Last Updated on March 25, 2020

The Most Popular Dietary Supplements of the PastThe Most Popular Dietary Supplements of the Past

Dietary supplements have come a long way since the 1960s when modern bodybuilding helped kick-start the industry we know today. With each passing day, new scientific studies are looking into the effectiveness of a wide variety of supplements. And that’s steadily building trust among consumers. Not surprisingly, more of us than ever are taking dietary supplements—to the tune of 170 million Americans.

Weight training has been around since the late 19th Century. Our gym habits are also said to have originated around this time, flourishing during the 20th Century. Along with the rise of fitness, culture came the popularity of supplements designed to enhance our workouts.

While some supplements of the past, such as pre-workout stimulants, are still fixtures in today’s fitness world, many early products have long been replaced by proven formulas from new brands. By knowing where supplements evolved from, we can have confidence that there’s never been a better time to be a supplement user than today.

Here are six popular supplements of the past to show you just how far the industry has come.

Brewer’s Yeast: This supplement sounds just as odd as it actually is. But despite its off-putting name, this was one of the more popular supplements of the 1980s. The supplement is made up of dried and refined yeast cells, plus Vitamin B and various minerals. It’s often marketed as a good source of chromium, which plays a role in keeping the body’s blood sugar levels in check. WebMD calls Brewer’s Yeast “possibly safe,” which isn’t too reassuring. Nevertheless, when taken in the short-term, this supplement has minimal side effects.

Chitosan: This supplement is derived from the shells of crustaceans such as crab, crayfish and shrimp. The goal is to block the absorption of fat in the stomach, thus promoting weight loss. Although the supplement is still sold today, it comes with concerning side effects, including stomach pain, diarrhea and fatty stool. It’s also been flagged by the FDA for a lack of evidence into its claims. Are the side effects and risk worth the possible weight loss? The choice is yours, but we’d recommend these fat burners instead.

Glandular Supplements: This supplement was popular in nutrition and bodybuilding in the 1960s. But what exactly are glandular supplements? The supplement was made from freeze-dried animal glands, which bodybuilders would ingest hoping to gain more testosterone. This is great in theory. However, these supplements were never professionally tested or proven effective. Aside from use in animals and among strict natural medicine proponents, glandular supplements have fallen out of the spotlight today.

Sodium Bicarbonate: Talk about adding some fizz to your performance. Sodium bicarbonate, better known as baking soda, has been used in sports nutrition for decades. It turns out that this pantry staple can help muscles function at higher levels for longer periods of time. However, gastric issues are a known side effect. Although sodium bicarbonate garners mixed reviews in the supplement world, it’s still used today by runners and bodybuilders alike.

 Desiccated Liver Supplements: It’s rumored that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane were among the Golden Era bodybuilders who swore by dried liver tablets. But do they work? It turns out the answer is yes. Filled with iron, the B vitamins and amino acids, desiccated liver supplements can give you the energy needed to power through tough workouts. Since the liver supplement was created in 1928, it has enjoyed major popularity. Although its heyday is long gone, these supplements are still being used today.

The liver is home to two key micronutrients: iron and Vitamin B12. A lack of iron can induce fatigue and anemia, making this nutrient extremely beneficial to the human body. Iron typically comes in two forms: heme iron from animal products (like liver) and non-heme from plant products. Heme iron has been shown to have better absorption in the human body—thus the creation of liver supplements. Meanwhile, Vitamin B12 plays an important role in cellular division and is vital to growth. It also burns fat and carbohydrates. Like iron, a deficiency in Vitamin B12 can cause fatigue and anemia. Given these nutrients, it’s no surprise that some bodybuilders still swear by liver supplements today.

Pre-Workout Powers & Shakes: As the world’s body of nutrient research grows, so do the advancements seen in protein powers and shakes—a supplement category that first rose to popularity in the 1970s and early 1980s. As the story goes, bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane would enjoy coffee before a workout—some even drank it during the workout—to increase their energy. Soon, alternatives to coffee were developed to give bodybuilders a boost prior to their workouts. With that, pre-workout powders and shakes were born. Today, the market is filled with high-quality pre-workout supplements and protein powders proven to maximize workout results.

Whether you’re exploring the dietary supplements of yesteryear or the newest trending protein powders and supplements, it’s crucial to use trusted sources to determine the formula right for you. Check out our unbiased dietary supplement reviews, and consider consulting a nutritionist to determine exactly what your body needs to perform at its highest level.

Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.