the United States of America, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) created guidelines that supplement manufacturers must adhere to in order for their products to hit store shelves.  Governing bodies in other countries throughout the world soon followed suit.  

If a company was found to be non-compliant with these regulations they could face steep fines, seizure of products, and even jail time.  Even in spite of these dire repercussions, there are still companies both big and small that are willing to gamble by releasing a non-compliant product into the marketplace, and unfortunately, some of these do go unnoticed by the overburdened folks over at the FDA.

Thankfully, there are few supplements that do not meet the stringent criteria set out by the FDA.  The majority of products on the market are comprised of high-quality ingredients and are processed in high-tech facilities whose sole purpose is to generate the best products possible.  The information age has empowered consumers to go out and do their own research, to see what ingredients work best for them, and to vote with their money.  

Companies and products rise and fall on the whims of their customers, and in this modern age, customers are demanding higher-quality products.  Not only that but they are looking for peer-reviewed studies, feedback, and ratings from those who have taken the supplement, and they are more aware of the listed ingredients.

What is the State of Bodybuilding Supplements Today?

Bodybuilding supplements have come a long way from Eugen and Earle’s beef extracts.  The ingredients used over time have evolved to include a larger array of raw materials, but so too has the quality of the products.  

Regulatory bodies rose to the occasion to police the once fraud-rampant industry to ensure that the health and well-being of consumers came before the greed and profit margins of unscrupulous businesses.  This has led to what is perhaps the pinnacle of the bodybuilding supplement movement.  The modern consumer of such supplements is well-informed and educated about the ingredients and their effects on their bodies.

Jay Cutler

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