Back To The Old School: A Look At Supplements That Are Still Going Strong!

In the golden era of bodybuilders, before science and research had progressed in the area of nutrition and its impact on resistance training, people would do just about anything in order to increase their muscle mass. Find what is still around...

In the golden era of bodybuilders, before science and research had progressed in the area of nutrition and its impact on resistance training, people would do just about anything in order to increase their muscle mass. Stories of ground body parts (thyroid glands, even testicles) being ingested in large quantities, of raw eggs, and many other obscure practices amuse us today. In fact, one common practice, the consumption of desiccated liver tablets, can still draw the occasional chuckle from the modern, scientifically equipped athlete. But is desiccated liver really something to laugh at?

17th Century Bodybuilding Discoveries

In 1746, a scientist (by the definition of the era) named Menghini made an amazing discovery. He found that the consumption of foods containing iron actually increased the iron content of blood. While this may seem obvious today, at that time, the process of digestion and assimilation was poorly understood.

We are talking about a time when maggots and flies were thought to spontaneously appear from rotting meat! While this discovery helped shape the knowledge of nutrition, it was not until several centuries later - 1926 to be precise - that the principle of iron-containing foods was put to more practical use. Minot and Murphy were responsible for giving patients with pernicious anemia, a condition where the blood cells are not able to supply adequate oxygen, daily doses of liver. They did not know exactly why this benefited the patients, but it seemed to alleviate and even reverse the condition. This research led to the creation, in 1928, of a perfected liver extract that could be provided in powdered or capsule form.

Liver supplies two important micronutrients. The first micronutrient, iron, is very important for hemoglobin (a blood protein) and also for the muscle protein myoglobin Iron is essential to the body's exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cells. Iron is introduced in two forms: heme iron (from animal products) and nonheme (from plant products). The body absorbs heme iron more readily. Lack of iron can induce fatigue and anemia. People following a vegetarian diet may, according to the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), require twice as much iron as non-vegetarians. Excess iron can be fatal to children and harmful to adults, although only a few thousand cases of iron poisoning are reported each year, and these are typically related to elemental iron supplements (i.e. iron in supplement form, rather than obtained from food sources such as liver).

Liver is also a tremendous source of the vitamin B12. B12 plays an important role in cellular division and is vital to growth. In addition, it assists the body with the burning of fat and carbohydrate. A deficiency of B12 can also lead to anemia and fatigue. It also seems to play a large role in protection against heart disease. There is no established upper limit for the intake of B12.

This information may seem to imply that simply supplementing with iron and B12 should suffice. There is more to the equation, however. It is generally accepted that oral B12 supplementation will, for the most part, not influence the body to the extent that injections will. For this reason, some athletes actually have B12 injected into their bloodstream. While B12 remains to be studied more thoroughly, it is purported to have anabolic effects and athletes taking B12 injections report increased energy and a stimulation of appetite.

What Does This Have To Do With Desiccated Liver?

So what does this have to do with desiccated liver? Everything! First, desiccated liver is an excellent source of protein, iron, and vitamin B12. More importantly, however, desiccated liver may be a more convenient (and less expensive) alternative to vitamin B12 injections. Liver, in addition to enzymes and phytochemicals, contains cytochrome P-450, a protein enzyme that is involved in steroid production and detoxification. Attempts to discover the crucial ingedient of liver extract failed until 1948, when B12 was isolated as the key compound responsible for improving the condition. Liver extract contains much less fat and cholesterol than other sources of iron and B12 such as beef.

A chemical known as "intrinsic factor" is secreted in the stomach. Intrinsic factor is required by the digestive system to absorb vitamin B12! This is very important - a B12 supplement, by itself, has nowhere near the effect of B12 combined with intrinsic factor and possibly other enzymes and catalysts. The discovery of intrinsic factor is what led to the isolation of B12 and allowed it to be identified as a vitamin, starting a revolution in nutrition.

After the discovery of intrinsic factor, B12 injections rapidly became the treatment of choice (understanding the role of B12 and intrinsic factor, doctors could bypass the digestive system and the need for intrinsic factor by injecting B12 directly into the bloodstream). Therefore, the value of liver for transporting B12 also seemed to become submerged in the chaos of nutrition and science that followed the isolation of the first vitamins.

As you can see, it is no surprise that such bodybuilding giants as Dave Draper and Frank Zane are avid supporters of desiccated liver. They are not clinging to some outdated, "old school" belief - they are supporting a supplement that, while often overlooked or dismissed, may be an integral component for the natural bodybuilder. Simply adding desiccated liver to the diet, however, may not be good enough - it has a very special advantage when used in conjunction with the proper nutritional regimen.

One of the largest advocates for desiccated liver, and one of the few companies that still provide a liver product (Ultra 40) is Beverly International. They have been in business for three decades and have been strong advocates of liver tablets from the beginning. A quick glimpse over those athletes who swear by their products (Beverly does not sponsor or endorse athletes, so these are all voluntary testimonials) demonstrates something worth looking into. This article, in fact, was motivated by the author's own personal experiences with Beverly International.

There are many studies to be performed, and much science to be unraveled, but apparently one of the greatest benefits of using desiccated liver is the energy it provides. Anyone who has tried a low carbohydrate program knows what can happen - fatigue, crash, loss of strength, possibly loss of muscle mass. Beverly advocates lower carbohydrate than most bodybuilding programs - as a 185 pound male (under 10 percent body fat) the author himself only ingests about 100 - 150 grams of carbohydrate per day. With the addition of desiccated liver to the diet, however, energy levels are incredible - through the roof. There is no problem with dragging throughout the day or losing strength in the gym. While previous attempts at going low carbohydrate resulted in flat muscles and weak bench presses, the combination of lower carbohydrate and desiccated liver is nothing short of miraculous. You may be able to gain the fat-burning benefit of lower carbohydrate diet without losing energy (and possibly even gaining more than you imagined possible!).


Hopefully this article will help you understand a little bit of the science between desiccated liver and encourage you to at least investigate this supplement for yourself. Everyone is different, and not all supplements work the same for every person. The author is a huge skeptic when it comes to supplements, but if you keep an open mind and try new techniques, you can learn new things that work for you. Desiccated liver is definitely an example of a supplement that turned a former skeptic into a firm believer and advocate, after seeing strength gains like none before and gaining 5 pounds of scale weight while dropping body fat in a short 4 week period. This again may not be the case for everyone, but you should certainly try for yourself.

If you decide to experiment on your own, look into Ultra 40 from Beverly International. This is a high quality product manufactured from cattle that are bred hormone free and feed on a landscape that is pesticide free (Argentina). Multiply your bodyweight by 0.11 and spread that many pills over your meals (for example, I weigh 185 pounds. 185 x 0.11 = 20 over 5 meals = 4 pills per meal).

If you really want to see amazing results, try the awesome, free service that Beverly International provides - simply record your goals and statistics and mail them to Beverly, and they will design a complete program for you absolutely free of charge (yes, of course they recommend their supplements - but they do not require you to purchase them, and if you are on a limited budget, simply ask them to prioritize the recommendations in order of importance!)