Eating 36 eggs a day, and looking like a Greek God, and living until a ripe old age — sounds to good to be true! We’ve often told that if you eat X eggs a day, you will die young. If you eat X eggs a day, experts have warned you of the myriad consequences.
But is all of this overblown or too good to be true. Golden Era legend Vince Gironda reportedly ate a ton of eggs a day and it only elevated his celebrity.
We will go into depth as to whether his 36 eggs a day diet is all what it claims to be.
36 Eggs A Day
In this article on Vince Gironda’s Hormone Precursor Diet, otherwise known as the 36-Eggs-a-Day Diet, we examine another classic diet from one of bodybuilding’s great mavericks. We have already examined Gironda’s Maximum Definition Diet, a diet consisting solely of steak and eggs (yes, really) that Vince used with great success himself to get into killer shape for competition and with his clients, which included a who’s who of bodybuilders, Hollywood stars and celebrities.
By contrast, the Hormone Precursor Diet is intended as a mass-gaining diet, and Vince famously claimed that it was the closest you could get to a course of steroids without actually taking them. Vince was an extremely outspoken enemy of steroid abuse, which he believed was compromising the aesthetic principles upon which the sport of bodybuilding should be based. Here we will discuss the diet in depth and also examine the validity of his claims about the anabolic power of eggs.
For the lowdown on all things Gironda and much more, make sure to follow our Golden Era Bodybuilding account, featuring inspirational quotes, images and other material on the Golden Era of bodybuilding. We also offer a dedicated Golden Era programme that balances strength and aesthetics in one package, based on the 5×5 routine used by Golden Era legend Reg Park.
The 36 Eggs a Day Superstar Himself
The Iron Guru: Vince Gironda
The Iron Guru himself
Vince Gironda (1917-1997) is one of the great mavericks of bodybuilding history — not just for however many eggs a day he reportedly consumed.
For various reasons, his contribution to bodybuilding, including his anticipation of many later trends, still remains to be properly recognised.
In addition to his difficult, outspoken personality – he famously called Arnold Schwarzenegger a ‘fat f***’ the first time he met him – the general trajectory of bodybuilding over his lifetime was divergent from his own ideas and practices.
Among many pet dislikes, Vince shunned shiny, complicated machines, he wouldn’t allow music in his gyms and he hated, with a passion, the use and abuse of steroids.
‘Everything about drugs rubs me the wrong way. Unlike many pro bodybuilders who see benefits that outweigh the disadvantages, I see only the atrocious side effects… and absolutely no benefits.’
How Many Eggs a Day Did Mass Monsters Eat?
The ‘mass monster’ ideal that became dominant in the early 1990s, with the ascendancy of Dorian Yates, was the absolute antithesis of Vince’s aesthetic ideal, which involved the careful placement of mass to suit the individual’s frame.
The original mass monster, Dorian Yates
For Vince, bodybuilding was an art, governed by eternal principles that had first been recognised by the Ancient Greeks.
‘The human body is God’s greatest creation. I believe that its development should be maximized, but always with respect for the individual’s skeletal and genetic potential. I do not believe in overcrowding the frame to the extent that the individual is all bunched up, unable to walk correctly. Muscle has to be placed on the frame with care.’
Vince also had a laundry-list of exercises that he hated, including back squats, bench presses and standard barbell curls. His most famous protégé, Larry Scott, who won the first and second ever Mr Olympia contests, built his magnificent chest using modified dips (‘Gironda dips’) and the guillotine press, instead of the bench press. We have examined those two exercises already in a separate article.
The ‘Golden Boy’ Larry Scott: Vince’s first great success as a bodybuilding trainer
The truth was, if you wanted to train at Vince’s Gym in West Hollywood, you had to subscribe to his methods and surrender to his whims. If you wanted to do heavy back squats or listen to music when you worked out – well, you could see where the door was, and if you couldn’t Vince would be more than happy to show you.
Like I said, Vince wasn’t the easiest man to get on with.
High fat, low carb: Gironda was the real pioneer, not Atkins
Dr Robert Atkins, the man who took low-carb diets mainstream
Decades before the Atkins diet brought the idea of low-carb diets to the mainstream, Vince Gironda was advocating fat rather than carbs as the body’s primary energy source.
‘Personally, I prefer to use fats as energy sources over carbohydrates since they sustain the body’s blood-sugar level for up to six hours and as fuel sources burn slowly. In fact, due to the difficulty the body has in breaking fats down into energy, it actually burns body fat in the process.’
Back in the Golden Era of bodybuilding, it was much more common for bodybuilders to consume large amounts of fat, and Vince was largely responsible for this. By contrast, most modern bodybuilders shun high-fat diets. Tom Platz, in a series of recollections on nutrition that we’ve included in our Golden Era 5×5 programme, remembers Larry Scott wandering around drinking pints of heavy cream, for instance.
Whether Vince was advocating strictly ketogenic diets is a moot point – they may have been too protein-heavy to constitute the strictest kind of ketogenic diet – his diets certainly look much more modern than you might expect. There’s nothing archaic or primitive about his nutritional views, or indeed his views on exercise more generally.
As in so many other ways, Vince was way ahead of his time when it came to dieting. In our article on the Maximum Definition Diet, for instance, we mentioned that the diet could also incorporate intermittent fasting, a practice which is generally seen as an innovation, but was in fact practised by other Golden Era bodybuilders like the great Chuck Sipes, whose long trips into the California wilderness convinced him of the value of periods of food-deprivation for renewed health and vigour.
Indeed, rather than being pie-in-the-sky or blue-sky thinking, Vince’s experiments with diet were actually informed by evidence: by the latest scientific thinking and historical and ethnographic accounts of the diets of groups like the Inuit, who survived on a high-fat diet with virtually zero carbohydrates and fruit or vegetables.
Vijhalmur Stefansson, an arctic explorer and ethnographer of the Inuit whose works Gironda was familiar with.
The Hormone Precursor Diet: 36 Eggs a Day
The Hormone Precursor diet, as we’ve said, is a mass-building diet, rather than one for contest preparation. It’s worth stating that Vince adamantly maintained that specific diets were for specific purposes: no diet should continue once its specific purpose had been met. So once you’ve built the mass you’re looking for, or got into contest preparation shape, you should cease the specific diet you’re on. You were not supposed to eat 36 eggs a day forever.
The purpose of the Hormone Precursor diet is not just to provide a ready flow of the highest-quality protein, which is necessary for building muscle, but also a huge infusion of cholesterol. Consumption of cholesterol has been proven to have a closer correlation with lean muscle gain than protein consumption (more on this in a moment). Vince claimed, famously, that a cycle of 36 eggs a day could have the same anabolic effects as a cycle of steroids.
The diet involves building up to eating 36 raw eggs a day, in a series of three shakes. Each one contains 12 raw eggs and half a litre of half-and-half (milk and cream in a half and half ratio). Protein powder can also be added to the shake, which in the Golden Era would have been Rheo Blair’s protein powder, which contained milk and egg protein.
Vince recommended that the cycle should last no more than eight weeks. It would look like this.
|Week||Breakfast||Lunch||After lunch||Supper||After supper|
|1||Shake||1lb meat + salad||1lb meat + salad|
|2||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake||1lb meat + salad|
|3||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake|
|4||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake|
|5||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake|
|6||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake|
|7||Shake||1lb meat + salad||Shake||1lb meat + salad|
|8||Shake||1lb meat + salad||1lb meat + salad|
As in the case of the Maximum Definition Diet, Vince advocated supplemental carbs, in this case twice a week, on a Wednesday and a Saturday, with one of the meals. Recommended sources were whole-grain carbs such as oats, rice, and pasta, as well as potatoes.
Vince being Vince, there was also an extensive list of pills to be consumed, including many of his favourites such as liver tablets and kelp tablets. These are the tablets he recommended taking each day:
- 1 multivitamin
- 1 zinc tablet
- 10 kelp tablets
- 5 alfalfa tablets
- 3 wheatgerm tablets
- 1 RNA-DNA tablet
- 3 digestive tablets
- 1 HCL tablet
- 3 lysine tablets
- 3 multi-glandular tablets.
In addition to this, Vince recommended swallowing 10 liver tablets every three hours, 5 yeast tablets with each protein drink, 4 orchic tissue (i.e. dessicated bull’s testicle) tablets before and after each workout, and 6 tryptophan and calcium tablets before bed.
That’s a lot of pills!
The evidence for the diet’s effects
A young Arnold drinking a protein shake that probably contained raw eggs
Some actually drink raw eggs instead of drinking a commercial protein shake — how many eggs a day can they squeeze in?
Vince actually used this diet himself and with his students. That means Larry Scott, for certain, and probably also Arnold as well, who went to Vince’s Gym after his loss to Frank Zane in the 1968 Mr Universe contest. Vince’s claims about the efficacy of the diet were, of course, based on his own experience of actually using it, then, but they were also more than anecdotal. (It’s worth mentioning that consuming raw eggs is now a big thing in online fitness circles, especially on Twitter, and many users attribute incredible feelings of vitality and serious muscle gains to it.)
Vince appears to have based his thinking about the anabolic powers of eggs on the fact that, in the early 20th century, it had been common practice to give burns victims a diet of 36 eggs a day, in various forms, both raw and cooked, as a means of countering the devastating effects of burns on muscular tissue. This diet, which proved very effective, was then replaced by treatment with steroids like dianabol, leading Vince apparently to conclude that the effects of eggs and such steroids were similar. [R] [R]
This notion is not at all fanciful – far from it. The key element appears to be cholesterol, which is found almost entirely in the yolk; hence the reason why many bodybuilders and health freaks refuse to consume yolks.
Recent scientific research, which we have discussed elsewhere, shows that there is a linear dose-reponse between cholesterol intake and lean muscle mass increases [R] [R]
Another study, specifically on egg consumption, showed that consumption of whole eggs stimulated more muscle growth (measured as myofibrillar protein synthesis) than did consumption of egg whites alone. This is important because it is the yolk that contains the most cholesterol [R].
The precise mechanism by which cholesterol increases muscle mass is not clear at present. It may have something to do with effects on cell membranes, inflammation or lipid raft formation and cell signalling – or all of those things.
There’s evidence from a number of studies on saturated fat, which is a building block of cholesterol, that diets high in saturated fat increase testosterone production. Low saturated fat intake is associated with reduced testosterone [R] [R]. It may not be for nothing that cholesterol and testosterone are molecularly so similar.
If you’re worried about dietary cholesterol intake, there’s growing evidence that actually you really shouldn’t be. In fact, there’s evidence that most people’s consumption of dietary cholesterol has nothing to do with their blood cholesterol levels, and even the much-vaunted link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease is now being re-examined [R].
But why raw? The consensus seems to be that it protects the cholesterol from the effects of heat, which ensures that the cholesterol enters the body as it is, rather than in oxidised form. It will require more evidence to substantiate this claim, but it certainly is the case that cooking eggs makes some nutrients more bioavailable at the same time as making others less so. [R]
Beside the clear hormonal benefits and the fact that consumption of large quantities of eggs will provide a positive nitrogen balance throughout the day, one of the main recommendations of this diet is the ease with which you can consume a massive amount of calories. Many people find it extremely hard to consume enough calories to build muscle effectively, especially those we tend to label ‘hardgainers’.
Get our diet bundle to make delicious recipes out of however many eggs you eat a day.
An archetypal hardgainer
Each of Vince’s 12-egg shakes works out at roughly nearly 2000 calories, so in weeks three to six of the cycle you’d be taking in almost 6000 calories from the shakes alone. Once you add the meat and salad meals into the equation, you’re looking at close to 7500 calories a day.
(This diet model isn’t recommendable — this quantity of eggs a day is unsustainable for >99.9% of people)
It’s also extremely hard to consume large amounts of cooked eggs, as Paul Newman’s character famously discovered in the film Cool Hand Luke.
You should have said you’d eat them raw instead
Regardless of whether or not you want to consume large amounts of raw eggs regularly, the health benefits associated with egg consumption in general are considerable. As time passes, scientific studies are revealing more and more about the incredible properties of this humble foodstuff.
If you want to know more about the precise benefits of egg-consumption, we would recommend you read the following article, which deals in depth with eggs as a source of immense nutrition and of a variety of benefits for health which may include antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-cancer, immuno-modulatory and anti-hypertensive effects. [R]
Disclaimer: This article is purely educational and we do not advocate you to eat this many eggs a day.
Don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com for personalized coaching and a client questionnaire if you’d like DEDICATED tailor-made personal training on strength training, building muscle, losing fat, developing athleticism, and more — all to your liking, lifestyle, habits, and taste!
Alternatively, you can pick up a FREE eBook on fundamental strength principles offering an introductory workout program.