Physical Culture Supplements in Early Twentieth Century Britain

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Beginning in the early twentieth century and continuing until the Great War, British consumers concerned with protecting or increasing their health were presented with a series of new and exciting food products. Associated with physical culture, a late nineteenth and early twentieth-century concern in the cultivation of the body, such products can be seen as precursors to the modern interest in health food and bodybuilding supplements. Unlike previously consumed health foods, physical culture nostrums relied upon supposedly scientific manufacturing and concentrated extracts to radically transform consumer’s bodies. Similarly, they utilized both celebrity and medical endorsements in a bid to entice British men, women, and children to use these substances on a regular basis. At a time when societal discourses on individual health intensified, and even the British monarch relied upon a Physical Culture instructor, these supplements promised radical changes in one’s physique, energy and ultimately, their life. The study of such supplements has thus far been largely neglected in physical culture histories. This article marks a much needed overview of British health supplements. As will become clear, such substances were linked to improved social, sexual and political identities as expressed through robust health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-68
Number of pages16
JournalFood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 20 Apr 2022


  • Physical Culture
  • Social History
  • Gender
  • History of Medicine
  • Health


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