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Actors go through some pretty drastic measures to attain godlike physiques, and in some cases, these methods don’t bode well for longevity.
While the real heroes of Greek and North mythology sustained themselves on nectar, ambrosia, and mead, modern-day actors on the superhero diet have to settle for considerably less elysian fare—think grilled chicken, and lots of it.
Understandably, the actors who play Marvel and DC heroes on screen are under immense pressure to achieve an otherworldly physique, which means taking on grueling workout and nutrition plans that last months or even years.
Depending on the character and the actor’s starting physique, the goal varies between getting as bulky as possible (think Chris Hemsworth as Thor) and becoming freakishly ripped (Hugh Jackman as Wolverine).
As such, the superhero diet is really more of a spectrum, but most of them have one thing in common: they’re pretty drastic.
But can these diets still be healthy?
Let’s take a look at five of the most well-known characters from popular superhero movies.
In a way, Hemsworth actually followed two diets throughout his career in Marvel Movies and Thor standalone films.
An article by Man of Many explained that Hemsworth switched to veganism around the time he began preparing for Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
Both before and after the switch, he was eating six times a day on a very tight schedule.
As for the what, he was eating egg whites, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, vegetables, some fruit, legumes, and before his transition to veganism, chicken, and fish.
Considering how inflexible other iterations of the superhero diet can be in terms of food choices, we’re impressed with how nutritionally diverse Hemsworth’s diet was.
You’ve got healthy omega-3 fatty acids, a rich and balanced profile of micronutrients, plenty of fiber from fruits and vegetables, and lean sources of protein—a solid diet by any standards.
However, it’s very important to note that Chris Hemsworth was spending hours upon hours in the gym with top-class trainers every day, burning an insane amount of calories and lifting very heavy weights to offset his high caloric intake.
Anyone who attempts to eat six full meals a day like this without committing a great deal of time to working out at a high intensity is very likely to experience significant weight gain in an unflattering direction (flab over bulk).
As early as the 2000 release of X-Men and at least seven times thereafter, Hugh Jackman followed a diet and exercise routine that was so intense, it appeared to flay the fat completely off of his frame.
A Mashed article explains how Jackman combined intermittent fasting (refraining from eating outside of an eight-hour window every day) with a no-carbs-after-3pm policy to keep himself as lean as possible while building a moderate amount of muscle.
Considering the fact that he had to consume 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day, these limitations must have been very difficult to work with.
Here’s what Hugh Jackman ate during these periods:
His daily protein target was 260 grams, or 1.3 grams per pound of body weight.
To put that into perspective, six chicken breasts provides about 43 grams of protein and 230 calories.
As we discuss in more detail in our intermittent fasting article, this eating pattern can indeed boost weight loss and muscle gain, but not without a few trade-offs.
Intermittent fasting essentially places your mind in a more primitive state (as when we were hunter-gatherers who had to fast frequently), which kickstarts stress hormone production.
It can also throw off electrolyte balance if you don’t actively target electrolyte-rich foods.
As for the raw nutritional value, this version of the superhero diet is more restrictive than the first we reviewed.
Of course, it’s likely that Jackman deviated slightly from this with supplements and or the occasional alternative, but we would like to see more plant-based and marine protein sources as well as a greater overall variety.
If any hero is held to unrealistic standards of physical perfection, it’s the one who kicked off the “modern” reincarnation of heroes in the late 1930s—Superman.
Henry Cavill has always been tall and muscular, but to achieve the rippling physique of the man of steel, he had plenty of work to do nutritionally.
According to Men’s Health, Cavill attributes his success to “fasted cardio,” a method of increasing fat metabolism and decreasing cravings by eating immediately after a morning workout.
Speaking of eating, the A-lister had at least 4 large meals a day consisting of huge servings of protein-rich foods like eggs, chicken (often in the form of curry), bison steak, oatmeal protein shakes, and more.
Other than the rice from the curry, side dishes included rice pasta, roasted potatoes, and that’s about it.
This is where we transition from mildly weary to legitimately concerned.
Clearly, Cavill’s genetics and his intense training have staved off obesity and (hopefully) pre-diabetes, but his Superman diet is constantly knocking on those doors.
Sure, grass-fed meat especially is more nutritious and healthy than people give it credit for, but with nothing other than eggs, potatoes, and rice to support it nutritionally, we’re looking at a significantly deficient diet.
He’s getting plenty of iron, vitamin B12, and other meat-based nutrients, but he’s got virtually no antioxidants or flavonoids in his diet; there’s virtually no green, orange, blue, or purple (foods) to be seen.
And while they’re surely deserved, the “cheat days” that Cavill openly cops to taking semi-frequently probably worsen this imbalance even more.
Hopefully, he takes supplements to address these deficiencies, and hopefully, he will return to a more balanced plate after hanging up the cape.
As if playing an Amazon isn’t a tall enough order, Gal Gadot had to depict a character who was the strongest among these warriors of legend—Wonder Woman herself.
Gadot’s experience as a combat fitness instructor for the Israel Defense Force helped lay a foundation for the role, but to truly embrace it, she had to get in even better shape.
Wisely, her first step was to hire a trainer named Magnus (is there a better name for a trainer?) who helped her create her version of the superhero diet in addition to a grueling workout routine.
Gadot ate five times a day, aiming to keep her energy levels consistent while getting enough macronutrients to fuel her workouts.
Meals included eggs, quinoa, avocado, salad, cured meats (think charcuterie), lots of fish, steak, and rice.
Even though her personal chefs did an excellent job making the diet as interesting as possible, Magnus still allowed two or three cheat meals a week, which usually consisted of pasta and wine.
The theory that eating five meals a day increases metabolic rate has been debunked, or at the very least, legitimately contested.
It’s not necessarily unhealthy to consume five smaller meals a day if those meals aren’t stuffed with high-glycemic carbs, and the eating pattern can be helpful for people who workout multiple times a day.
Gadot had access to a vast array of nutritionally dense superfoods (avocado, salmon, etc.), and the portioning appeared to reflect healthy levels of macronutrient intake.
This is one of the best superhero diets we’ve seen; it could safely be adopted as Gal Gadot’s or anyone’s regular diet without issue.
There’s just one small exception: ditch the cured meats, Wonder Woman.
As a Wakandan “war dog” in Black Panther, Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Nakia, had to convey both the cunning of a CIA operative from a hyper-advanced country and the physique of a well-trained combatant.
Impressively, Nyong’o was able to leverage her love of carb-heavy dishes from Indian and African culinary traditions into a superhero diet that built her a beautiful, toned physique.
For example, she told ESSENCE that she ate oatmeal, grits, sweet potatoes, rice, and millet throughout the day, though portions were carefully monitored, said the personal chef behind the meal planning.
Nyong’o also dined on nuts, fruit, vegetables, hummus, chicken, lamb, and other healthy foods.
As for frequency, Nyong’o stated in the article that she and other Black Panther castmates had small meals every two or three hours.
In terms of nutritional breadth, this diet scores very well in our book, incorporating a great number of very nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains.
However, the major caveat here is that even wisely portioned carbs consumed five times a day is a straight path to weight gain for people who can’t workout for two hours a day.
Fiber would definitely be a key mediator in this instance for anyone (who doesn’t work out two hours a day) looking to adopt this diet, as fiber helps to curb blood sugar spikes.
In other words, this is a nutritionally sound way to up the fuel intake for a body under high stress, but it wouldn’t translate well to the average person unless they took the steps to reduce/offset the high carb intake.
The idolization of superheroes is a source of harmful self-comparison that can actually affect our nutritional choices and self-esteem in a negative manner.
In this study by Wellesley College of Massachusetts, enforcement of the “superhero ideal” was “significantly associated with unhealthy eating attitudes” in 12- to 14-year-old female participants.
The researchers point to maladaptive perfectionism—a psychological term denoting the unhealthy and self-destructive pursuit of unrealistic standards—as the mechanism driving this behavior.
Again, you won’t see us billing for this advice, but if we could sneak in one word of encouragement for anyone chasing the superhero physique with one of these diets, it would be to compare yourself to the only person who matters in this context—your former self.
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