Placebo Power Part 1 - Nutritional Supplements
Do not underestimate the power of suggestion: The Mind is a powerful thing
I started formalized strength training at age 12 in 1962. As a Christmas present my father gave me a 110-pound barbell set purchased from a Montgomery Ward department store. It came with a training manual that had photos of a minor league bodybuilder of the era demonstrating (poorly) about every barbell exercise known to man. The training strategy was to do one set of each of the twenty + different exercises for 12 reps per set three times a week. It was a lame strategy. I did not really understand how to do the lifts looking at a single still photo. I needed a new approach.
My father, as was his habit, would frequent a local newsstand after Catholic Church on Sunday. As young boys, my brother and I would sit on the floor and read the comics while my father, a WWII veteran (Sargent, chemical warfare division, 4th wave at Normandy) would shoot the breeze for an hour or so with Alex Lycées, the newsstand owner and a WWI veteran. He had served under Black Jack Pershing and had lost a lung as a result of being (mustard) gassed fighting trench warfare in France. I never ever heard my father talk about the war other than in hushed tones with Alex.
The newsstand had all the kid’s comics on the floor level. I would sit on the floor and speed-read comic books every Sunday. For some primal reason, I was drawn to comic book superheroes: I could lose myself, immerse myself into the world of Batman, Superman, Flash, Aqua Man, Green Lantern, etc. I knew all their tribulations and all about their arch enemies. I was a Spartan youth raised in an all-male household. Sports were our video games and superhero worship came easy.
Comics made me a facile reader. I idolized super human men possessing super human physiques performing superhuman deeds. I graduated from comic books that featured superhuman physiques to the muscle mags that featured superhuman physiques. In my quest for transformational knowledge, I started reading all the muscle mags of the era.
The mags had what I wanted: the specific transformational strategies on how to obtain the super human physique I craved. I was ready to do whatever it took: I just needed sound advice. Luckily, in that ancient era, the training information was excellent. Many of those primal modes learned in the 60s formed the basis of my modern philosophy, many of those ancient strength strategies proved timeless.
There were three magazines I used as informational sources, three definable muscle camps: York Barbell out of York Pennsylvania, the burgeoning Weider Empire on the West Coast and the strangely isolated Iron Man magazine out of Alliance, Nebraska.
Starting in 1963 I became a cover-to-cover monthly reader of all three magazines. I would read each of the three mags over and over, until the next month’s bounty of new material arrived. I was enthralled by training routines and studied the exact training routines of the strength athletes, Olympic weightlifters and pre-Arnold bodybuilders. I would then incorporate what I’d leaned into my own embryonic training efforts. Strength & Health magazine was a York creation and the Olympic weightlifter’s bible, it was my favorite magazine.
The York Barbell empire was founded by a pompous, egomaniacal braggart named Bob Hoffman. He made a lot of money in the heating oil business before starting the York Barbell company. He was the self-proclaimed “Father of American Weightlifting” and became the Daddy Warbucks of Olympic weightlifting: he created the York Barbell Club, multi-time national team champions. Hoffman funded the cost of team travel on world championship trips; his fat wallet made him a God. His strangeness knew no bounds.
In addition to becoming one of the largest barbell makers in the world (for a while) Hoffman was also on the forefront of the nutritional supplement revolution: he began selling all types and kind of protein supplements: 10-1 Protein, Standard Hi-Protein, Formula 63, Multi-Purpose Hi-Protein, Vegetable Hi-Protein, Super Hi-Protein, Hi-Protein Fudge, Gain Weight Tablets, Hi-Protein Cookies, Honey Hi-Protein and the infamous Protein from the Sea.
Bodybuilding guru John Parrillo once described Protein from the Sea as, “Hands down, the most wretched, evil tasting nutritional supplement ever created.” Reportedly made from Chesapeake Bay bluefish “parts,” adding fistfuls of raw sugar could not overcome Protein from the Sea’s putridness: it made the disgusting Brewer’s Yeast (all the rage in the late 70s) taste like a perfect pint of Guineas by comparison.
Everyone everywhere was writing about the newly discovered fact that supplemental protein and weight training were a magical combination. Suddenly everyone was hawking protein powder and protein supplements. Magical results were claimed and verified by the (paid to endorse) champions of the day.
The Food and Drug Administration branded both York and Weider publications as “catalogs,” a blow to their tax status. Crass commercialism was rampant and inflamed, the actual information was solid: all three magazines quizzed champions and created excellent training articles that related strength and muscle-building strategies that have stood the test of time.
In addition to the east coast/west coast York/Weider giants, you had an odd-sized, homemade looking magazine called Iron Man, strangely coming out of Alliance, Nebraska, the American heartland. Perry and Mabel Rader were a couple that looked like they walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting; they put out Iron Man magazine and the content was uniformly excellent. Iron Man was small potatoes compared to York and Weider.
Hoffman and Weider squared off for financial control of the disposable income of the American weight training populace, men serious enough to buy the magazines. Men that could be persuaded to buy gym equipment and supplements. Hoffman versus Weider was an all-out war that raged, ebb and flow, for five full years. It was the Paulus’ Wehrmacht versus the Zhukov’s Red Army at Stalingrad. The battle was fought for the hearts and minds and wallets of the young weight training men of America. It was a titanic duel.
The Weider Brothers, Joe and Ben, started off in Montreal and parlayed a modest grubstake into an immense fortune. Initially the brothers took advantage of relatively lax Canadian laws to publish grey area, low grade publications that used “bodybuilding” as a pretext for presenting male bodies in G-strings. They had a large gay following and made enough money to launch a “legitimate” muscle mag.
Joe Weider was a forward-thinking hipster. His vision was to make Muscle Builder a high gloss, hyperbolic, Playboy-influenced magazine that had a decidedly youth-oriented, anti-establishment vibe. Joe relocated from Montreal to New Jersey, where he employed Dave Draper and Leroy Colbert. After a few years, he relocated to Southern California where he found his stride. Muscle Builder was loud and brash; a candy-colored, orange metal-flake, bucket-T hotrod with a 392 Dodge Ram engine.
York sought to be stately and proper, exemplars of the American ideal, as dictated by old white guys, none of whom had ever been real athletes. Joe Weider stood in stark contrast: he was a consummate salesman. He had an artistic eye and his genius was to fuse bodybuilding onto the Southern California surfer, sex, rock and roll, beach lifestyle. To hell with staid normalcy. The hell with living up to ideals. Let’s move to the beach, let’s get muscles, let’s get tan, let’s get girls, let’s party! Guess who won the hearts, minds of 15-year old testosterone-drenched alpha males?
Joe smartly used beautiful women in bikinis in all his supplement ads. Eye candy for the adolescent no-necks. The goal was to keep the boys from turning the page. It worked. York was too straight-laced to use attractive babes. I don’t think they knew any. Both outfits over promised and underdelivered insofar and results gleaned from using their nutritional products. This was before any regulation of supplements. Back in the 60s, there were no laws requiring the labeling of micronutrients. Nutrient breakdown labels lay years into the future. Supplement makers could claim anything for their products without fear of the law or lawsuits.
As a skinny 15-year old, my goal was to become gargantuan. I ate everything in sight and read every and any article relating to getting stronger or “bulk and power.” I was drawn to the thick, powerhouse physiques of the international-level weightlifters like Yuri Vlasov and Bill March. Ditto the power bodybuilders of the day, Bill Pearl, Reg Park, Marvin Eder and later Sergio.
I longed for the day when I could scrap together enough money to purchase Joe Weider’s Crash Weight Gaining Formula # 7. The stars of the day, the Weider guys, Dave Draper, Larry Scott, Don Howarth and Freddy Ortiz, all related incredible results they obtained from diligent use of the various Weider products. Crash Weight Gaining Formula # 7 was the King: 14 separate canisters of formula # 7 were included. Each day the trainee would mix one cannister of powder with a quart of whole milk and drink the resultant magical elixir. The promise was fantastic…
“Gain 14 pounds of solid muscle in 14 days.” Gimme some of that! Unfortunately, CWF #7 cost an astronomical $14. At the time I was getting $2 to cut a giant lawn and $5 to caddie 18 holes of golf.
As a boy with a vivid imagination I daydreamed a lot. I created a reoccurring mental movie centered around my obtaining Crash Weight Gaining Formula #7. In my daydream, each day I would awake and consume a delicious tasting glass of Crash Weight Gaining Formula #7, the true nectar of the Gods. Then I would have the greatest workout of my life. I would gain a pound of rippling muscle every single day for fourteen straight days and by day 14 (in my mind’s eye) I looked freakish. By day fourteen I had converted myself into a muscled-up hunchback freak with inhuman power and an ill temper.
In my mind’s movie, I would then reenter the world, astound my friends, vanquish enemies. I saw myself besting a particularly irritating rival from another school. This guy later went on to play eleven seasons as the starting outside linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. He had a nice-looking cheerleader girlfriend.
In my daydream (and after becoming a muscled-up freak) I would vanquish him with yawning distain, first in football, running him over, knocking him unconscious; then in wrestling, choking him into unconsciousness to thunderous applause. Then I would beat him stupid in an epic lifting competition. Afterwards I would tell him, “Here loser - hold my first-place trophy and my gold medals while I French kiss and fondle your girlfriend.” She would then leave with me. It was a great mental movie and I played it a lot, over and over in my adolescent head, usually during French or Math class, two subjects I flunked.
I was getting older and some of my friends were getting their driver’s licenses. One of my best training partners, Bishop, lived on my block. He was newly licensed and wasted no time buying a 1962 Chevy Bel Air, a 4-speed 348 with three two barrels. He put Cragar Mags on it. We were mobile.
Read Placebo Power Part 2 Here
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.