by Mike Arnold

If I were to ask the question ?what makes bodybuilding unique?? the likely response would almost certainly be centered around the physical development of its participants, but of all the characteristics which define this sport, there is one aspect which sets it apart from all other athletic endeavors. This is the BB?ing diet.

An anomaly to the general public, the idea of eating 6-7X per day, with each meal comprised of a predetermined amount of protein, fats, and carbohydrate, is a concept foreign to all but those who live the lifestyle. What might be perceived as forced gluttony by outsiders is nothing more than a means to an end for these dedicated athletes?a necessary inconvenience on their way to physique perfection. But every now and then even we will stumble upon a tale of eating so otherworldly that it confounds the imagination, leaving us wondering why a human being would, or even could consume such a massive amount of food.

While food quantity deserves special consideration in determining which stories are worthy of recognition, we must also acknowledge those oddball diets, which, although lower in food volume, were either so monotonous or so mortifying to the palate, that they simply couldn?t be excluded. As we shall soon see, the physique world has produced a number of diets ranging from the bizarre to the extreme, some of which were lauded as the pinnacle of sports nutrition and which served as a dietary template for thousands. Others, due to their unpleasant nature, were rejected outright by all but the most committed masochists.

The belief that certain foods and/or extravagant eating were useful for acquiring size & strength is actually nothing new, going back all the way to the ancient Greeks and Romans. As the forefathers of modern BB?ing, the Greeks placed a strong emphasis on masculinity, with both aesthetic muscularity and physical strength considered virtues worthy of development. In fact, males who squandered this innate ability were frequently viewed with contempt. However, prior to the 20th century, it was primarily the strength athletes who pioneered the concept of eat big to get big, and eat big they did.

Considered by many to be the progenitor of progressive resistance weight training and the high-protein diet, Milo of Crotona (Crotona is a Greek territory is Southern Italy) was a famous Greek wrestler living in the 6th century B.C. As a 5 time winner of the Olympic Games, Milo is said to have built his strength by daily carrying a heifer on his shoulders the full length of the Olympic stadium, which he did from the day of its birth until full maturity. After making his final march, Milo killed the heifer and consumed it within a single day. With a typical daily diet consisting of 20 lbs of meat, 20 lbs of bread, and 18 pints of wine, eating a full grown heifer would have been an outlandish feat even for Milo. While stories such as this are obviously highly exaggerated, they demonstrate a strong belief in the value of protein, specifically animal protein, for the acquisition of muscular strength?a practice embraced by many to this very day.

The inclusion of large quantities of protein within the strongman diet remained a constant all the way through the early 20th century, with protein making up the vast majority of the diet, along with plentiful amounts of fat. Meat of all sorts and raw milk were considered basic staples. Eggs, particularly in raw form or cooked over low heat, were also held in high regard. Strongman and physical culturist Arthur Saxon, as well as Russian strongman and wrestler, George Hackenschmidt, were avid proponents of meat and raw milk and would regularly consume over a dozen pounds of each in their daily diet. Although it may seem odd to us now, many individuals from that era considered beer to be a food which possessed inherent nutritional value and was therefore included in the meal plan, often in large quantities. Carbohydrate intake was comparatively scarce, with small amounts of whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables making up the remainder of the diet.

With modern BB?ing growing up in the shadow of these strength sports, it was only natural for its adherents to adopt many of their dietary habits. This was especially true during the first few decades of its existence, but as time went by and BB?ing began to expand, so did its nutritional theories. This led to a prolonged period of experimentation and subsequent disagreement among the various factions as to what constituted the best way to eat. It was also around this time that BB?rs started becoming aware of the role of carbohydrates in the diet, which prompted many to begin including a larger portion of this macro nutrient in their meal plan.

When it comes to the more memorable characters of the early Muscle Beach scene, Armand Tanny easily earns a spot at the top of the list. Although blessed with a spectacular physique, it was his dietary habits that raised the most eyebrows. A raw food advocate, Armand was known to eat all of his foods in their natural state. Raw tuna, beef, lobster, clams, oysters, and liver were all on the menu and were supplemented with nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables as desired. It was not uncommon for Armand to cull various shellfish from the ocean floor as he waded through the water in anticipation of his next meal.

Another standout from around the same era was Bruce Randal. Unlike Armand, Bruce took no interest in the consumption of exotic fare, but boy cold he eat. One could even argue that he ate more food on a consistent basis than any other BB?r in history. Through methodical eating, Bruce took his weight from a scant 164 lbs to over 400 lbs in just a few years time; a feat which would have been accomplished even more quickly had Bruce been able to continue with his program uninterrupted.

Still, the speed at which Bruce grew was made possible only through the sheer enormity of his food intake. Breakfast alone was often comprised of 2 quarts milk, 28 fried eggs, and 1.5 loaves of bread. His daily milk consumption, which he mainly drank between meals, averaged in the 8-10 quarts per day range, although he claimed to have put away as much as 19 quarts over a 24 hour period. Lunch was frequently eaten at the cafeteria, in which the lunch tray itself would serve as his plate. Bystanders would watch in disbelief as his entire tray was filled with food.

Did I mention that this took place in the early to mid 50?s, before the advent of AAS in athletics? In other words, Bruce had no nutrient repartitioners at his disposal, yet he was able to parlay this massive food intake into some monumental lifts, such as a 685 lb good morning (rarely performed today), a standing press with 365 X 2, a 770 lb deadlift, and ? squats with 2,100 lbs (performed even more rarely). Bruce eventually reduced his off-season weight to a more manageable 230-240 lbs and after a short preparation, competed in and won the 1959 NABBA Mr. Universe title at 222 lbs.

On the other side of the spectrum we had Vince Gironda, trainer to the Hollywood stars. Weighing in at only 165ish?, Vince was by no means a big man and possessed an appetite which was in proportion to his size. Unlike Bruce Randall, who achieved notoriety through food quantity, Vince went the opposite direction, limiting both overall calories and food sources. For over a year, Vince sustained his bodyweight and health eating nothing but beef and eggs. However, it is important to note that the beef was consumed raw and the eggs were only lightly cooked, as Vince believed that an egg?s integrity could only be maintained by cooking it at low temperatures. Either Vince really, really loved beef & eggs, or he exhibited a degree of dietary discipline which has rarely ever been witnessed in the world of BB?ing. I have seen some tough pre-contest diets, but the duration and limitations of this diet make all others look like a joke.

Irvin Johnston, who later renamed himself Rheo Blair, may be familiar to some of you old-timers. As one of the first and most respected men to venture into the supplement business, Irvin placed more than one BB?r on an extreme diet consisting of huge amounts of dietary fat and protein with little to no carbohydrates. Don Howarth, former Mr. America winner and client of Irvin Johnston, was one of these men. In preparation for an upcoming contest, Don was placed a strict dietary regimen containing 1 quart of raw cream, 2-3 cups of protein powder, 2 lbs. of ground sirloin, and 3 dozen eggs daily! In conjunction with this program Don also began supplementing with Dianabol for the first time in his life, beginning at 5 mg per day and working up to 10 mg?s daily.

Another client under Irvin?s tutelage around the same time as Don, but who did not have as much success with Irvin?s methods, was Mr. America Bob Gadja. At one point, Bob was instructed to take 25 tablets of desiccated liver every 2 hours! Soon thereafter the two men parted ways in amiable fashion. I could only imagine the indigestion and stomach pains Bob would have had to endure under such a radical prescription. None the less, Irvin Johnston, despite making recommendations that today would be considered borderline nuts, was well respected throughout the community and helped many individuals move one step closer to their physique and performance goals.

Among the more modern BB?rs, Victor Richards is one who comes to mind in terms of caloric excess. Although the claims were never verified, Victor had claimed to eat as much as 20,000 calories in a single day. While many assumed Victor was referring to his normal daily intake when these words first went into print, he later pointed out that this would only be done on special occasions and was not a part of his daily routine. For years, most thought this claim was nothing more than a fictional account designed to entertain the reader and paint the teller as some type of BB?ing superman. However, recent demonstrations by Juan Morel, who was documented on video eating a number of calories approaching Victor?s alleged total, made the original claim appear a bit more believable. After all, Victor did outweigh Morel by a good 40+ pounds when at his heaviest.

Over the years there have been many individuals who have claimed to engage in all sorts of unique and outrageous dietary conquests, some of which have been confirmed and some of which have not. While there is certain to be varying degrees of exaggeration attached to some of these stories, it is likely that most of them contain at least some measure of truth. However, one thing we can be certain of is that no other culture in the world places such great importance on the food we put into our bodies. Therefore, as long as BB?ing and the strength sports continue to exist, we can continue to look forward to more crazy tales in the years to come.