Eugen Sandow’s Simple Truth About Bodybuilding Nutrition

Complicated diet rules and tons of supplements are what bodybuilding nutrition today looks like. The wisdom that this is bollocks is more than a 100 years old.

Workout Nutrition: Quantum Physics?

Open one of the usual muscle mags and you see what? Ads with bodybuilders of inhuman proportions, telling you that only Megamuscle 9000 makes you look like a, uh, cloud.

Others, like the dear Dr. Stoppani, write long articles claiming that supplement x,y or z (or any combination thereof) will turn you into a shredded Hulk within three months.

Finally there are the “workout experts” who tell you to go for a dietary regime that’s more complicated than quantum physics.

Eugen Sandow Has A Word

Is all that necessary? Let’s look at what Eugen Sandow, the famous Victorian strongman and founding father of bodybuilding, had to say about this in a book he published in 1894. Yes, the 1894 that’s 119 years ago:

I am myself no believer in a special diet, still less in a rigid one, as necessary while training. The old nonsense on this subject, about raw eggs and underdone meat, seems to be passing away, and more rational views now prevail.

Did you know the raw eggs myth was this old and that more than a century ago it already was clear that it was useless? Eugen couldn’t have realized that 82 years later a fictional boxer, of all things, would revive the whole charade. Eugen continues:

I eat whatever I have a taste for, without stinting myself unduly; nor do I restrict myself seriously in what I drink. Commonly, I abjure anything intoxicating, confining myself mostly to beer and light wines. Tea and coffee I never suffer myself to touch. All I impose upon my appetites is that they shall be temperately indulged.

So the man who was among the strongest of his time, if not actually the strongest, didn’t believe in any special diet and ate whatever he liked. No protein timing, no macro- or micronutrient fiddling, let alone any fish oil capsules or other supplements. His dislike for coffee and tea notwithstanding, all he actually advises you to do is to let moderation prevail.

Sandow’s Daily Routine

The rest of his daily routine is as simple:

I endeavour to have my meals at regular hours, and prefer that they shall be simple and easy of digestion. I always take care to chew my food, proper mastication being a sine qua non of health. I take plenty of sleep and find this essential to my well-being. As I do not generally get to bed before midnight, or even later, I do not rise until eleven, when I take a cold bath all the year round, preceded by a little light exercise with the dumb-bells. I then have breakfast, and after attending to my correspondence and seeing my friends, I go for a walk or a drive, whatever be the weather. At seven I dine, after which I rest until my evening performance, and close the day with another cold bath and supper. Usually, I dress lightly, though always suitably to the season. My nightly exhibitions, I may add, supply me, together with a good constitutional every day, with all the exercise I need. If I want more, I take it, as I sit reading or smoking, by nicking my muscles.

Now we know he liked to bathe cold, didn’t get up before eleven (which of course was due to his late night performances) and smoked.

Which is funny, as I can point you to half a dozen articles of so-called “bodybuilding pros” that will tell you that smoking will effectively hinder any muscle development. I certainly don’t advise you to start smoking, but this goes to show how much many workout videos and articles out there exaggerate things.

Take Home Point

Eugen Sandow didn’t know the research we have today about how much protein is useful for muscle growth or how carbohydrates fuel high intensity activities, sure. But, all in all, things didn’t change that much, so his words of wisdom still ring true: keep it simple!

And if you want to train like the great Sandow himself, here is his workout plan.

Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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  1. I tend to think that economics has driven the bodybuilding market more than results. I remember reading somewhere that Arnold began lifting chunks of concrete, not fancy weight sets.

    Smoking is probably what lead to Sandow’s death at a young age. He did look very fit at his funeral I imagine :-)

  2. Eugene Sandow was the father of bodybuilding, but he was far from the strongest of his time. Louis Cyr was the strongest of all the Victorian strongman. He even issued a challenge to Sandow which he never responded to.