As a teenage bodybuilder, I latched on to the teachings of the late bodybuilding guru Vince Gironda. He was my first coach, not counting Arnold’s Education of a Bodybuilder book. Gironda was a huge fan of desiccated liver supplements and made it sound like it was “better than steroids.” (Of course, he did sell them).

All these years later, this supplement has made somewhat of a comeback. I believe this is no thanks to a couple of factors:

1. The carnivore diet movement.
2. An asshat on Instagram who did not build his monstrous physique eating raw river, taking supplements, and living primal, as portrayed in his fairy tale reels. The truth is, he was pumped to the gills with steroids (and he confessed as such).

Liver is no miracle muscle builder

Closer to the truth, and best case scenario, desiccated liver is nothing more than a protein supplement that is rich in Iron and B vitamins …

I would make fun of people using supplements like this one, but I have to admit this: I ate liver by the fistfuls daily when I was a teenager. I didn’t know better. I was “influenced” before there was social media. Back then it was magazines and mail order courses. Fortunately, I learned to know better quickly.

In his book, Unleashing the Wild Physique, Gironda wrote:

“Dessicated liver is one of the most potent training aids for the bodybuilder. Beginners can start with 6 liver tablets per day (two per meal).. intermediates should take no less than six liver tablets per meal… every week add an extra tablet of each until you double your starting level. Advanced bodybuilders make fantastic progress on 50-100 liver tablets per day over short periods of time. These amounts let you take in tremendous amounts of protein and other nutrients without large amounts of food.”

Yes you read that right – 50 to 100 tabs a day! And as I wrote on my burn the fat website years ago when I told my “I was a human guinea pig” story, high dose liver pills was one of my self-experiments …

I was eating up to 100 liver tabs a day!

I remember some funny things in high school, like when my pockets were stuffed full of those Argentine beef liver tabs and one day, they spilled out all over the floor in the middle of class (try to picture me explaining that to the teacher and the students sitting next to me!)

That was many many years ago, and such was the plight of an impressionable young teenage bodybuilder, desperate to gain muscle.

Here are the facts:

Theres not much to desiccated liver pills other than some protein and a few minerals and vitamins in high concentration.

There is zero human research indicating that dessicated liver does anything to help you build muscle outside of what food does. In fact, looking at liver pills as food is really the only way to look at it.

If you called dessicated liver “red meat pills” that would be a pretty accurate description. So liver pills dont “build muscle” any more than a lean steak would. This analogy should help put it in perspective. (I’ll take the steak, thank you).

On the plus side, liver is a good source of bioavailable iron and some B vitamins. Since Iron deficiency is a common one, even in athletes, (especially women), and such a deficiency could impact performance and recovery, its not inconceivable that someone who was iron deficient could notice an improvement in performance/energy/recovery when taking liver. That’s a case of going from deficiency state to normal state however.

I would suggest thinking of desiccated liver as a protein supplement more than anything. If you’re eating a typical bodybuilding diet that usually consists of four to five meals a day and every meal contains a lean protein, in that scenario, you’re not likely to see much benefit. Plus, if you really do want to take a protein supplement why not just use protein powder (whey or whey/casein)

From time to time, you might run into some folks who say they believe they have improved either their physique or their performance levels after taking liver. In fact, inside certain natural bodybuilding circles, desiccated liver has made a little bit of a comeback for the reasons I mentioned above. Just remember, anecdote (and testimonials) is the weakest form of evidence.  what’s more, there’s this….

Protein deficient vs protein adequate

Most likely, any improvement seen with use of desiccated liver pills is simply a result of improving protein nutrition in a similar way that could have happened using protein foods or other types of protein supplements.

If your protein intake was inadequate to begin with, and then you take a protein supplement – any protein supplement – and your results improve, it was a matter of going from deficient to adequate.

One study actually showed better muscle growth in older men from taking collagen protein. LOL! Collagen is the crappiest protein on the planet, which proves my point.

The same improvement would have happened if you ate more protein food.

Protein supplements of any kind don’t have “magical qualities”

I’ve never taken liver pills again since my younger days but I do use a lot of protein powder. I don’t use it because it builds more muscle than food – it doesn’t. But it’s a super fast and convenient way to boost your protein (you can slam a protein shake in 2 minutes, while most meals take a half an hour or more to whip up).

Protein powders also make a great recipe ingredient  and a lot of the flavors taste good.

I’ve eaten  liver before (cooked). Even when seasoned… yuck! That liver king dude probably barfed his brains out seconds after shooting the publicity video of him eating it raw.

Chocolate peanut butter protein smoothie for me, thank you.

It’s best to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that any supplements have “magical qualities.” Think of supplements like desiccated liver as a “food supplement” (ie, think “red meat pills”) and you’ll be much closer to understanding what these types of products can and cannot do.

And ignore social media “influencers,” especially the fake natties.

Train hard and expect success!

-Tom Venuto, Author of, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (BFFM)
Author, The BFFM Guide To Flexible Meal Planning For Fat Loss
Founder, Burn the Fat Inner Circle

tomvenuto-blogAbout Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss expert. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and today works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast and backpacker. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 52,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details

Subscribe to the Burn the Fat weekly newsletter and get my ebook, "The 20 Best Fat-Burning, Muscle-Building Recipes Of All Time" FREE!
Your email is safe with me!