Bodybuilding and physical culture has, at its core, always been about pushing the limits of nutritional consumption. After all, no other sport promotes periods of intense dieting in the manner of the iron game. The quest for new nutritional approaches has led to some rather interesting diets, Armand Tanny’s raw meat diet being a case in point.
For those of us too young to remember, Tanny was a highly influential name in the bodybuilding business of yesteryear. An accomplished bodybuilder in his own right (Winner in the 1949 Pro. Mr. America and the 1950 Mr. USA competitions), Tanny also spent many decades writing on bodybuilding for the various Weider magazines.
Unlike his fellow iron game compatriots however, Tanny followed an almost entirely raw diet. That meant raw milk, raw vegetables and of course, raw meats.
So what prompted Tanny to follow this diet, what did the diet entail, and what can the modern lifter learn from it?
Given that raw food consumption was and is such a taboo topic in today’s food circles, it is incredible to think that Tanny, a man who spent the bulk of his life in the United States, came across such a rare eating plan. So how did Armand stumble across this way of life?
According to old interviews and Randy Roachs’s Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors, Tanny owed his raw food conversion to a wrestling trip around America’s peripheral states. An accomplished wrestler and weightlifter in his own right, Tanny spent several months on tour in 1947 inHawaii where he squared off against the local wrestlers.
The impressive bulk and strength of his Polynesian opponents led Tanny to question the origins of their strength. For Tanny, these men were well built, strong and incredibly healthy. His desire to learn more soon brought him to their food source. The local Polynesian wrestlers consumed an almost entirely raw diet. That meant raw fruits, fish, meats and vegetables. For the young American man, it was an entirely new way of eating. One which promised big results.
Interested but unconvinced, Tanny returned to the United States eager to learn more. Having already spent one year at a medical school, he had some rudimentary knowledge of the body, but not enough to make an informed decision on raw food diets. Through months of research however, Tanny eventually stumbled across the works of Weston Price, the controversial dentists who had written extensively on the diets of traditional societies, many of whom shared the Polynesian’s perchance for raw food.
Armed with Price’s nutritional opus (Nutrition and Physical Degeneration), Tanny began his raw food journey.
Raw Food Eating
So what did Tanny’s diet entail and what results did it have?
Like many trainers of his era, Tanny didn’t follow a strict dieting plan but rather ate whenever he felt necessary. That being the case, in later years Tanny estimated that he ate between ¾ (0.34 kg) to 1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) of raw meat daily, an amount he believed supplied him with creatine in its purest form.
Generally speaking Tanny consumed ample amounts of raw fish such as tuna, lobster and even clams that he would collect at the Santa Monica Pier. Additionally he consumed beef, liver and a healthy amount of nuts, fruits and vegetables to round out his diet.
Owing to the advice of Gaylord Hauser, an nutritional guru of the time, Tanny later added brewer’s yeast, desiccated liver, yogurt, black strap molasses, and wheat germ oil. All of which were relatively standard bodybuilding supplements of the time.
The effects of this approach? Within two years, Armand had substantially improved upon his already impressive physique to the extent that he won the cobeyed 1949 Pro. Mr. America and the 1950 Mr. USA competitions before turning his hand to writing and gym management. Furthermore, Tanny’s health remained robust for several decades until his death at the age of 90, suggesting that for Armand, the raw food approach stood him in good stead.
Such an extreme eating style, did of course, have its drawbacks. Several years into his new eating approach Tanny encountered a moment of considerable embarrassment on a stop-over in St.Louis on a trip from Los Angeles to New York. According to Tanny,
I was hungry and needed to get something to eat. I bought a raw steak and thought I could hide it in a newspaper wrapping while I ate it on a park bench. I sat there sneaking little bites when I was joined by a woman who sat down beside me. On one of my bites, the steak pulled out of the wrapper and I was sitting there with a big hunk of raw meat hanging out of my mouth. It wasn’t long before I was sitting alone again!
His dating life aside, that Tanny boasted a lean 200 lbs. physique on a 5 feet 9’inch frame, was testament that his eating style did have its benefits.
So what can be learned from Tanny’s raw food diet?
Well I think first and foremost, a clear message from Tanny’s experience is that one has to experiment with their eating approach. Tanny’s diet was far from the mainstream, but it made him stronger, healthier and happier to eat raw food. For modern lifters, this means forging your own nutritional path.
That being said, Tanny spent months meticulously researching the raw food diet, a reminder that monitoring key health indicators and educating oneself are important for every aspiring muscle head.
Finally, Tanny’s diet reminds us to try out new things every once in a while. While a raw steak from a paper bag is perhaps a bridge too far, why not try steak tartare, raw milk or some sushi every once in a while. For Randy Roach, who incidentally is another raw food enthusiast, occasional or frequent (depending on your disposition) raw food meals present higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than their cooked counterparts. As always, exercise caution and try to consume the highest quality food available.
So who knows, many raw food bodybuilding will become the next fitness fad. Lord knows it will be tastier than the low fat meal plans we suffered through for many years!