5 Food Items That Were Preposterously Advertised to Build Muscles

Back in the early 20th century, whiskey and chocolate were marketed as that era’s pre-workout
5 Food Items That Were Preposterously Advertised to Build Muscles

There’s something truly magical about the free-for-all that typified the pre-scientific era of nutrition. Food producers were able to make absolutely fantastical claims about the nutrient benefits of their products without having to provide a shred of evidence to verify those claims. 

As such, in an era that roughly overlapped with the Theodore Roosevelt presidency — when the virtues of maintaining physical might were promoted from the White House on down — several food manufacturers proffered unchecked claims about capabilities of their products to build bountiful muscles for their consumers. 

Thanks to the joint benefits of time, scientific advancement and observable reality, we can now objectively categorize several of these claims as absolute hogwash, but undeniably humorous, too. Here are five such products that were once advertised to have contributed muscle-building properties to those who consumed them…

Ghirardelli’s Chocolate

That’s right. The world-famous chocolatier Ghirardelli’s had the nerve to launch an advertising campaign claiming that its chocolate “builds muscles and hardens tissue.”

Now let’s be generous enough to assume that the marketers at Ghirardelli’s had the best of intentions at that time and fairly assess the *ahem* “muscle-building properties” of the company’s chocolate. In order to sneak an ordinary modern serving of Ghirardelli’s milk chocolate up into the protein-packing range of a typical 12-ounce glass of milk, you’d need to consume well over 800 calories of chocolate, combined with the additional toll of consuming 120 grams of sugar. 

Or, if we were to apply the oft-referenced protein intake formula of 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, a 150-pound person would have to consume nearly 4,000 calories of chocolate and 550 grams of sugar to strike the target. Projecting this formula out over a year, supplementing with Ghirardelli’s chocolate would certainly develop the tissues of your body all right, but not to proportions you’re likely to prefer.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer

Yes, an American beer company had the stones to serve up an ad campaign — backed by the quotes of scientific experts no less — that Pabst Blue Ribbon was a quality muscle-crafter. Or, to quote the company, Pabst Blue Ribbon was “a pure, wholesome food, rich in nutritious, strengthening properties that build muscle and make good blood.”

There’s a reason that no one in the modern era visits the gym after throwing back a few brews and publicizes their pre-workout supplement strategy as a sound one, nor do they follow up their training with beer based on its mass-building properties. Not only does beer contain zero properties that might constructively contribute to a healthy diet outside of some relatively empty calories, but it has a dehydrating effect on your anatomy, and compromises the absorption of protein that could help to repair and build muscle tissue.

In fairness, though, the major breweries have intimated for decades that their products will make you wittier, funnier and more attractive. Pabst simply took the lie one step further than their competitors were willing to go.

Rose’s Medicinal Malt Whiskey

There were multiple “medicinal” malt whiskeys on the market in the early 20th century. Most of them made the preposterous claim to be legitimate medical remedies on the basis of malted grain’s proven health benefits. In essence, they separately stretched the definitions of “malted,” “grain” and “benefits” to ludicrous dimensions and attempted to apply the beneficial properties of one product to a related product that possessed none of them. 

Yes, there are trace amounts of minerals like iron, zinc and potassium lingering in the hard-liquor variants of malted grain products, but you’d be dead of alcohol poisoning long before you achieved the recommended daily allowance of any of them through strict whiskey consumption. We’re talking about you literally downing 100 shots of Wild Turkey before the Recommended Daily Allowance chart would dignify the presence of the iron you’d imbibed.

While a few of these fraudulent products loomed on liquor store shelves next to the whiskeys that didn’t consider it worth the waste of printing-press ink to feign respectability, Rose’s Medicinal Malt Whiskey was the most prominent brand to take the additional step of claiming that it helped customers build tangible muscle. True, it may have imbued a few people with the liquid courage to enter the orbit of a workout facility, but it certainly would have done them no favors once they attempted to execute a sober workout while remaining upright and alert.

Shredded Wheat and Triscuits

Yes, the original producers of Shredded Wheat cereal and Triscuits snack crackers hopped on the bodybuilding bandwagon and flat-out stated that their crispy, crunchy, grainy products could contribute modestly to muscle assembly. To be precise, they frequently attributed a trifecta of benefits to their products, lauding their wheat-heavy offerings for developing “muscle, bone and brain.”

Considering the crimes against nutritional common sense committed by some of the other offenders on the list, you might be tempted to grant the venerable Shredded Wheat Company a pass for its fibs prior to its purchase by Nabisco. But just for the sake of fun, if you were to try to meet some semblance of the daily protein requirement using only a box of Triscuits, your jaw would get sore from the oppressive demands placed upon it. 

To ingest just a respectable 30 grams of protein from Triscuits alone, you’d have to scarf down somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 Triscuits, absorbing 1,200 calories and 1,600 milligrams of salt along with them. Also, your box is likely to run out of Triscuits before you achieve that mark, so be sure to buy a spare box to be on the safe side. And finally, Triscuits have the unfortunate quality of retaining some of their pointy and prickly qualities in their post-digestion state. So have fun with that while they’re on their way out.


You can say whatever you like about the negatives of red meat, but none of those criticisms will in any way detract from beef’s tremendous muscle-generating capabilities. Of all the claims of muscle production associated with food items, the easy connection of beef with muscular gains is among the easiest to credibly make.

So, what did the good folks at the Bovinine Company offer? They bottled up several ounces of beef water, paired it with table salt and another preservative, and sold it as a muscle-building tonic.

Customers were instructed to stir teaspoons of Bovinine into their milk three times a day for maximum effectiveness, which is as clever as it is devious. In reality, a fraudulent builder of bone and muscle was being added to milk — a rich source of calcium and protein — and was then being credited for all of the subsequent physiological improvements. 

There are few things more creatively villainous than masking the ineffectiveness of your expensive hoax by burying it within a discounted vessel. That’s a lot like asking someone to wash down a supposed insomnia remedy with a fifth of tequila.

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