Guest Post: Protein Supplementation – A Complete History


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Whey protein is probably the most widely consumed fitness supplement in existence. It’s a simple product. It contains protein, which is a vital part of building muscle. Without enough protein, your body will not be able to repair itself as effectively, and your growth will slow.

The reason many people turn to Whey Protein as another source of protein, is because not only is it such a simple and easy source, but it’s relatively inexpensive. It’s also one of the best sources of protein you can get, even among whole foods, only beaten by the egg.

The Origin Of Protein

The most important part of its history, is its beginning, naturally. To understand its beginning, you need to understand where it comes from. When milk turns sour, there are two byproducts – Curds, and Whey. After some brave souls decided “What the heck”, and downed some of it, it led to the invention of cheese. Whey, on the other hand, must not have been very nice, so it was always thrown away. The milk curds was made into cheese, and that started the cheese revolution, that continues to this day, and shows no signs of stopping. The earliest known date of this happening, was in 5,500 BC, Kujawy, Poland, although it’s been assumed that the earliest date would have been ~8,000 BC, when sheep were first domesticated. The worlds oldest found cheese was dated 3,200 years old, found in an Egyptian tomb.

Even though Whey was always discarded for thousands of years after this, it’s still relevant, as without it, it would have been much much later until we found out about it.

The first time the Whey was actually ‘used’, was roughly 2,500 years ago. You may have heard of the guy who started using it. He went by the name of Hippocrates, i.e. The Father of Modern Medicine. He realised after drinking it, that it could offer various health benefits. So much so in fact, that he routinely prescribed it to patients. Back then, they didn’t have the ability to make it into a powder, so it was the purest ‘organic’ liquid form of whey protein, strained from fresh milk.

Whey Protein In The 18th Century

Some time in the 1700’s, a man had fallen ill. Searching for any cure for his ailment, he discovered, in a sheltered mountain town, pure whey protein. Drinking this gave him relief from his symptoms, and as he continued to consume it, his body began to slowly heal. Realizing that this was an amazing product, he began to spread the word. In the early 1750’s, a health spa opened up in that aforementioned town. More spas popped up in Europe, namely Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Serving everyone, including royalty, and the mega-rich, everyone wanted to get some of this miracle elixir. The tonic had to be made fresh every day, as it lasted a mere 10 hours after production, before it went bad.

By the early 1920’s, almost all of these spas had become defunct.

Protein In The Modern Era

Eugen Sandow lionskin

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The term ‘Protein’ was coined in 1838, by Jöns Jakob Berzelius, after the Greek word ‘protas’, meaning ‘of primary importance’. It shows that he understood the importance of this vital macronutrient back then, to give it such an apt name. While not as famous nowadays, back in the early 1900’s, Eugene Sandow was the most famous bodybuilder, and often called ‘The Father Of Modern Bodybuilding’. Eugene Sandow realized the importance of protein when it came to muscle building, and in 1911, he marketed his own supplement line, named ‘Sandow’s Health and Strength Cocoa’. This was a high protein milk drink, first of the marketed ‘protein supplements’. His venture was doomed to fail in 1916 however, as anti-German sentiment was rife, and Eugene himself was a German. If you want to hear more about his supplement line, check out the article Old Time Selling: Eugene Sandow And The Business Of Supplements.

In the 1930’s, another man called Eugene, second name Schiff, developed a method of processing whey from milk, designed for human consumption. This became what is essentially Protein Isolate. It was only sold in drug stores though, and didn’t gain a lot of popularity.

During the Second World War, Non-perishable goods became a necessity for not only those on the front lines, but the ones back home that needed to ration. Powdered milk, eggs, and even soy protein started to be manufactured, and was one of the main causes for the boom after the war of supplements.

Bodybuilding had become a lot more popular by the 1950’s, and one such bodybuilder, and scientist, Irvin Johnson, developed the first ever protein powder. Marketed as ‘Johnson’s Hi Protein Food’, it was a milk and egg-based creation. After seeing Irvins success, many others started to follow suit, making their own brands of protein powders. Bob Hoffman, of York Fitness, created his brand ‘Hi-Proteen’, which was a soy-based product. Another, was the incredibly famous Joe Weider – the man who created the Mr. Olympia, and coached the 7x Mr. Olympia winner, and world famous actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both of these brands weren’t very good quality, but the extent of their marketing made them the best selling supplements on the market at that time.

In the 1960’s, a much better quality protein powder was released. ‘Blair Protein Powder’, by the Nutritionist Rheo H. Blair, became the best quality protein on the market. Containing both egg isolate and slow release casein protein, it was shown to be an incredibly powerful supplement. By the 80’s, it was mainstream. Everybody knew about it, and everybody wanted some. Bodybuilding played a very large part in this, as everyone who wanted to look like Arnold, needed some of this miracle tonic. In 1993, Dan Duchaine, another bodybuilder, repopularised whey protein.

Protein Now

By today, there probably isn’t a single fitness brand that doesn’t sell their own protein powder. It’s simply that effective, and has so few downsides. Unless you are lactose intolerant, or vegan, or have many other dietary intolerances, you’re good with most of it. There are plenty of alternatives if you are not.

In 2016, the protein supplementation market was valued at a staggering $12.4 Billion, and is expected to rise at a CAGR of 6.3% from 2017 to 2025.

The protein market will never die off, as it is probably the most essential macronutrient for the human body. Who knows what the future will bring in this industry? What sorts of new and amazing variations will be made, how many different types? We can only wait and see.

I also wrote an article on what I believe to be the 8 Best Supplements For Staying Fit and Healthy, on my own website, if you want to check that out.

This article was written by Blade Montane, owner of, and avid bodybuilder turned powerlifter.



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