The History of Protein Shakers

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Before beginning, I have to thank a series of individuals for their help in devising this article. The good folks at DavidGentle.com and Ironhistory.com helped point me in the right direction for the earlier history of the shaker. Likewise Ron Campbell’s Bodybuilding Books and Magazines group on Facebook which provided several leads which helped sharpen out the later history of today’s post. Finally Dr. Ben Pollack and Paul Becker from the Rheo H. Blair website were incredibly giving in their time and knowledge.

With that in mind, I’m now going to undoubtedly bastardise and misinterpret all the information garnered from the above individuals but hey, such is life! Today’s post is possibly the most innocuous but to my mind fascinating one yet. It is the history of the protein shaker, that plastic bottle currently fermenting your last whey protein shake in the bottom of your gym bag. Now the reasons for this are simple. Protein shakers have become increasingly popular over the last decade in particular. When I began working out drinking from a protein shaker was a universal announcement that you were a dumb meathead. Nowadays on my morning commute I see office workers, mothers, children and everyone else in between sipping water and a cacophony of drinks from their shakers. So shakers have become cool, and as is our nature on the site, we want to know more about the pre-history.

So with that in mind we’re going to trace the history of the protein shaker, from the early iterations to the modern day bottle. In doing so, it’ll become clear that the shaker is a fascinating symbol of the fitness industry’s acceptance within mainstream culture over the past several decades. It is the Trojan Horse for meatheads seeking acceptability.

Early Beginnings

As detailed previously on this website, the first protein powders as we would understand them emerged in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The most popular, Plasmon, was endorsed by the likes of Eugen Sandow, Eustace Miles and a series of other fitness personalities who felt knowledgable enough to speak on nutrition. Though made from milk, Plasmon was in effect a whey protein powder, the product was rarely added to drinks. Instead it was mixed into traditional cooking recipes.

You heard that right, the first protein powders were used not as drinks, but instead as health boosting additions to soups, breads and even mashed potatoes. Whereas today the term protein cookie, protein bread and of course protein powders are usually found alongside protein powder recipes, our forebears in the Iron Game added Plasmon to stews and pretty much everything else that seems implausible. Heck in 1902, Plasmon held cooking competitions for the best mash potatoes recipe using their supplement. The winner was eventually included in a Plasmon cookbook which sadly, included no protein pancakes.

Now the reason for this was simple. Plasmon had no taste whatsoever. No added ingredients, no ‘birthday cake ‘ flavours, no nothing. It could thus be easily snuck into traditional meals. As a drink in and of itself, it was a no-go, something anyone who has chugged down a shake without any flavours added will tell you. So our first protein powder leads us down a dead end, which is pretty frustrating considering that the first cocktail shakers are being patented in the US at this time. The Iron Industry would have to wait before these two paths would cross.

Health Shakes… Sort Of

So while the concept of protein powders had emerged, consumers were still waiting on an easily digested drink that would help build muscle and improve vitality. Enter Jack Lalanne.

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As mentioned previously on this site, Lalanne was one of the foremost promoters of health and wellness in the United States. Capable of seemingly unending enthusiasm and energy, Lalanne proved influential in the dissemination of knowledge, the design of exercise equipment and the normalisation of fitness culture for men and women alike. Well in the mid-1930s Lalanne, in his ever continuing quest for health and fitness was turned on to the idea of juicing. So enthused did old Jackie boy become that by 1935 he had opened his own juice bar, which he ran for a number of years. This idea must have sparked something in Lalanne’s mind as his love of juicing and his belief that liquid food could be profitably used never left him. By the 1950s, Lalanne was promoting his own protein powder called ‘Instant Breakfast‘, which he later claimed to be the first ever protein powder (thanks again to Ben Pollack on this point!). Now the only problem with ‘Instant Breakfast’ and Lalanne’s love of juicing was that it required a blender to make. Hey it wasn’t the protein shaker but we were going in the right direction.

But what else was happening in the fitness industry? Quite a lot actually. According to members from Ron Campbell’s Facebook group, Joe Bonomo was selling a rudimentary whisk, similar to the modern blender ball, some time in the late 1940s. For those of you unaware, Bonomo was one of a series of physical culturists operating mail order businesses in England in the first half of the twentieth-century. Despite claims about his innovative training methods, I haven’t found anything to suggest that Bonomo paved the way for protein shakers aside from anecdotal evidence. Likewise others have suggested that Vince Gironda and Rheo H. Blair were using protein shakers at this time. From discussions with Paul over at Rheo H. Blair.com, it appears unlikely that Gironda or Blair, despite their associations with protein powders, were using shakers. According to Paul, Blair always used a blender.

So now what? Did we hit a dead end? Not exactly. Thanks to IronHistory.com, we have evidence of protein shakers emerging in physical culture magazines such as Health and Strength, which operated in Great Britain and the American magazine Strength and Health in the mid to late 1960s. This turned out to be a rather great lead (thanks again guys!) as with the date range in mind, I set about examining patents for protein shakers, which is about as interesting as it sounds.

Drink, Drink, Drink!

So despite the fact that patents for cocktail mixers existed since the early 1900s, it took a much longer time for the fitness industry to cotton on to the idea of shaker bottles for protein powders. Powders for physical culturists had existed since Eugen Sandow in the early 1900s. Similarly many bodybuilders like Reg Park or Steve Reeves had their own unique power meals which they drank. Change, quite oddly given the rapidity with which the industry usually moves, was slow. Nevertheless, it did emerge eventually.

In 1956, a B.W. Coltman Jr. gained a patent for his ‘flexible container‘ shown below

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Now whether or not Coltman’s device came to the attention of the weight training community is difficult to know. It did however attract the attention of later inventors who proved pivotal in our story. In 1974, J.B. Swett and Sidney Z. Smith of Dart Industries, a tupperware provider, gained a patent for their food shaker and blender shown below. Building on Coltman’s device, the below container looks, to all intents and purposes, like many of the modern shakers used throughout gyms today.

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So shakers existed but they were not the trendy training accessory they are today. Bodybuilders from the ‘Golden Age’ like Arnold, Zane and many others still used the tried and trusted blender to make their shakes. Similarly those producing protein shakes and powders well into the 1980s and early 1990s continued to promote alternatives. Weider’s range of protein powders from this time regularly came in cans or were advertised using a blender.

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Heck even Hulkamania was using a Blender in the 80s!

What happened then? Two things really.

From the 1990s, really the late 1990s, the fitness industry witnessed an influx of protein powder manufacturers. Emerging from several parts of the globe, with a variety of flavours, the increase in competition made protein powders more accessible to the general training public. The more people taking protein powders, the more demand there was for protein on the go. As cans were expensive and blenders impractical, the protein shaker finally gained prominence. New ‘advances’, we’ll use that term lightly because we’re not speaking about rocket ships, like the blender ball protein shaker or the three in one protein shake made shakers an even more attractive option.

More supply, in terms of protein powders, liquid diets and protein shakers was a huge component in the shaker’s upturn in popularity. Far more important however was the trendiness of fitness which took a renewed emphasis from the 1990s onward. As detailed by Klein, bodybuilding in the 1980s had become a fringe hobby following the heyday of the 1960s. Weight training amongst the general population was something one did, not who they were. Beginning in the 1990s and continuing to today, fitness and the fitness lifestyle became more attractive to the average Joe. Protein shakes, to paraphrase Duncan Walker, had conquered the world. The emergence of zumba classes for women, Cross Fit for both sexes and just about every other new fitness forum you can think of ensured that men and women, weight trainers and bodybuilders alike were more comfortable with their fitness hobbies. The protein shaker became a symbol for ‘yeah I workout’.

Wrapping Up

Though innocuous, the protein shaker’s history is itself a reflection of the fitness industry. From humble beginnings the shaker has become integrated with the general public in a way few would have thought possible a decade ago. Anecdotally I remember the weird stars I would get in my teens when I was chugging down a protein shake in the early 2000s. Now I feel strange that I drink my water out of a plain old bottle when everyone else is using shiny new shakers. How the times change eh?

Before we go, I wanted to share my favourite shake recipe with you all. Now admittedly I have only tried this once as an experiment but if anyone is ever in the mood for some gluttonous calories, this is THE recipe to use. The recipe itself comes from the fantastic John McCallum, who we previously covered. As a quick recap, McCallum was a no-nonsense lifter from the 1970s whose ‘Get Big’ drink was as calorific as it sounds. Well in the interest of ‘science’ I gave it a whirl to see what it was like. Would I do it everyday? Nope. Would I do it again? Absolutely. For those brave few interested, here’s the recipe

  • First take a days worth of protein power and add it into a blender. Say roughly 6-8 scoops of protein (Whey/Casein/etc.).
  • Next take two quarts of whole milk and dump them in the blender.
  • Following this add in 2 cups of dry skim milk.
  • Now mix in 2 Raw eggs.

Is that it?

Hardly…

  • After mixing in the protein, milk and eggs, put 4 tablespoons peanut butter into the blender
  • Next add a half a brick (.875 quarts or 462 grams) of chocolate ice cream followed by
  • 1 small banana
  • 4 tablespoons malted milk powder (17g protein)
  • 6 tablespoons of corn syrup

Blend all the ingredients together and you come out with a 3,000 calorie shake with over 200g of protein and oodles of carbs and fat to boot. So put that in your protein shaker and drink it!

As always… Happy lifting!

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