What the Weight Trainer Should Eat [Part 1] – Richard Alan (1956)

Serious athletes have been aware of the importance of proper food intake for quite some time, as this is foundational for proper energy levels, performance and recovery. But what constitutes good sports nutrition in the iron game? Views have varied over the years based on refinements in scientific knowledge, as well as experience and observation. 

Today we present a viewpoint that seems to have been typical in mid-twentieth century bodybuilding, as written by physique athlete Richard Alan of Michigan, USA. The excerpt below is taken from the third chapter of Alan’s now-obscure 1956 booklet “Nutrition and Recipes for Progressive Resistance Exercise.”


The author as he appeared in the opening pages of his booklet. Click to enlarge (opens in new window/tab).

Who was Richard Alan? Little information seems to be readily available on the man himself, whose full name was Richard Alan Poel. We have been able to piece together the following possible biographical sketch from publicly available sources.

Although he occasionally appeared on the covers of fitness publications and even contributed a handful of articles to weight training magazines from the early to late 1950s, today you are not likely to hear Alan’s name mentioned alongside more well-known champions of the era such as Steve Reeves and Reg Park.

Having already appeared in a few weight training magazines of the day, Richard Alan Poel graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in psychology in 1956 (source). Apparently, around this time he attempted some kind of health and fitness-oriented enterprise bearing his name in Grand Haven, Michigan, through which he published the booklet that the excerpt below first appeared in. Then, within just a few short years, he seems to have faded from the limelight of the burgeoning fitness industry. Perhaps he wished to distance himself from certain attempts to overtly sexualize physique photography, as he spoke out against such a trend in an “Iron Man” article in 1958, and that seems to be the final article that he ever contributed to any weight training publication (source).

It is also possible that Richard Alan wanted to focus on becoming an osteopathic physician, as a newspaper article from 1961 which described the wedding of a certain Richard Alan Poel of Michigan to Cynthia Jane Beadell of Indiana also stated that Poel, a graduate of the University of Michigan, was then attending the Chicago College of Osteopathy (source). Then, in late 1963, it appears that this same Richard Poel, a 1956 Michigan alumnus and by then a graduate of the Chicago College of Osteopathy, returned to Grand Haven, Michigan to join Municipal Hospital as an osteopathic surgeon (source).

If this is indeed the same Richard Alan Poel who wrote the nutrition booklet that is the source of today’s excerpt, then the former physique athlete was also somewhat of a pioneer in the medical field, as osteopaths had only very recently started to become accepted as ‘real’ doctors and allowed by the American Medical Association to become part of a hospital medical staff, and he had the distinction of being among the first to do so (source). From that point forward, there does not appear to be much in the way of public record when it comes to Poel’s life and his work.

If the osteopathic surgeon Richard Alan Poel was the same man as the former physique athlete Richard Alan Poel, then it is rather unfortunate that he never used his medical knowledge to contribute more scientifically advanced advice to strength and physique trainees from the 1960s onward. In any case, back in 1956, although Richard Alan was just a recent college graduate with a psychology degree, he apparently felt that his experience in the iron game had given him enough knowledge and authority to write an instructional booklet on proper nutrition for weight training. After having explained in the second chapter of the booklet why weight training requires a special nutritional program which differs from that of the non-athlete, Alan proceeded to explain in the text below what such a weight training-oriented diet should consist of.

The rather technical-sounding expression ‘progressive resistance exercise’ in the title of Alan’s booklet may have been a reference to the 1951 book of that name by physicians Thomas DeLorme and Arthur Watkins, which offered scientific reasoning behind the set/rep system that we are so accustomed to today in weight training (a reprint edition of DeLorme and Watkins’ book is available for purchase at superstrengthtraining.com). Whereas DeLorme and Watkins explained physical exercise, Alan endeavored to explain the vitally important nutritional dimension of the iron game.

Alan advocated whole, natural foods, rather than refined products or synthetic ingredients. Much of today’s sports nutrition – including pre-workout powders and other supplements – contains significant amounts of artificial ingredients. 1950s iron game champions undoubtedly would have scoffed at this. For more of Richard Alan’s ideas in particular, we will be posting a few more occasional excerpts from Alan’s booklet over the coming weeks, right here at FOUNDATIONS OF IRON.

Booklet excerpt:

The weight trainer should eat natural foods. By this I mean that he should eat foods that are in the natural state. Thus we should not eat any foods that have been devitalized through processing such as white flour and its products. Manufacturers of white flour and its products have taken out much of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals through processing. Then they attempt to replace them by adding synthetically made vitamins and minerals. The vitamins found in natural foods are the same as those found in synthetically made foods, but the natural foods have something extra, such as catalysts and enzymes, which act to help the body use the vitamins. Experts refer to this “extra something” that natural foods have as the as yet unmeasured nutritional wholes. You see, although the experts have found a tremendous number of facts about foods, they still feel there is much to learn. This idea of nutritional wholes is one of them. This is how their reasoning works. Each food is made up of smaller parts and each of these parts is inter-related to each one of the other parts. Now let us say, for example, that some food is made up of three parts, all of equal value. Now if we assigned the value 1 to each and added we’d expect to get a number 3 as the value of the whole, which is made up of the three parts. But, this is not true when considering foods, for the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. We may get a 5 or an 8 or some other number ; this is something we do not as yet understand. We do know that it is better to eat a whole food than to eat parts of it separately. It is the interaction of the parts that gives us all this extra benefit, thus be sure you eat the natural foods.

Devitalized foods are foods that have some of their parts removed or destroyed. Thus white flour is wheat flour with the germ and outside layer removed, the very parts that are the best nutritionally. When buying foods always check the labels to see what ingredients are in them. If there are any artificial flavorings, colorings, or any preservatives such as sulphur dioxide, or any other devitalized ingredients added, you can be sure the food is not natural and as such you should be wary of it. The only really good food mixtures are those which have natural foods as their ingredients. Mixtures of natural foods are good, and in most cases are to be desired.

Now let us consider our diet as a whole. We’ve discussed such things as vitamins and minerals as being a part of a food. Now let us consider a single food as being a part of something bigger ; this something is our diet, or, in simpler terms, all the foods which we eat. Just as we wouldn’t eat a vitamin separately so also we don’t want to eat types of food separately. Thus the idea of sitting down to a meal consisting solely of meat is simply not based upon scientific fact. Each food, or type of food, that we eat is not complete in itself. It does not contain everything we need to stay alive. To get everything we need to stay alive we have to eat a great variety of foods; and we have to eat a great variety every day. Another reason for eating a variety of foods every day is because of the supplemental relationships between foods. One food when eaten with another can bring about an effect greater than that which either of them could have brought about had they been eaten alone. For example, eating some carbohydrates and fats along with protein helps the body use that protein more efficiently. Fats and carbohydrates have what is called a protein sparing action. So you don’t have to be afraid of eating different foods at the same time. Generally, all natural foods can be eaten together at the same time and this generally produces an effect which is better than that if each food had been eaten alone.

Experiments run on rats have shown that a diet consisting of natural foods promotes longevity. Those rats that were not fed natural foods did not live as long. It was also found that the internal organs and the whole internal environment of those rats fed with natural foods was better than that of the others. In other experiments it was found that a diet including a large variety of foods was much superior to that which did not include such a variety. Economically it is also wise to eat natural foods. There is not much sense spending money for foods that can’t do us any good. There is no sense in cluttering up our intestines with bulk that the body can’t use. Better foods mean a more efficient body, and a more efficient body means a longer, more vibrant, and active life, which means happiness. Put it this way : there are just no reasons for not eating a large variety of natural foods.

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