The history of Bodybuilding and Physical Culture is full of those great ‘what if’ moments. What if Joe Gold never opened Gold’s Gym? What if Arnold never took up the sport? And what if drugs never infiltrated physique competitions?
Another great ‘what if’ moment that many of us are unaware of comes from the 1940s, when nutrition zealot Paul Bragg met with Bob Hoffman, the owner of York Barbell with a proposal to create nutritional supplements. Whilst the two men failed to collaborate, Bragg’s suggestion would later result in the birth of the modern day supplement industry.
Nutritional Guru Paul Bragg
Paul Chappius Bragg (1895 – 1976) was at one time among the most influential voices in America’s wellness community. He preached the importance of eating a clean diet in such a convincing way that he had an enormous effect on thousands of health conscious people including Jack Lalanne.
By the time Bragg went to visit Hoffman in 1946, he had been touring the United States for well over a decade lecturing the masses on issues like fasting, juice fasting and listening to one’s body.
So what did he want with Hoffman?
Hoffman in his youth
It’s a legitimate question to ask.
After all Bob Hoffman the owner of York Barbell. At his very core he was a muscle man interested first and foremost in strength. But it wasn’t Hoffman that Bragg wanted access to. It was Hoffman’s customer base.
This becomes clear from Bragg’s letters to Hoffman dated 1946. Writing to Hoffman Bragg commented on the “tremendous influence” Hoffman had “over thousands of young men in America and over the world.” By the middle of the 1940s York Barbell had established itself as one of the most powerful business in the fitness world. They sold stellar weight equipment, trained the best physiques and gave out sound advice. They had great influence over their loyal followers.
For Bragg this meant that Hoffman could easily use this influence to sell nutritional supplements to his followers. This would be for the benefit of Hoffman and his students…
As I told you in York, you have done what no other barbell man has ever done. You have made your barbell students nutrition conscious and that has been the weak link all through the history of barbells. I remember thirty-five years ago or more talking to Mr. Calvert. At that time I wanted him to add some dietetic information to his course, which I agreed to co-operate with him on. But he brushed me off with, ‘As long as they eat good nourishing food that’s all that is necessary.’ . . . and his idea of good nourishing food was fried meat, mashed potatoes, white bread, coffee, and dessert. I feel that he would have had twice the influence over his students if he had made them a little more food conscious and that is exactly what you have done.
I believe, Bob, that we can really add a tremendous income to your earnings, because the food business is not like the athletic equipment business. In 1913 I bought a set of barbells from the Milo Barbell Company and today they are just as fine as they were way back there in the dim past. But when you get thousands of your students eating your food and they consume it, you have no idea of the tremendous income that you will have rolling in.
So what was the end result of all of this?
The best that Hoffman could come up with was whole meal bread, a far cry from the nutritional supplements that Bragg wanted. The two men parted company and went back about their business.
The meetings weren’t a complete waste of time however as Bragg’s suggestion evidently planted a seed in Hoffman’s head.
By the 1950s, Hoffman was marketing his own protein supplements in the form of Hi-Proteen, a soybean based protein and the timing couldn’t have been better. The birth of Hi-Proteen coincided with the proliferation of drugs in bodybuilding and the quest for the ever larger competitor. Protein became the name of the game and supplements began to come quick and fast from ever corner of the market.
Little has changed come to think of it. Nowadays fitness and supplementation go hand in hand. Just as Bragg predicted way back in the 1940s.
Daniel T Hall & John D. Fair, ‘Pioneers of Protein’, Iron Game History, May (2004), 23-34.