Avengers inspiration: How do I get a body like a Marvel film actor?
December 12, 2013 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Hello, I'm living off savings mostly at the moment, as I concentrate on my Chinese studies. This should continue for about 1 - 2 more years. I have some spare time at the moment, so I'd really like to improve my fitness. I have the time to commit to full time plan for a few months.

What I'd like to know is how can I plan on really improving my fitness? I've heard that the actor who plays the Falcon in Captain America 2 (sorry, can't remember his name of the top of my head) ate 11,000 calories / day in order to build his physique when combined with intense exercise.

11,000 calories sounds like it would require an activity level that is way more than what I currently do. Could someone please recommend sources of advice for trying to undergo an intense physical transformation?

Thanks for any advice.
posted by Musashi Daryl to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, fitness boot camp, basically. CrossFit, P90X, similar programs,* anything that basically kicks your ass in a useful way for 60 or more minutes a day.

In one sense it does matter what you do, particularly because doing the wrong thing can actually result in injury. For real. Particularly when we're talking about the more intense side of things. And you should probably do some reading about stretching.

But in another sense it doesn't. Basically any physical activity that is of sufficient intensity and duration should produce results. Running and swimming are probably the easiest/cheapest things to do here. As long as you can keep your heart rate up doing one of those things at least five times a week for six to nine months, ideally with some kind of weight training thrown in,** then yeah. You'll probably look awesome.

And yes, there is reason to think that this can work for just about anyone. The problem is that unless you're in the military--or a highly-paid actor--most people haven't the time/money and/or discipline it takes to do it. It's a huge commitment.

*All of which have their proponents and detractors.

**Could be as simple as pushups, squats, etc., with a few simple weights. Even improvised weights can work.
posted by valkyryn at 10:10 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

It is very hard to give this sort of advice without knowing your current size and fitness level. For example, if you were 5'4" and 350 lbs, I would not advise you to eat 11,000 calories per day. Instead, I would advise you to lose a lot of fat.

But, that advice of losing fat would probably still apply. A large part of the vascular look of an actor in a superhero role is the low body fat. For the Marvel look, somewhere around 10% gives visible muscle and some abs but not the ripped to shreds look of a competitive bodybuilder.

This is much more about low body fat than being huge. To give an example, Chris Evans is 6 feet tall and was a little over 180 lbs in Captain America and was about 8% body fat, according to most reports. That's not very "swole", but it has the look you are going for.

So, unless you are underweight with low body fat, scarfing down 11,000 calories a day is not a strategy I recommend. I recommend searching the web for people's body transformations. There are many of them online, and try to find one where the "before" was a man of your age and relative size.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:10 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want a body like someone in a comic book movie - like the Falcon or Captain America or honestly anyone who's played a superhero in a big-budget movie in the last decade or so, you are going to need the following:

- a nutritionist
- a personal trainer who's working with the nutritionist
- a personal chef who's working with the nutritionist because you can't really go out to eat since your diet is going to be incredibly tightly controlled - it's not just how many calories you take in but what specific foods you're eating
- daily access to a gym
- sufficient money to pay for all of the above
- sufficient free time to do whatever the trainer tells you to do - time-wise, this is basically a full-time job in the run-up to a movie

Also, bear in mind that the low fat and high mass are meant to look good on camera. Also also, bear in mind that it will all disappear pretty much right away once you stop maintaining it.

If, on the other hand, you're just looking to get into excellent shape - I have a lot of friends who've gotten into Crossfit, and everyone who's stayed with it has had excellent results. There are almost certainly Crossfit gyms in your area. The good news is that you don't have to keep paying them - you learn the right forms for the exercises and then you can buy some kettlebells or whatever and do them yourself at home, if you have the space for it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's lightly embarrassing that I know this exact thought process but taking a few boxing classes was the fastest, most fun way I've ever gotten fitter. For progress charting I tried to do my best on the Naval and FBI fitness tests every two weeks. (plus you can totally pretend you're training to join the SHEILD tactical team).
posted by The Whelk at 10:21 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

What do you look like now? Your starting point makes a difference. To have a cut action star beach body you will probably want to do a beginners strength training program (eg starting strength by Mark Rippetoe or stronglifts) for a few months to get a base of strength then take on a bodybuilding program like a push-pull-legs split. You'll also want to eat right (you don't gain muscle without surplus calories and you don't see amazing abs without cutting). Check out reddit's r/fitness FAQ as a starting point.

Don't for the love of god eat 11,000 calories per day. For one thing, it's probably nonsense (Michael Phelps has said the articles about his calorie consumption were made up) and for another that actor was probably on some sort of drugs which articles about actors' programs conveniently leave out.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:23 AM on December 12, 2013

I hate to burst your bubble, but anyone who relies on their body for their career is on some sort of gear and photoshopped/special effect-ed to hell and back. Just as the "Don't compare yourself to magazine covers" applies to women, "Don't compare yourself to superhero movies" applies to men.

"A few months" will get you nowhere, muscle-wise. You'll be better off simply trying to lose fat.

If you want to build a significant amount of muscle, consider changing your time frame to at least one year and (better yet) the rest of your life. Health and fitness requires consistency.

Pick up All Pro's Beginner routine from bodybuilding.com, fix your eating, get swole. ;)
posted by unixrat at 10:39 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most actors aren't necessarily that fit. Not to say that they're actively unhealthy, but the bottom line is that actors aren't superheroes. The effects you see in the movies are done with CGI, special effects teams, and stunt doubles.

The actors are charged with looking really good. This means that a lot of what you see on screen as an incredible physique is accomplished with costume, lighting, and makeup, as well as exercises done immediately before shooting that are meant to make muscles look more defined on camera. A lot of the "I ate 11,000 calories per day to accomplish this amazing fitness regime" type quotes are PR hype.

Again, not to say that actors aren't good looking, or that they're actively unhealthy, but there really is no such thing as An Exercise Plan To Make You Into An Avenger.

From there, it really depends what you want to accomplish with your body.

Want to lose weight? Eat fewer calories.

Want to be generally more toned and improve your cardiovascular health? Aerobic exercise of almost any kind. Most specifically, something you enjoy doing enough to stick with it. For some people, that is CrossFit or P90X. For others it's kickboxing, or vinyasa yoga, or dance.

If you want to get all involved in the whole "lifting" culture, I dunno, I guess? If you enjoy that? It is probably not turn you into an Avenger, though.
posted by Sara C. at 10:50 AM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Avengers inspiration: How do I get a body like a Marvel film actor?


What I'd like to know is how can I plan on really improving my fitness?

These are two wildly different goals. The first is for mega stars of of movies with budgets of 200+ million dollar that are based on comic books drawings, where the actor has a personal chef, trainer and nutritionist at least.

If you just want to get more fit, find a decent gym with a decent trainer and visit them at least once a week for training for a few months. Get rid of process foods and sugar, plan on eating mostly chicken and vegetables and going to the gym at least 3 or 4 times a week.

The big thing is to figure out what sort of exercise you enjoy, so you'll continue doing it. Try a bunch of different things to see what works for you. If you get bored or resentful of a particular exercise, do something else. Don't force yourself to run a lot if you hate running.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:53 AM on December 12, 2013

As has been said, what you can realistically expect to achieve really depends on where you're starting, what your timeframe is, and what resources you have to hand.

I take it that your resources (living off savings) might be limited, and you've told us your time is also limited. You might want to consider a group training environment - muay thai, functional training, etc. Something high intensity - you should feel utterly exhausted at the end of such a workout. This sort of thing will lay down a good foundation of basic fitness in not too long a time - at the end of your few months, you will not be super-hero condition, but you will be in better condition (and perhaps have a better sense of where you want to go, fitness-wise, and how to get there).

If, instead, you just want to go mess around in a campus gym by yourself, there are plenty of good beginner's guides that have already been mentioned. Read up. Learn proper form on big compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc) and work on flexibility and mobility. Consider having a professional teach you all of this, if that is possible. This, too, will not make a huge difference in a few months, but, again, will make a small change that can give you a sense of what future changes are possible.

Don't eat garbage except as a special treat (we all know what garbage food is: deep-fried food, fast food, sugary food, etc). Count calories (note serving size; measure if necessary; humans are demonstrably bad at guessing food amounts). Aim to eat a little less than you need if you want to lose fat, or a little more than you need if you want to gain lean mass. It's difficult to know "what you need" is. You kind of have to estimate, see what the results are, and tweak accordingly.

Trust a measuring tape over a scale (so track measurements like waist, chest, arms, thighs, etc).
posted by erlking at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2013

bear in mind that even in Marvel films, the actors don't really look like that -- they have the benefit of special lighting, discretionary oiling, and in some cases having their muscle definition enhanced with airbrushing. That having been said, here is an article from the trainer who was responsible for getting the actors of 300 into the shape you see in the film. It took 17 weeks and involved a lot of calorie restriction. Do be aware that these guys were mostly experienced stuntmen starting from a point of very high physical fitness.
posted by KathrynT at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2013

Actors don't have years to prepare for a part, that's why they use crazy regimens and trainers. In a Reddit AMA, someone asked Arnold Schwartzenegger what exercise he would do if he could only have one: chin-ups. Now, that doesn't take care of your legs, and it's not cardio and all that, but I think adding cycling to the mix would help a lot for your stated goals.

One thing you may not be considering: 11,000 calories a day costs a lot of money.
posted by rhizome at 11:23 AM on December 12, 2013

I'm almost 100% certain that OP should not eat 11k calories a day.
posted by erlking at 2:50 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Most actors take some sort of performance-enhancing drug (or a delightful combo!) to prep for those superhero roles. So if that's what you're aiming for, take HGH, start a bodybuilding program, and eat a lot of food. Not 11,0000 calories, though. More like 3,500. (11,000 calories sounds like a ridiculous inflated number produced by someone who was not actually in charge of planning or preparing his own meals.)

Or, more realistically, skip the juice, start a bodybuilding program, and eat a lot of food. Mostly protein. I lift weights for fun and profit; memail me if you want my favorite exercise/diet links.
posted by baby beluga at 2:56 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just poking my head in to emphasize that yes, 11000 calories per day is INSANE. That's more than a sumo wrestler. Presumably you don't want to look like a sumo wrestler.

I would look at what bodybuilders do. Lots of very calibrated lifting in specific rep ranges (i.e., body part splits, usually reps in the 8-12 range, etc.), eating maybe 20% over maintenance calories (as opposed to 5 times maintenance)...
posted by paultopia at 8:37 AM on December 13, 2013

Short answer? You need to take drugs to look that good that fast. Steroids, HGH, etc. Building a physique that looks like that without drugs is possible, but you're looking at a timeline of 3-4 years of constant training and effort. And you will probably never look quite as good.

But in two years you can definitely achieve an athletic build that would impress most people.

The general formula for building muscle mass is to eat a lot and weightlift. Not 11,000 calories, your body can't handle that much without drugs. But 4,000 (more if you're rail-thin now) if you seriously want to bulk should be doable. You will build up fat also doing this but when you are satisfied with your strength you go on a cut cycle and lower your body fat until the muscles underneath begin to show.

You can read this Reddit FAQ for suggested programs for beginners to help you get started.
posted by rq at 3:28 PM on December 16, 2013

If you're a beginner, don't bother with a bodybuilder program. Having to learn so many isolation exercises (and the correct technique for all of them) can be overwhelming for a beginner. Starting Strength has five compound exercises you have to learn that work most of your body. You do three sets and goto the gym three times a week. You can be in and out in an hour. The programming is very simple and easy to follow. By the time you can squat over 200 pounds you'll understand your body and the lifts well enough to choose an intermediate program that's more focused on building mass over strength.
posted by rq at 3:31 PM on December 16, 2013

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