Joe Weider or Rheo Blair -- Whose Protein Mix? Nathan's Story

Rheo Blair's ability to produce "before and afters" was legendary. But there were far more Blair students behind the scenes whose pictures were never taken. Today we meet one of the most dedicated of these Blair students.

Nathan first used Joe Weider's products but claims he got superior results with Blairs.  We will learn of his experience.

Of great benefit to us all, Nathan  remembers in detail the nutritional knowledge he gained from Rheo Blair.

Meet Nathan, 61, long time Rheo Blair student dating back to the 1960's. Nathan talks about his discovery of Rheo Blair in the original Iron Man Magazine, his experiences as a Blair student and why, having used the Weider products he switched to Blair's protein and supplements never looking back. We also chat about the Blair diet and how Nathan used it to maximize his gains. And we will find out what Rheo suggested Nathan do for exercise. In all, Nathan paints a detailed picture of his experience working with Rheo Blair.

Nathan lives on the East Coast of the U.S. He has had a lifelong interest in bodybuilding and health. He was a professional photographer for 22 years. Before that, he was in the exterminating business. Every pesticide he used in that business has since been banned and several have been tied to cancerous brain tumors. Nathan has such a tumor which forced his retirement but continues to do well as of this writing. His interest in health is both passionate and dedicated. I have never met Nathan in person but we have had a wonderful friendship these past few years sharing Rheo stories and experiences.

 Part I today, we look at his discovery of  Rheo Blair and his initial experiences. Nathan paints an interesting picture what it was like to work with Rheo from a distance (as distinct from my own, having lived with Rheo Blair). Take note:  his experience with Rheo was in two parts; an early teenage stage with very limited financial resources (which we cover here in Part I) and a later adult stage where finances permitted him to use Blair's products more aggressively and extensively. This will be covered in Part II during which we will also cover his use of Weider products and why he completely stopped using them opting for Blair's exclusively.

Rheo Blair first came to the public's attention when he began publishing articles about his work in Iron Man Magazine. His appearances in Iron Man continued on and off for over 30 years until the early 1980's. Both the articles he wrote and the numerous mentions of him by publisher Peary Rader make for extremely interesting reading. For someone wanting to improve one's health or build a good physique, they were practically irresistible. Which brings us to Nathan. Let's get right to the conversation:

Charles: Nathan, how did you become interested in nutrition and bodybuilding? What led you to Rheo Blair and what were those first encounters with him were like?

Nathan: My interest in bodybuilding really began quite young as an interest in weight training to get into better condition for sports, and to some extent, for self defense. While I wasn't the proverbial 98 lb. weakling, I was less athletic than a lot of other kids my age.  I figured weight training would help me become more athletic, so in 1964 I asked for a barbell set for Christmas. The set came with a Bruce Randall course, including pictures of Mr. Universe, Bruce Randall, which inspired my interest in bodybuilding. Then I discovered Weider magazines on the newsstands with bodybuilders (I think the first one was with Larry Scott) and girls in bikinis on the covers, and my interest in bodybuilding became more intense. Larry Scott and Dave Draper were early idols. Aside from the great pictures, the magazines clued me in to the fact that sound nutrition is intimately connected with, and critical for, building muscle. In these magazines, many of the top bodybuilders were advertising Weider products, (or in some cases, Hoffman), but in reality using Blair products! This was a stunner when I found out. 

Charles: Blair (as Irvin Johnson in 1950's Chicago) was responsible for having established the crucial link between nutrition and body building success and in doing so he started the nutrition craze that continues to this day. He published his findings and results in various publications especially Peary Rader's Iron Man and later his own magazine, Tomorrow's Man. It was from these published sources that Weider, according to many accounts, noticed Blair's ideas and began formulating both his own products and marketing campaigns to go with them. So, Nathan, when you were reading ads for Weider products, not only were the bodybuilders using Blair's products, but the very nutritional concepts you found in the Weider publications, if you go back and look at who was talking about these ideas in print first, had their start with Rheo Blair.

Nathan: Exactly. In fact I discovered Rheo H. Blair via Iron Man magazine. I read every article I saw about Rheo, and often came across info about the success of his students, many of them big name bodybuilders.Of course this was in the 60 's and long after Rheo sold Tomorrow's Man Magazine. Iron Man, at that time, featured articles on the big bodybuilding stars of the day sometimes including their exact nutritional regimens which were often dominated by Rheo Blair products. This intrigued me but some time passed before I actually contacted Blair, as I was still spellbound by Weider's claims regarding the "superiority" of his products. Finally, in  1966 or 67, I  contacted Rheo Blair, on the telephone, speaking to him personally.

Charles: When you first called Rheo, was he hard to reach? Did you need to schedule a phone appointment or did he converse with you right away? What were your initial impressions of him?

Nathan: I think I got him personally, the first time I called. He had stated somewhere, I believe in Iron Man magazine, that there was "literally no way to disturb him", which made me think that he had a way to turn the bell off on his phone, long before it was commonplace for people to do that.  He was very cordial, and I was impressed with the fact that he was willing to take time with me. He did not offer much in the way of nutritional advice, other than to say that many of the top bodybuilders at the time were using his products, which he generally referred to as "the materials we have here". 

Charles: What stands out most about him from that first phone call?

Nathan: Well, after speaking with him, I knew I simply could not afford to be on his big program (Rheo had programs to fit most budgets, but the programs with spectacular results came with spectacular price tags). Keep in mind that I was still a teen, and while I had a job, it did not pay all that well.  I ordered and used some of the regular protein powder, and some liver capsules, from which I got better results than I did from the Weider soy products I had been using.

Charles: You say you ordered the "regular" protein. Did Rheo offer you his more advanced proteins? How did he describe them to you? This is an important subject since most people do not seem to be aware that there was more than one Blair's protein. These same people are frequently under the misconception that any Blair's protein must be powerful and magical in the results it produces whereas only the more expensive ones got the great results -- and even then such results required following the ENTIRE Blair program, not just adding in some protein supplement.

Nathan: Rheo did not mention any of the special proteins or other products as such, when I first dealt with him in the 60s. He would occasionally say something like "The top bodybuilders are getting amazing results by using the materials we have here.", but there was no mention of the special proteins or minerals he actually had. At this point, I feel fairly sure that was due to the fact that I had already mentioned my budget to him. I was talking about $50. a month, which would not begin to buy the special products. I suppose he felt it would be a waste of time to mention products which I obviously could not afford. Much later, in the 70s, I had the budget for some of the more elite products, and was using some of them, including the best protein, but I later learned that some products existed which I never heard of, such as the mineral orotates.

Charles: How much time did you spend on the phone with him that first conversation? And, if he did not offer you much in the way of nutritional advice, what was the conversation about? How big was your phone bill?

Nathan: The first time I was on the phone with him, in the 60s (1966, I think), we did not spend a lot of time on the phone. But it was about enough to establish that his protein and liver extract were the most important things for me, along with Soybro. As I mentioned before, it was pretty obvious that I could not afford a very high level of participation in the program at that time, maybe $50./month at most, and he basically told me not to expect miracles with kind of program. For younger people reading this, keep in mind that while $50./month is nothing today, in the mid 60s, particularly in a place like NC, that was quite a bit of money, especially for a teenager as I was at the time. I am pretty sure I had to pay my father $5. for that phone call, as that was long before cheap calling plans, and this was all the way across the country.

Charles: What was he like? His demeanor, friendliness, helpfulness, politeness, etc?

Nathan: He seemed very friendly and polite. Seemed to be in a good mood every time I spoke with him. I noticed his voice, even though I did not yet know why, I thought he sounded like a radio announcer, or someone else with a trained voice, though I probably did not know the proper definition of a trained voice at the time, either. As far as being helpful goes, that was a bit limited at this point, he subtly made it clear that he was not in the business of giving free advice, but that if I was on his program, a lot more would be forthcoming. I don't recall wording or anything after all these years, but I do remember something along the general lines of "If you start using our program, we will see to it that you know how to derive optimum benefits from it." BTW- He seemed to generally use the terms like "the materials we have here", and "our program", instead of using "I" in his sentences. I guess this was so as not to sound egotistical about everything.

Charles: Can you recall the specific (or close to) supplements and amount of each on your early Blair program?

Nathan: I think I was using 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the regular protein per day, in whole milk, sometimes with a banana or ice cream, It didn't matter that much to me about carbs, and I only knew that I needed a lot of calories and protein, I was really lean at the time and struggled to put on any weight, so it did not make me fat. I usually took that after school, then worked out, which I now know was the wrong order to do it in. I was using some Liver Extract, I think about 3-4 with each meal, so probably averaging 10-12 per day. I bought Soybro a time or two, but did not use much, maybe something like 1 per meal. I used Energol, a Hoffman product, instead, thinking it was the same thing, which, of course, it was not, as Soybro was defatted and Energol was not. One thing I wish I had known the importance of at that time, were the digestants- Peptain HCL. Back then, I was drinking up to a gallon of chocolate milk per day on top of the protein drink, and still was not gaining weight!

Charles: Rheo NEVER suggested chocolate milk to you I assume...

Nathan: No, he did not. I just drank it to increase calories and protein as I also ate huge amounts of food. If I can find a way to avoid being too graphic about it.....well, bathroom visits showed where all of that food and milk was ending up, in the form of something that would look more like it belonged in a pasture, than  coming out of a human. Off topic for a moment, this is something no dietician or nutritionist has ever been able to give me a really sound answer for- if you give 2 people 3500 calories each, one defecates 1000 of the calories, and the other defecates 2000 of the calories, then the 3500 calories=1 lb. of bodyweight paradigm is completely shot down. That 3500 calorie (or calorie excess or deficit) has a flaw in it. I later learned that Rheo addressed this specifically where protein was concerned in that he recognized that the important thing was not how much protein you consume, but how much you assimilate. Thus, his rules about using digestants, consuming protein drinks and puddings slowly, chewing your regular food thoroughly, etc.

I need to clarify something here for the sake of the reader. I was on the Rheo Blair program two different times, the details of which we will get to. The first time, in 1966 as a a nearly broke teenager, and the second time beginning in 1977 when I was working in a real job and had much more money available to spend. And this next bit is important to understand -- he was more generous with the information he gave out when I as able to spend more money. For example, When I first contacted Rheo in 66, he gave me almost nothing in the way of dietary instruction, once he learned that I was really only going to be buying a little of his products. About all I got from him at that point was that his protein, liver extract, and soybro were the most important of his products for me to use. he did explain that his protein was easier to assimilate than what I had been using, that Liver Extract was about 4 times as potent as other liver products on the market, and that there was no other product like Soybro. Beyond that, while he was very cordial, etc., the conversation leaned towards "call me back when you can afford my program ", though he never used those exact words. I was, at that time, eating huge amounts of food, but not gaining weight. I wish he had stressed the importance of digestants early on, but I did not know the value of those until later.

Charles: And let me clarify for the reader that while Rheo had an "open phone policy" always willing to accept phone calls and field question from people, this inevitably meant that some people would call wanting nothing more than to pick his brain for free with no intention of purchasing anything. It seems to me it was entirely fair that Rheo provided specific advice and information tied to the level of program a person was on. Rheo had lots of what he called "thousand dollar secrets" and his clients that had access to those were literally paying thousands of dollars for his big programs.

Charles: Nathan, how long were you on your first, early program with Rheo?  

Nathan: The first time I was not on Blair's program for very long or continuously; but just off and on. Again, I was young and had little money. I would place an order with Rheo, then run out of his products, and go back to buying some other brand, often Weider, but sometimes Hoffman or others too numerous to recall, because I could get them locally. Also, while Rheo was normally quick to ship, I seem to recall once when Blair was out of something, and it took some time to get the product, which also influenced me to buy locally. His products were not as widely available on the East Coast as in California, and I liked the idea of going into a store, buying the items I wanted, and having them right then. IF his products had been available where I lived, I probably would have used more of them. So, that in no way reflects on the quality of the items, but more just about convenience. It is sort of funny, because now I order almost everything, including supplements, by mail. But years later, during my second and much larger and more intense Blair program, all that changed. I used Blair products exclusively.

Next time: We take a detailed, focused look at what Nathan's intense Blair program consisted of, the products he used, what Rheo taught him about the products, Blairs dietary and exercise advice and why Nathan chose Blair's products over the other brands and never looked back. 

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Information found on Rheo H. Blair: The Book is meant for educational and informational purposes only, and to motivate you to make your own health care and dietary decisions based upon your own research and in partnership with your health care provider. It should not be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.