Written by Dr. Juan Carlos Cassano, aka The Golden Bookworm
Desiccated Beef Liver was a staple supplement of the Golden Era champs for decades. Just flip through any muscle magazine between the years 1950 to 1980 and you will see countless companies selling their version of desiccated liver. Both Vince Gironda and Rheo Blair both advocated and popularized its use back then by getting their students to take it. Their students, who were our beloved bodybuilding legends, naturally followed suit and saw the results.
Through my interviews with the bodybuilding greats, I have learnt that they loved desiccated liver...in fact, they swore by it! They would religiously take desiccated liver daily, and some of them still take it now! As they approached competitions, these bodybuilding legends would ramp up the consumption of desiccated liver to help in recovery and muscle growth. They also combined this with the anabolic effects of milk and egg protein.
1967 Mr America Don Howorth would consume between 50-100 desiccated liver capsules a day, as would 1966 Mr America Bob Gajda and 3 X Mr Olympia Frank Zane. Other legends such as Arnold, Franco Columbu, Danny Padilla and Steve Davis would also consume about 30 a day, ie 10 with each meal.
Whatever Happened To Desiccated Liver?
Since the initial and exciting experiments performed by Dr Benjamin Ershoff in the 1950s (Ershoff and McWiliams 1950; Ershoff 1951) which demonstrated that rats fed desiccated liver had greater swimming endurance, most bodybuilders from the 1960s, 70s and 80s understood the potency of liver and it’s use in bodybuilding nutrition. However, in today’s bodybuilding scene, desiccated liver seems to have fallen by the wayside.
The general feeling I hear from many novice and beginning bodybuilders is that they would not try it, because it is old fashioned, and it has not recently been proven by science. That’s just the way it is nowadays with modern bodybuilding and nutrition. If some supplement has not been recently proven to be effective by modern science, people are not willing to experiment with the particular supplement as it has no scientific backing, and it does not matter who swore by it, Mr Olympia or not!
What Does Modern Science Have To Say About Desiccated Liver ?
Similar to the groundbreaking experiments of the 1950s, a group in Taiwan has not only reproduced the findings of Ershoff and colleagues, but has given us more information on how desiccated liver can aid athletic performance (Hsu et al 2018)
Mice fed beef extract (beef extract contains organ meats including liver) demonstrated improved grip strength, increased swimming endurance and reduced fatigue by reducing serum lactate levels whilst preserving and possibly enhancing muscle glycogen storage!
Desiccated liver in the form of beef extract has also been linked to increased lean muscle mass and muscle fiber remodelling (Yoshihara et al 2006). Furthermore, desiccated beef liver was recently tested amongst children with malnutrition in Indonesia with startling results. Not only was the addition of desiccated beef liver to meals palatable, but after 2 weeks, mothers reported increased health benefits such as lack of illness, increased appetite and more rapid weight gain! Go desiccated beef liver!
Why Is Desiccated Liver So Anabolic?
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are known to have muscle-building properties. Recently it has been demonstrated that beef extract containing liver is a rich source of BCAAs, and hence can stimulate and enhance muscle hypertrophy. Further, high levels of Leucine are found in liver which would explain why beef extract supplementation improves muscle performance and reduces muscle glycogen depletion (Li et al 2014 ; Kang et al 2017 ; Hsu et al 2018).
Is Desiccated Liver Making A Comeback ?
It appears that modern science is finally catching up to what the Iron Guru discovered so many years ago. The golden era bodybuilders knew it, and back then it was no secret. Nowadays however, it appears that desiccated beef liver is slowly making a comeback and may be the next big thing in sports supplementation. Science has once again proven the effectiveness of desiccated beef liver, and it is only a matter of time before sports medicine catches up and new modern research is performed on athletes. With desiccated beef liver being such a highly concentrated nutrient dense food, the results are sure to be outstanding.
A cost effective manner of ingesting liver is to of course go to your local butcher and have it as a rare steak, which I do on occasion. I have to admit that the thought of eating rare liver is not that pleasing. Is there a way to get the full benefits of raw liver without having to torture your taste buds? Absolutely!
What better way than to supplement with this amazing golden era staple than through its capsulated powdered form! Of course, trust NSP nutrition to sell this tried and tested golden era staple exactly as it was sold back during the golden days! So get yourself a bottle, because sooner or later, everyone will be on liver again!
Ershoff BH and Mc Williams HB. Effects of B vitamins and liver on growth of immature rats maintained at low temperatures. Exp Biol and Med.1950. https://doi.org/10.3181/00379727-75-18153
Ershoff BH. Beneficial effect of liver feeding on swimming capacity of rats in cold water. Exp Biol and Med.1951. https://doi.org/10.3181/00379727-77-18824
Hsu TH, Chiu CC, Wang YC, Chen TH, Chen YH, Lee YP, Hung SW, Wu CP, Chuang HL. Supplementation with beef extract improves exercises performance and reduces post-exercise fatigue independent of gut microbiota. Nutrients. 2018. https://doi:10.3390/nu10111740
Duizer LM, Diana Aly, Rathomi HS, Luftimas DE, Rahmannia S, Santi W, Nugraha GI, Haszard JJ, Gibson RS, Houghton LA. An acceptability trial of desiccated beef liver and meat powder as potential fortifiers of complementary diets of young children in Indonesia. J Food Sci. 2017. https:// doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.13807
Li RR, Yu QL, Han L, Cao H. Nutritional characteristics and active components in liver from Wagyu x Qinchuan cattle. Korean J Food Sci Animal Res. http://dx.doi.org/10.5851/kosfa.2014.34.2.214
Kang SW, Kim HM, Rahman MS, Kim AN, Yang HS, Choi SG. Nutritional quality and physicochemical characteristics of deffated bovine liver treated by super-critical carbon dioxide and organic solvent. 2017. Korean J Food Sci Animal Res. https://doi.org/10.5851/kosfa.2017.37.1.29
Yoshihara H, Wakamatsu JI, Kawabata F, Mori S, Haruno A, Hayashi T, Sekiguchi T, Mizunoya W, Tatsumi R, Ito T, Ikeuchi Y. Beef extract supplementation increases leg muscle mass and modifies skeletal muscle fiber types in rats. 2006. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. https://doi: 10.3177/jnsv.52.183