C.F. Langworthy, ‘Dietary Study of Sandow, The Strong Man.’

Eugen Sandow lionskin


One of the things which always fascinated me is the diets of those early physical culturists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. At a time when gym culture was in its infancy, these men and women experimented with their training, their diet, and their mindsets to achieve maximum results. For some, like the Saxon Trio, their diets were the thing of legend – they ate everything in sight. Others, like the vegetarian Bernarr MacFadden, took a meticulous interest in what they ate. 

The subject of today’s post, Eugen Sandow, lay somewhere in between. Deemed by many as the world’s most perfectly developed specimen, Sandow was frustratingly coy about what he ate on a day to day basis. That’s what makes today post so fascinating. A reproduction of a one day study conducted in the United States, it is the first time, to my knowledge that we have verified audience of what Sandow ate. It’s not particularly illustrative, but it does give an indication of what Sandow ate in a scientific context. Enjoy!

The information regarding the diet of professional athletes is very limited. In 1870 dietary and metabolism experiments were made with the professional pedestrian, Weston. He walked 317 1/2 miles in five consecutive days, covering 92 miles in one day. His food consisted of beef extract, oatmeal gruel, are eggs and a very little brandy and champagne. The diet was estimated to contain 82.5 grams of protein. During the five days immediately following the severe exercise his diet was much more abundant, including considerable meat. It was estimated to contain 181 grams of protein. The conclusion was reached that severe muscular exercise increased the metabolism of protein.

A dietary study was made of a college football team in active training at Wesleyan University in 1886. The investigation was made toward the end of the football season, and although the exercise was vigorous, and at times severe, the members were of the opinion that they did not eat as heartily as earlier in the season. The diet contained 181 grams of protein. So far as is known, no other experiments have been made with athletes.

During an engagement of Mr. Eugen Sandow, the “strong man,” in Washington, January, 1896, an attempt was made to determine the character and amount of food he consumed. Mr. Sandow claims to be the strongest man in the world, and substantiates this claim by performing many wonderful feats of strength, one of which is the raising of a 300-pound dumb-bell above his head with one hand. He is a German by birth, and is now 29 years old; is 5 feet 9 inches tall, and weighs 200 pounds. His waist measures 28 inches; his chest, 47 expanded, 61 inches; upper arm, contracted, 19 1/2 inches; forearm, 16 1/4 inches; thigh, 27 inches; calf 17 1/2 inches; and neck, 18 inches. He states that in his youth he had no phenomenal muscular development, but acquired his present muscular condition by training. This training was begun nine years ago. At the present time he does not take regular exercise other than his professional work. He has the appearance of perfect health.

Mr. Sandow  does not follow any prescribed diet, but eat whatever he desires, always being careful to eat less than he craves, rather than more. He eats very slowly. He sleeps very late in the morning. Sometimes he takes a cup of weak tea and a little bread in the morning, but usually his first meal is eaten about noon. He eats again about 6 o’clock, and again about midnight, after his exhibition of feats of strength is over. He smokes a good deal, and drinks beer and other alcoholic beverages.

In the present experiment it was necessary to limit the period of observation to one day. The plan was to weigh each article of food as it was served to Mr. Sandow, and then weigh what was not consumed. Three meals were eaten; dinner and breakfast at the hotel where he was stopping, and supper at a restaurant. He rejected all the visible fat of the meat. No other marked peculiarity was observed.

In compiling the data obtained, the composition of the food was calculated from standard tables (Atwarter’s and Konig’s). It was assumed that 1 gram of alcohol was equal to 1.71 grams of carbohydrates. The figures used are those given in Table 46. The amount of food consumed at each meal, its composition, and the estimated fuel value are shown in Table 47.

Table 46

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Table 47

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It will be seen that the heaviest meal was consumed very soon after the severe exercise. It is not claimed that the figures here given are perfectly accurate. The time of observation was very short and the diet was very varied. It would seem, however, from his own statements and from what we were able to observe, that the food of the day selected for the experiment was a fair average for Mr. Sandow’s dietary habits. It is probably that the fat as computed is somewhat too high, since all the analyses of meat given in the standard tables refer to samples which contain visible fat, while, as noted above, Mr. Sandow rejected all the visible fat of the meat served him. It is, however, believed that no serious error was made in the computing the composition of the food from tables rather than from analyses.

In the following table Sandow’s dietary is compared with those of Weston, the football team, and the commonly accepted dietary standards for men at moderate and severe work:

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The total amount of food consumed is rather more than the average, though in his own opinion Mr. Sandow is not a large eater. This is in accord with the general conclusion reached in many investigations made with labouring men, that severe muscular exercise requires an abundant diet.

It will be seen that while the amount of carbohydrates and fat consumed does not differ very greatly from the standard for a man at muscular work the amount of protein is very large and the nutritive ratio is very narrow.

The fact that so much protein is consumed is of especial interest. Zuntz has advanced the opinion that the energy which is used in the production of severe muscular labor is furnished by the combustion of protein, while the energy for long continued, but not very severe, exercise, is furnished by the combustion of carbohydrates of fat. The exercise performed by Mr. Sandow is very intense, and the large consumption of protein is in accord with Zuntz’s theory.


LangworthyC. F. BealW. H. (1897), ‘Dietary study of Sandow, the “strong man”’, In: State of Connecticut, Ninth Annual Report of the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station, Storrs, Connecticut, 1897, pp. 158162Felton and KingMiddletown, CT.


  1. Do those measurements for Sanow sound very suspicious to you? After looking at his photo, the notion that his expanded chest is 33 inches larger than his waist, to give the most egregious example, seems awfully hard to swallow. Some of the others sound very fishy as well. Your thoughts?

    1. Hi Jan. I’d be very skeptical of these measurements as well. The only one’s I’d put any faith in would be those taken of Sandow’s body during his tour of the Harvard Gymnasium in the 1890s

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