Last Updated on March 20, 2020

A Quick History of Dietary SupplementsA Quick History of Dietary Supplements

In the tiny Austrian village of Thal, with a current population of less than 3,000, a 15-year-old took up weight training. At 20, he won the Mr. Universe title. He picked up seven Mr. Olympia titles along the way, before transforming into one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is inarguably the most popular bodybuilder in the world. To the common man, he is well known for his onscreen exploits, but to bodybuilders all over the globe, he’s a living legend. And rightfully so. His success in the international bodybuilding circuit was not based on luck. A vigorous workout routine coupled with the right mix of dietary supplements helped him reach the top.

Not surprisingly, the “Arnold Era” was in many ways the birth of the supplement market that’s thriving today. Here’s a quick overview of the supplement market from the 1970s through 2018.

The “Arnold Era” of supplements (1970s and 1980s)

In the 1970s and 1980s, often referred to as the “Arnold Era” for bodybuilders, nutritional plans weren’t really so different from what they are today. Bodybuilder diets were high in protein, and carbs and fats were eaten in moderate amounts. While beef and dairy products were the popular sources of protein, bodybuilders nowadays still have a penchant for protein—but often without all the fat.

During this time, supplement trends were just beginning to emerge. Some are still popular today, while others are now considered relics of the past. Here are a few of the more memorable supplements of the era.

Dried liver tablets: In order to increase their protein intake, bodybuilders in the past were huge fans of dried liver tablets. (Arnold, Frank Zane and Dave Draper were among this old-school supplement’s frequent users). These tablets contained iron, B vitamins and amino acid. Dried tablets have waned in popularity in recent years because of the emergence of more streamlined amino supplements, but many still swear by dried liver tablets today.

Protein powders: We don’t have to tell you that protein powders are still popular today; you see them everywhere and in more varieties than ever. Protein powders and amino acid supplements were also widely used in the 1970s and 1980s. The biggest difference? Quality. Back then, these dietary supplements weren’t exactly the tastiest health drinks around. Since most protein powders of the day were milk- and egg-based, they often resulted in lumpy concoctions that needed to be mixed with safflower oil or cream. This increased the caloric intake of a protein shake, but the bodybuilders of the Arnold Era didn’t seem to mind.

Pre-creatine: Modern bodybuilders are more than familiar with creatine supplements, but in the Arnold Era it was all about arginine and glutamine. These free-form amino supplements were known to boost growth hormones and enhance muscle recovery. Today, you’ll still find arginine in the best nitric oxide supplements. Glutamine, on the other hand, is more hotly debated.

Blair Protein: You can’t talk about the dietary supplement industry without Rheo H. Blair’s name popping up. His pioneering Blair Protein was a hit with professional bodybuilders and celebrities alike during the 1970s. The supplement innovator reportedly spent years tweaking his formula, which in the end used casseinate and calcium from nonfat dry milk, lactalbumin (egg white protein) and whole dried eggs, plus iron phosphate and natural vanilla for flavor.

Government regulations (1990s and 2000s)

The multivitamin and mineral supplement industry has come a long way since the 1970s, and there have been a few road bumps along the way. But in any industry that sells products meant to impact the body, there are bound to be a few hiccups.

During a period of unprecedented industry growth The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (1994) was established to protect consumers from false claims. The landmark 1994 act was enforced after a number of unfortunate deaths and hospitalizations resulting from food supplements. That’s why today’s labels of nutritional supplements have detailed lists of ingredients. This labeling allows consumers to make unbiased decisions about the supplements they decide to buy. (You can also read thorough reviews on the top protein supplements and pre-workout supplements to ensure you’re choosing the best products.)

By 2002, retail sales of dietary supplements totaled $18 billion. That represented a 4% increase from 2001 and a whopping 310% boost from 1997. This growth continued throughout the 2000s.

Personalization and wellness at any age (2018)

Since the Arnold Era, and despite a few regulatory hiccups, the dietary supplement industry has been growing by leaps and bounds. Case in point: the global supplement market is now valued at more than $82 billion, with nearly 30% of that coming from the U.S.

What’s driving this tremendous growth? An aging population is more hooked on vitamins than ever; there’s major growth in wellness interest among consumers; and pharmaceutical prices are making supplements a more economical, safe choice for many. While the pharmaceutical industry is about treatment, the dietary supplement industry concentrates on prevention.

What’s next for the supplement industry? The personalization of nutritional plans is becoming quite popular and is predicted to continue defining the market for years to come. This is likely fueled, at least in part, by the rise of biohacking and genetic-based diet and exercise strategies. At the same time, the majority of seniors surveyed now take one or more supplements each month—just one shift toward an overall healthier lifestyle for aging populations in the U.S.

The supplement industry has come a long way since the Arnold Era. Scientific advancements have helped fitness enthusiasts, athletes and general consumers supplement their food with the ideal nutrients to achieve their health goals. If you haven’t yet perfected your supplement regimen, read our unbiased reviews to take your performance to the next 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.