How many times do you eat a day? Do you eat carbs after 3pm? Post-workout protein shake?
Such are the questions faced by the modern day strength enthusiast. Are we overthinking the way we eat? In a world faced with a growing obesity epidemic and continuous production of low quality foods the answer may appear no. If we dig deeper however we may begin to question why we stick to rigid diet tips by people supposedly in the know. Where should we turn for diet advice? The muscle mags are one place, yet one often has to traverse through forty pages of advertisements before stumbling upon anything remotely sane.
What about the strongmen of yore? What about Eugen Sandow? How did he eat and why?
Why look at Sandow?
Sandow came at a time when men like George Hackenschmidt, the Saxon Brothers and countless others were making a name for themselves in the health field. We are looking at Sandow today for two simple reasons: He’s perhaps the most well known and he also marketed his diet with incredible success. The publicity surrounding Sandow’s physique meant that his fans wanted to know how to look like Sandow. Thanks to Sandow’s flair in the business world, we still retain the diet tips he marketed to his fellow strength enthusiasts.
So without further adieu, how does one eat like a Sandow?
In one word…simply. Sandow’s diet was very basic. In fact Sandow once said
“I am myself no believer in a special diet, still less in a rigid one, as necessary while training.”
Sandow held a varied and balanced diet. He didn’t need ‘detox’ weeks, let alone ‘cheat days’. He maintained his healthy physique through a combination of nutritious foods and regular exercise something that is often forgotten when one looks at modern miracle diets. Moderation for the ‘Father of Bodybuilding’ was the key to success. He didn’t deprive himself of anything nor did he indulge heavily in the richer foods of life. Again returning to the great man
“I do not care for anything intoxicating (hard liquor), but do enjoy a beer or some wine on occasion. I never touch tea or coffee. I eat “plain”, wholesome food for the most part, but do “indulge” on occasion. I have my meals at regular intervals, and prefer simple foods that are easy to digest. I chew my food well and believe strongly that mastication is a key to good health.”
Sandow took his time when eating his food. He didn’t hastily shove as much food into his mouth as possible while looking at a computer screen, which is something I’m sure many of us, myself included, have been guilty of on occasion.
Okay so moderation and a simple diet. But what about the golden ingredient to modern day weight training, protein. Sandow did not consume large amounts of protein. Today’s diets advocating 250 to 300 grams of protein today would have been alien to the great man.
Sandow was a proponent of getting his protein requirements from raw eggs and meat but again within the context of moderation and he was not alone in this. George Hackenschmidt largely subsided on a diet of nuts, fruit and vegetables. He drank milk, ate eggs but rarely indulged in eating large quantities of meant. Neither man recommended consuming gratuitous amounts of protein, something one can find with regularity on the forums of many bodybuilding sites.
So what can we learn from the diet of Sandow?
Firstly it seems as if patience and moderation seem to have been important for Sandow. He didn’t try to lose 30pounds in two weeks, nor did he try gaining 30 pounds of muscle in two months. He built his physique through a slow, steady process of regular exercise and sensible eating.
Secondly men like Sandow and Hackenschmidt were proponents of listening to your body. If you feel better when you ate a vegetarian diet you did that, similarly if you felt better eating meat. Neither advocated extreme diets that forced you to eat foods you were uncomfortable with.
Finally when we look at Sandow’s diet it’s shocking how simple it was. Granted food quality was perhaps better during Sandow’s time but the incessant need for the modern weight trainer to have protein shakes, pre-workouts, multivitamins, Creatine and so on and so forth seems insane when we look at Sandow’s regime. Has our food gotten so bad that we ‘have to’ use these supplements? Or has the diet industry convinced use that we need them?
We’ll end by examining a day in the life of Eugen Sandow, once described as the epitome of human perfection
“Year round I take cold baths, and afterwards, I do a light-weight dumbell routine. I then have breakfast, then attend to my correspondence. I then enjoy seeing my friends. After this, I typically go for a long walk or if it is not sunny, I will take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. I have my dinner promptly at 7 p.m., then attend my evening performance. After appearing at the theatre, I will have my evening cold bath, followed by a late night supper.”
He ate well, lived well and exercised well. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the strongmen and women of yore?