Bernarr McFadden’s Physical Culture Cookbook


It’s funny given the current obsessions with macro counting that few bodybuilders produce cookbooks for the general iron populace. This is in stark contrast to the early foundations of the sport, which saw dozens of cookbook and health works printed by enthusiastic physical culturists.

Today’s brief article focuses on Bernarr McFadden’s 1901 ‘Physical Culture Cookbook’ produced in the United States. Readers of the site will already be familiar with McFadden, one of America’s most prominent physical culturists of the early twentieth-century who notably staged America’s first bodybuilding show.

While McFadden put his name to over one hundred books during his life, the Physical Culture Cookbook remains among the most relevant for readers in 2016.

Why produce a cookbook?


Somewhat astutely, McFadden was aware of cooking’s importance for good health. Even back then people were counting calories, removing macros and watching out for nutrients in their food. This, in McFadden’s view, was only one part of the healthy equation. Good knowledge needed to be married with good cooking practices.

This was reflected in the opening pages of the book which read that

Food, properly cooked, properly eaten, in proper quantities, has a vast influence upon the strength, beauty and suppleness of the body. The brain, too, draws all its nourishment from the same source, and clear and strong mental faculties depend more upon competent cookery at the present day than we imagine.

This work was not just for the muscle fanatic, but for all consumers interested in good health and nutrition. This was reflected in the book’s second chapter which detailed McFadden’s own “rules for health”

McFadden’s Physical Culture Rules for Health


  • Dinner was served at 10 o’clock and supper at 5 o’clock. Usually fruit of some kind was passed around early in the morning.
  • To those who are compelled to eat at the regular hours of those accustomed to three meals per day, would suggest that they eat some light fruit either at the noon or the morning meal, and the two heavy meals at the other meal hours.
  • Recipes for cooking or preparing the various dishes in the bills of fare will be found on the pages given in parenthesis to the right of each dish mentioned.
  • Salt is the only seasoning allowed.
  • Fruit always means bananas or apples and two other varieties.
  • Especial care necessary to see that all fruit is served at proper ripeness.
  • Whole wheat bread served at every meal.
  • Stewed prunes at all suppers.
  • Strained honey is used instead of sugar.
  • Milk and water served at all meals. Guests are especially requested to abstain from drinking unless to actually satisfy thirst.

Surveying the above, we see that McFadden advocated a crude from of intermittent fasting with readers advised to eat just two meals a day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Such meals, as is clear from the below menus, were intended to be quite voluminous and leave the diner full for the day.

Sample Menus


Meat-Eater’s Menu


Baked Fish, Boiled Potatoes, Onions (stewed)/Baked Lentils Creamed Cabbage,

Fruit and Custard Pudding.


Fruit, Poached Eggs, Honey, Tomato Salad, Whole Wheat, Creamed Potatoes, Hot Corn-Muffins, Nuts and Dates.

Vegetarian Menu


Thick Tomato Soup, Lima Beans, and Green Sugar-Corn, Boiled Potatoes, Cauliflower.



Fruit, Eggs (Omelet), Honey, Hot Whole-Wheat Muffins/Whole Wheat, Rice with Grated Cheese, Nuts and Lettuce Salad.

What made McFadden’s Book Noteworthy?

As is perhaps becoming clear, McFadden’s work sought to present a definitive cooking and nutrition list for American physical culturists. To that end, McFadden and his co-author Mary Richardson, provided information on everything from poaching eggs to making healthy cookies.

This included information on cooking methods, how to make your own sauces and even words of advice on how to prepare meals for the feeble or infirm. In this way, McFadden’s work went beyond current ‘cooking books’ which provide 6 meal road to a six-pack in favour of a more holistic and healthy approach to food.

How was the work received?


Although McFadden and his Physical Culture magazine have long left the general attention of the American public, for many years his Physical Culture Cookbook enjoyed a successful reception. Indeed, a cursory glance at old editions on Ebay reveals that McFadden’s work was being reprinted well into the 1920s.

A twenty-something year lifespan for a cookery book is remarkable given the high volume of books published in that field. This reveals that McFadden’s work filled a need in the physical culture market, a market largely devoid of cookery books.

Recipes Worth Trying


1. Nut Loaf

Put through the food chopper sufficient nut meats to measure one and one-half cupfuls; almonds, English walnuts, hazel and hickory nuts may be used in any proportions according to taste, also butter nuts and black walnuts, but the latter should be taken in sparing quantity because of their pronounced flavor. Add to the chopped nuts one pint of stale bread crumbs, one teaspoonful of salt. Mix well, add enough boiling water to moisten, cover closely and let stand for ten minutes. Now add another cupful of hot water and turn into a well-greased loaf pan. Bake for an hour in a moderate oven and serve hot with a brown sauce.

2. Clam Chowder

Take one quarter pound of bacon, cut into small cubes, and brown in a skillet.

Now put on the fire a pot that will hold four quarts; into this put two quarts of hot water, and into this put the browned bacon cubes; then add one cup of finely cut carrots, and one cup of finely chopped celery, and let all boil for ten minutes; then add one cup of chopped onions, and boil all five minutes more; now add two cups of raw potatoes cut in small cubes, and let the entire mixture boil until the potatoes are soft, then add one quart of strained tomatoes, one teaspoonful of thyme and salt to taste.

In the meantime put tablespoonful of butter in a skillet and let it get very hot, then brown two tablespoonfuls of whole-wheat flour in it’; add one cup of the soup, stir for a few minutes, and pour it into the large pot.

Now strain the liquid off twenty-five clams, chop the clams very fine, put them back into the liquid and put this into the large pot. When all comes to a boil let it boil for three minutes, and the chowder is done.

When put in a cold place it will keep for several days, and will be just as delicious warmed up as fresh.

3. Stewed Lamb A La Jardiniere

Select a good-sized breast of lamb, and lay it in a saucepan; pour over it enough hot water to nearly cover it, and put a closely fitting lid on the pot. While it is simmering gently, parboil half a cupful of string or lima beans, half a cupful of green peas (fresh or canned), two small carrots cut into neat, thin slices, and a few clusters of cauliflower. When the lamb is nearly done, lay these vegetables on it; put with them two tomatoes sliced, and cook about fifteen minutes. In serving this dish arrange the vegetables around the meat, and pour over them the gravy, which should be thickened with browned flour after the meat and vegetables have been taken from it.

Recipes for the More Adventurous 

  1. Creamed Fish

Separate the meat from the bones of any fish that may be left from dinner, and place one side. Break into a bowl one or two eggs, according to amount of fish; add salt and one teaspoonful of plain flour; mix thoroughly.

Pour into a frying pan in which is a little hot butter. Stir until hot. Serve on toast. Add a few drops lemon juice if desired.

2. Broiled Sweetbreads

However sweetbreads are cooked, soak them first in salt and water, and then plunge in boiling water to whiten them; wash and parboil a pair of sweetbreads for fifteen minutes and let cool; cut them in half, lengthwise, season with salt, dip in melted butter, and broil over a clear fire for five minutes. Serve with melted butter poured over them.

3. Peach Cottage Pudding

Stir sliced peaches into a batter made of one-half cup sugar, three tablespoonfuls melted butter, one beaten egg, one cup milk, one pint flour, and one and one-half teaspoonfuls baking powder. Bake in a loaf, and serve with hard sauce.

Read it for Yourself!


Obviously these recipes are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in reading more of McFadden’s recipes, you can check out the cookbook here for free.

Happy cooking!

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