The Secret of Rheo H. Blair’s Protein Powder

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Having discussed Bob Hoffman’s (failed) attempts to create a protein powder that was both tasty and efficient, the time seems right to examine Rheo H. Blair’s famous protein powder from the mid-twentieth century.

Iron game historians will long be aware that Blair’s protein powder was the go to supplement for bodybuilders, average trainees and even Hollywood stars of the 1960s and 1970s. It was one of the first protein supplements and was highly regarded by others in the industry including Vince Gironda.

Heck, so highly regarded was Blair’s protein that it was credited with adding pounds upon pounds of muscle in a short space of time. Some bodybuilders spent months eating nothing but the protein powder alongside some vitamin capsules.

So what exactly was in Blair’s protein and what made it so special?

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Making the Perfect Shake

If popular stories are to be believed Blair spent months, if not years tinkering with his protein powder. He was a firm believer in adjusting based upon his client’s experiences and the numerous changes he made to his supplements were proof of that. Nevertheless, if one was to describe his powder it would be as follows.

Blair’s protein was manufactured primarily using calcium and sodium caseinate derived from nonfat dry milk, lactalbumin (egg white protein) and dried whole eggs. Coupled with this, Blair  also used iron phosphate and natural vanilla flavoring.

Originally Blair flavoured his powders with an artificial sweetener called cyclamate, which he had to remove in 1969 following the US government’s decision to ban it as a carcinogen! Unperturbed, Blair briefly made an unsweetened version before switching over to using fructose as a sweetener in the 1970s.

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Nutritional Content

One 1/4 Cup Serving, which is roughly the size of your average scoop nowadays, of Blair’s powder provided 102 calories, 17.5 grams of protein, 7 grams or carbohydrate and 0.6 grams of fat. Although this seems relatively average by today’s standards, it was revolutionary at the time. Furthermore, Blair argued that his powder was special in one ways than one.

What made the protein so special?

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Blair taking orders in his heyday

Blair was a stickler for correct production methods and was borderline obsessive about preserving the purity of his products. For this reason, the milk and eggs used in the powder were processed by a special low-heat vacuum method that was said to allow the protein remain in an undenatured form. This meant that little nutritional value was lost in the manufacturing stage, a method almost elusive to Blair.

Coupled with this, Blair’s protein powder used milk and egg protein, which although the norm nowadays, were completely novel in the 50s and 60s. The few other manufacturers at the time primarily used soy protein, which was cheap to produce or meat/fish derivatives. While Blair’s first ever product had used soy protein, he quickly discarded it based on his observation that eggs and milk were two of the most easily absorbed and nutritious substances for the human body.

While his research included hours of private study, it was also based upon his own experiences with bodybuilders. Over several years, Blair found that bodybuilders eating a milk and egg diet tended to gain more muscle and remain leaner than those using all-meat diets. This convinced him that an egg-milk powder was the best option for trainees.

This meant whole milk by the way. Unlike many manufacturers today, Blair’s milk included lactose, a milk based protein that many, including this writer, have trouble digesting properly. Blair was a firm advocate in keeping the milk element of his supplement as close to nature as possible and stemming from this, often had his clients take 5-6 digestive digestive capsules of hydrochloric acid and peptain to aid them in correct digestion of the supplement.

Finally, Blair was studious in ensuring that his powders maintained a strict ration of two parts calcium to one part phosphorus. Three ounces of Blair’s protein thus provided 1100 mg calcium and 675 mg. phosphorus.This was a common concern of bodybuilders of the day as many believed that too much phosphorus in one’s diet resulted in nervousness and mental agitation. Interestingly, some from the golden age, such as Franco Columbu, continue to adhere to this principle.

Putting it all together

Taking the powder by itself was not enough. For Blair, the best results came when you mixed a 1/2 cup protein powder with 8oz cream and 2oz of milk. This, in Blair’s view, mimicked the nutritional profile of human mother’s milk, which as is perhaps obvious, is one of the most sustaining foods available to us.

Who used Blair’s Protein?

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Aside from the fact that Blair was one of the first to use egg and milk in his protein powders, the reason why his protein was so highly regarded no doubt came from the rich list of bodybuilders and celebrities who used the product.

Iron game giants such as Vince Gironda, Larry Scott, Peary Rader and Frank Zane all readily used his products, lending an incredible gravitas to Blair’s supplements. Rader was particularly significant as for many years his Iron Man magazine ran stories on the incredible transformations bodybuilders underwent using Blair’s protocols. Importantly, Rader was always quick to point out that he was not being paid to endorse these products but was merely an interested observer, thereby amplifying Rader’s products.

Outside the dank old school bodybuilding gyms, celebrities of the era such as Lawrence Welk, Robert Cummings, Clint Walker and even Charlton Heston liased with Blair. Often it was said that when an actor needed to improve their physique and ‘glow’ on film, Blair’s products were the go to solution.

Blair’s influence, which spanned both bodybuilding and media circles, perhaps best explains the fondness for which his protein is remembered. He produced an egg and milk based protein, which although common now, was entirely revolutionary for his age. What’s more, Blair cared about the quality of his products, an attribute seemingly lacking in many modern day powders.

Although his protein products no longer grace our shelves, the memory of Blair’s supplements lives on. That nowadays so many protein powders are milk or egg based reminds us just how ahead of his times Blair truly was.

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