Thomas Inch’s Diet


One of the strongest men of the early twentieth-century, Thomas Inch was known in both Great Britain and the United States for his feats of strength. Unlike others however, Inch was hardly strict with his diet. In fact Inch was recorded as saying

There is nothing so wearisome as having to be extremely particular about what one eats or drinks. I can never believe that the food faddist is happy, that it can be nice to go through life feeling that it is extremely difficult to get the peculiar meals which have been adopted on some nature-cure plan, that everything has to be exact in quantity with nuts and fruit predominating.

Contrast this statement with contemporaries of his time such as Bernarr McFadden who strongly believed in strictly monitoring one’s intake and you get a sense of Inch’s uniqueness. If anything, Inch appeared to eat according to his own instinct

All my life I have partaken of a mixed diet, and although eventually I was led to delve more deeply into the exact make-up of various foodstuffs, I never had reason to believe that my instinct had led me wrong as to what contained the constituents needed to quickly repair broken-down tissue following in the train of more or less strenuous physical exercise.

Given Inch’s strength and longevity it is probably fair to say that his instincts were perhaps better than your average individual. Nevertheless, Inch did take a strong interest in eating and its subsequent effects on the body. Indeed, for those poor souls suffering from a variety of conditions, Inch believed he had the answer suffered from certain conditions:

Diet plays an important part in connection with certain ailments. Those who suffer from rheumatism must keep down red meats, and alcoholic drinks. The constipated ought to avoid cheese and eggs; a little olive oil with salads, plenty of green-stuffs and fruit, Hovis bread instead of white, hot water before the first meal, stewed rhubarb or stewed apples, also raw apples, assist materially. The obese should avoid rich greasy dishes, fattening drinks such as cocoa, ale or stout, much liquid of any kind, pastries, potatoes, any starchy foods, pies, soups, white bread, sweets.

Following on from this, Inch stated that aside from meat, the best ‘muscle building foods’ were as follows

It may be helpful and of interest to many readers if I outline a dietary which is calculated to assist muscle-building and with the object of helping one stand hard training. Cheese, beans, lentils, Hovis bread, oatmeal porridge with milk and treacle added, Bovril instead of soup (nothing replaces broken-down tissue and gives energy so quickly as Bovril).

It is clear from Inch’s writings that although he wasn’t a food fadist in his own sense of the term, he nevertheless advocated a healthy diet for both himself and his trainees. Like others of his time, he was vehemently opposed to sugar

Whilst those threatened with increasing weight must avoid sweets, chocolates and sugary foods, the athlete in training has a somewhat strange leaning towards the same, the simple explanation being that sugar is energy-producing. It is not generally known that one famous rowing race trainer always allows each man in his boat one or two pieces of lump sugar about half an hour before the event, solely to give energy for the coming struggle. So that the physical culturist who aims at development of muscle and is training for feats of strength might with benefit include the very items which the obese must perforce avoid.

Wrapping Up

Inch’s dietary advice, although somewhat sparse, nevertheless fits in with others of his time such as Sandow, Hackenschmidt and the Saxon brothers. The early physical culturists exhibited numerous styles of eating and food combinations yet they all agreed upon the necessity of clean eating and voluminous amounts of food for the strength trainee.


Thomas Inch, On Strength (London, 1932).

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