In the field of iron game history, the late Rheo H. Blair has gained somewhat of a cult reputation as a Golden Era expert on bodybuilding nutrition, as well as a nutritionist to Hollywood stars. His products and methods supposedly produced stunning muscle gains back in the 1960s and 1970s. Blair and his protein would be distinctly remembered over the coming years by bodybuilders who were active in those days, such as Larry Scott, Frank Zane, and Dave Draper.
Today we present an early article by Rheo Blair from the July/August 1951 issue of Peary Rader’s “Iron Man” magazine, when Blair was still known by his birth name of Irvin Johnson.
A man of many talents: Irvin Johnson the singer with his piano accompanist Doris Lee, from elsewhere in the magazine. The pair were also winners at a “Mr. and Miss Bodybuilder” physique competition in Chicago. Click to enlarge (appears in new window/tab).
The article below is a primer on protein, and the tone and presentation suggest that Johnson aka Blair was seeking to remedy a lack of understanding of the nutritional value of protein among the weight trainee community of the early 1950s. Indeed, interviews with those active in the iron game at that time suggest that the nutritional benefits of protein intake were not nearly as well-understood in the early decades of the fitness industry as they are today. Randy Roach’s bodybuilding history book Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, Volume 1 (p. 208) indicates that physique training publications prior to the 1950s had little to say on protein intake or protein supplementation. It is difficult to imagine a time when high protein consumption was not closely associated with strength and physique development as it is today.
Bearing in mind that knowledge of nutrition for weight training was not as well-developed in those days, the article below by Johnson aka Blair could be considered a pioneering work in the field of iron game nutrition. Today’s discerning reader may be somewhat skeptical of Johnson’s examples of extremely rapid gains in lean muscle weight and size. Randy Roach takes a more reasoned and cautious approach to such cases in Chapter 12 of Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, Volume 1. Also, Johnson’s “Hi-Protein Food” product at the time of this article was soy-based. He would eventually transition to a milk and egg protein formula as the leading product in the “Blair’s” supplement line.
Further reading/reference on a later version of Blair’s famous protein (opens in new window/tab): https://physicalculturestudy.com/2016/06/22/the-secret-of-rheo-h-blairs-protein-powder/
For a fictional depiction of Rheo Blair, see the 2017 film Battle of the Sexes, in which Fred Armisen appears briefly as Blair in the 1970s.
ARE YOU INTERESTED in building bulging muscles, muscles with superb muscular tone, muscles rippling with strength? Of course you are or you wouldn’t be reading this magazine.
Let me pass on to you one of the great secrets I learned sometime ago about muscle building, one that has proven so very successful in my work here at the Irvin Johnson gymnasium and has enabled me to achieve outstanding results with men in all walks of life in a comparatively short length of time.
Naturally one must have the proper equipment and proper instruction to insure maximum results. But this is not enough. One must realize that any increase of exercise such as one undergoes in a gymnasium also makes an increased need for body nourishment in order to supply the greater demand on the muscles due to their increased activity. At such a time more blood is brought into the muscle area. Yet if the blood does not contain the essential vitalizing factors, the muscle cannot be strengthened and built.
It is very necessary to have good material with which to work and build muscle. The basic muscle food is protein and you have to have plenty of it if you are going to achieve that dream of yours. Protein is the building material of which all living tissue is made. Since all muscles are made of protein, a partial lack of this valuable substance allows the muscles to become soft and stringy. This condition results in flabbiness of muscles and in poor posture.
You cannot develop a strong, big-muscled body without protein and it must be utilized in generous amounts in any body-building regime. Building a powerful, peppy body is like building a house—one must have the proper type of building material. Your body relies entirely on the food consumed to build and rebuild. Yes, fruits, and vegetables are vitally essential, but your number one food and the most important factor in your diet is protein. Sugar, starches, and fats contribute energy, but only protein can build new tissue.
Every part of your body needs proteins. The hormones, which have so much to do with the kind of man you are and determine your personality to great extent, are produced from protein. The enzymes which have much to do with your digestion and the way you assimilate your food are made from it. Thus you can see why it exerts such a tremendous influence on your health, your stamina and your ability to get things done.
I have found that the fellows who pay strict attention to their dietary needs get better and faster results than those who use a hit and miss system as far as their eating is concerned. You can enhance your muscle-building regime 100 per cent by paying more attention to the type of food you eat and assuring yourself of getting the necessary foods that build muscle.
Protein foods are not difficult to get and you should have at least one protein food with each meal. Meat, fish, eggs, soya, and cheese are protein foods. I think you enjoy most of these foods but probably aren’t getting the amount needed to achieve success in your body-building work. Concentrate on them and you’ll find yourself responding with amazing ease to the rigorous demands of body-building that spells success.
Generally speaking, the term Protein is much too loosely used; it may mean much or it may mean little or nothing. For instance, the protein of meat, soya, eggs, and milk is “complete”. That of the cereals, wheat, corn, rice, and beans is “incomplete” owing to the absence of certain amino-acids, while an extreme case is that of gelatin, which, almost a pure protein, is so deficient in essential amino-acids, that it has not too much food value. It should be borne in mind that in arranging a diet, it must contain those substances necessary to promote muscle growth, or there can be no tissue repair.
Remember only your protein foods contain those precious amino acids which are the building blocks of the body. When protein is digested it is converted into Amino Acids which pass into the blood stream. Then it is utilized by the tissues, according to the requirements of each particular organ.
In short, here are the reasons why it is so vitally important that one be assured of getting all the Amino Acids:
1. All muscle is formed from amino acids.
2. At some time or another, all proteins properly digest, become a part of an enzyme. Enzymes activate the major processes of the body.
3. All “anti-bodies” (factors which build resistance to infection) are made from proteins.
4. All hormones (gland secretions) are combinations of amino acids.
You can therefore see why the man who is interested in building a superb body, a body filled with strength, vitality, and muscle-power should get his protein foods to be assured of getting the essential amino acids, those potent body-builders.
I have found the addition of a liquid amino acid to my diet of great help in digesting protein and getting greater protein utilization. This palatable pro-digest protein-rich food enhances the use of my protein foods and aids in the building and maintenance of the muscle structure.
Here’s my “Building Cocktail”: Half a teaspoon of this liquid amino acid added to an egg nog. I find this a simple and easy way to insure that precious protein with its amino acids.
Here at the Irvin Johnson Gym where records in muscle building are being made at all times (just had a twenty-two year old fellow who put on seven pounds of muscle in three days), several different kinds of protein concentrates are being used. One of these is the “Protein Hydrolysate” which comes in tablet form. These tablets contain 47 per cent protein and it is a complete protein concentrate. Meat, by the way is only about 20 per cent protein. In the next issue we will tell you about another protein food supplement we use here at the gym.
We have our own food laboratory here at the gym. In this modern equipped kitchen, we are always experimenting with foods and supplements to find out which are the best to include in the muscle building diet. We have made up our own food, which is called, “Irvin Johnson’s Hi-Protein Food”. We have been using this new food for several months and the results have been wonderful. One case is of a pair of twins that work out here. The twins names are Larry and John. Larry had always weighted more and was better developed than his brother John. John supplemented his diet with the Hi-Protein Food and now weighs several pounds more than Larry. His arm is also one inch larger than Larry’s. John’s arm was smaller than Larry’s before using the Hi-Protein Food. Larry didn’t use the food. John used the food for about six weeks to accomplish these gains.
Another case is of Johnny Gaal, who has the titles, “Mr. Kentucky” of 1948, “Mr. South Chicago” of 1950 and “Mr. Jr. Illinois” of 1950. Though John Gaal has been exercising for some time he could never seem to bring his arms up to where he wanted them. He supplemented his diet with the Hi-Protein food, and in one month’s time he added one half inch to each arm, increased his military press by ten pounds, his bench press record by fifteen pounds and was able to use twenty more pounds in the squat than ever before. Before using the Hi-Protein food he had been at a sticking point in his training for several months.
This new food has been giving us such wonderful results. There are so many more cases of muscle gains from the use of this food I would like to tell you about, but this article is getting too long already.
Most of the fellows make this food up into a tasty drink just by adding milk and honey to it. The Hi-Protein food contains approximately forty-five percent complete protein, containing all the amino acids known to be essential plus seven more amino acids.
Remember all muscle function comes from protein metabolism. Keep plugging away at those exercises, get plenty of protein and you will soon experience greater gains in your body building and health.