Bob Hoffman and the World’s First Protein Bar

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As many readers will no doubt be aware, protein bars have become almost ubiquitous in certain parts of the Western world, owing in part to their durability and in part to their successful advertising. Indeed, at the time of writing, I can walk five minutes to the local shop where I will be greeted by the sight of Quest, Fulfil, Yippee and Weider protein bars among others. To quote Jasper from the Simpsons…’What a time to be alive’.

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Now if we leave aside the fact that most of these bars represent nothing more than candy with a scoop of protein in it, we are still left with a hugely profitable element to the fitness industry. An element that has often been neglected by those interest in the history of health.

This element, as will become clear, is a relatively recent introduction to the world of bodybuilding and fitness more generally. Indeed, today’s post on Bob Hoffman’s Hi-Proteen Fudge reveals that one of the first precursors to the modern protein bar only came about in the early 1950s, sometime between 1953 and 1954.

Bob Hoffman and Hi-Proteen

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For those new to the site or to Bob Hoffman, a few introductory remarks are in order.

Born in the United States in the first half of the twentieth-century, Bob Hoffman became one of the leading lights of the fitness industry for several decades. The owner of York Barbell, a formidable equipment producer and a weightlifting coach to the United States, Hoffman enjoyed many privileges during his time at the top of the Iron Game. The most notable being the credibility imbued upon him by trainees and clients alike.

While certainly not accusing Hoffman of untoward practices, it is nevertheless the case that Hoffman used his credibility to sell workout supplements to his eager readers, often with downright blatant lies (more on that to come). The first instance of this came with the production of Bob’s Hi-Proteen soy based powder, which he produced in the 1950s (see more here).

Despite the somewhat mixed reviews on the product’s taste, and Bob’s frank disregard for health and safety measures regarding its production, the powder proved itself to be relatively successful. Something which encouraged Hoffman to produce a line of Hi-Proteen products ranging from tablets to bread. It was this foregrounding, which led Hoffman to produce his Hi-Proteen fudge, which as far as we can tell, was one of the first mass produced protein bars to hit the American market.

Building a Bar

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So undoubtedly you are wondering what prompted Bob to expand out into making fudge. Well given that Hoffman’s imagination once encouraged him to produce a fish based protein powder, the question seems answered. In his quest for sales, Hoffman rarely left a stone unturned.

Nevertheless, he could not let his clients know that profit margins were often an encouraging factor in his production process. Instead, readers of Bob’s publications such as Strength and Health were told the gallant story of how Hoffman created the bars.

Attending a local high school football match in his hometown of York, Pennsylvania in the early 1950s, Hoffman was informed that had the local side been treated to Hoffman’s Hi-Proteen tablets, they would have won the game. In another version it was said that had the quarterback been given just one more Hi-Proteen tablet, he could have executed a perfect 96 yard touch down. Whichever story you believe, Hoffman was supposedly inspired by this football related problem.

Reasoning that more energy was the deciding factor, Hoffman took to his makeshift lab to create a blended fudge consisting of his patented Hi-Proteen blend, honey and a series of binding agents. The world’s first bar was born.

Promotion

As is so often the case in the fitness industry, Hoffman’s fudge was promoted with little heed to truth or fact.

At the heart of Hoffman’s promotions were ‘testimonials’ from his clients. A Mr. Avant from Maryland told readers that the fudge was excellent

I can honestly say that it is everything you say it is

Similarly Edward Lord from New York revealed that he had gained 15 pounds of muscular bodyweight and increased his lifts owing to the fudge. Even better

‘it now seemed possible, even at thirty-seven, to gain another twenty pounds’

Remarkable right? What was in the fudge that caused such transformations? According to Hoffman, the recipe was simply this

  • Equal parts by volume of powdered [nonfat] milk, high protein powder [soy flour], peanut butter and honey.

Massive levels of scepticism about the fudge’s transformative abilities aside, Hoffman’s powder did prove popular amongst his clients. Although this was not always the case.

As John D. Fair’s excellent account of York Barbell attests, Hoffman received numerous complaints from certain sectors concerning the product’s taste, its packaging and more importantly its pricing model for distributers. While such concerns paled in comparison to its generally favourable reviews, the fudge was not an all round success story.

It did however help lay a ground stone for today’s world of ‘healthy’ chocolate protein bars. While Hoffman’s fudge may have faded from memory, its legacy lives on.

Sources

Fair, John D. Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the manly culture of York Barbell. Penn State Press, 1999.

Shurtleff, William, and Akiko Aoyagi. History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Germany (1712-2015): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook. Soyinfo Center, 2015.

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