The Superhero Roundtable
You see it happen all the time. An out-of-shape actor gets a part playing a superhero or action hero in a movie. A few months later, he's buff. You think, "Dammit, why can't I get into shape that fast?!"
So how do these actors do it? How do they eat and train? Are steroids involved? We sat down with Alwyn Cosgrove, Christian Thibaudeau, Dr. John Berardi, and Chad Waterbury to find out how they'd transform a Hollywood sissyboy into a superhero!
T-Nation: Okay, you've been hired to train a famous actor for his next movie role. He needs to add 20 pounds of muscle in about 12 weeks to play a superhero. First, give us an overview of how you'd train him. Get us rolling, Alwyn!
Alwyn Cosgrove: To be honest, you'd be surprised how simple it would be. The key things with these guys are a) they're super-motivated – a million dollar movie deal tends to do that – and b) they'll likely only have to train and read their scripts, so they'll be able to recover faster than the average guy with a job or school.
Rep range would be traditional hypertrophy zone because I expect he's a beginner. Rest periods would be fairly short (60-75 seconds between sets), and the sequencing would be with antagonistic exercises as time management. Exercise selection would be based on where he's weakest. This is where you'll get the most development – the most bang for your buck.
As far as a split goes, I'd have him training two days on, one day off, rotating between two upper and lower body workouts, with the lower body workouts rotating between squats, deadlifts, and trap bar deadlifts throughout the cycle. But basically, it'll be big compound lifts.
Oh, and let me throw this in: for movies, fat loss may be visually more impressive than muscle gain. So even though the original question called for 20 pounds of muscle, I may be tempted to just go with extreme fat loss.
T-Nation: That's a good point. Look at Ryan Reynolds in Blade III. People freaked over his physique. He said he gained 20-22 pounds in two months for the role, but what most people noticed was the leanness. Anyway, how would you handle this job, Chad?
Chad Waterbury: Well, my first response is, does the guy actually need to gain 20 pounds or does he only need to look like he gained 20 pounds? The former would be a challenging task, while the latter would be a breeze.
First of all, I must determine where the muscle should go. In other words, does the guy primarily need upper body mass or does he need mass all over? Most Hollywood movies are obsessed with upper body mass, but no one's going to be able to add 20 pounds of mass in 12 weeks without some serious lower body work.
So, I'll assume he needs the mass spread across his entire body. Nevertheless, I'd put a large emphasis on his shoulder region with variations of Olympic lifts. Of course, they'd be matched with plenty of more traditional compound exercises. So the exercise selection I'd pick from would include variations of deadlifts, cleans, squats, snatches, presses, and pulls. In addition, I'd throw in some accessory exercises such as hammer curls, skull crushers, side raises, and calf raises.
Second, what training program, if any, has he been following? In order to devise an effective set of parameters, I'd need to know what he's been doing for the last few months. For most Hollywood actors, the answer is simple: they haven't been training at all.
Therefore, I'll assume the guy's life has been sansbarbells. So instead of annihilating him with eight total-body sessions each week right off the bat, I'll build up the volume and frequency of training. Of course, each session would train the entire body since a split routine would take twice as long to reap the benefits. Here's how it would look:
Weeks 1-2: Four sessions per week
Weeks 3-4: Five sessions per week
Weeks 6-9: Six to seven sessions per week
Weeks 10-12: Eight sessions per week
Each weekly plan would cycle between four different methods, each with a specific volume range. This is how it breaks down:
Method 1: >85% of 1RM with a set/rep volume of 24-36
Method 2: 50-60% of 1RM with a set/rep volume of 40-50
Method 3: 75-85% of 1RM with a set/rep volume of 30-50
Method 4: 65-75% of 1RM with a set/rep volume of 30-50
During weeks 1-2, I'd use the upper end of the aforementioned spectrum. During weeks 3-4, I'd shoot for somewhere in the middle since the frequency of training will increase. During weeks 6-9, I'd incorporate twice-daily training sessions by starting at the lower end of the spectrum and gradually increasing the volume with each subsequent week until I reached the upper end of the spectrum.
During weeks 10-12, he'd perform twice-daily sessions for four days each week. Again, I'd gradually build up the volume with each subsequent week. By the end of week 12, the dude would be a muscle machine!
Christian Thibaudeau: Hoss, I agree with you 100% in regard to building up the shoulders/traps area. However, I must question your exercise selection. Why snatches and cleans?
Hey, I'm all for the Olympic lifts; I competed as an Olympic lifter myself and use the lifts with all of my athletes. There's no doubt that these movements can build the shoulders and traps; however, I have a problem with using them in our particular case because of the learning curve.
From experience, it takes several sessions (sometimes up to 2-3 weeks) for a trainee to become somewhat efficient at the Olympic lift variations. Now, a trainee can learn the movements quickly: I teach them to young athletes on a daily basis, but it takes some time to become synchronized enough and neurologically efficient enough for them to be able to use a load that forces the body to go into structural adaptation mode.
With most trainees, what will happen is that they'll learn the movements during the first week and develop their timing during week 2-3. By that time their level of mastery will allow them to use challenging loads with proper technique (as Sale demonstrated) the initial gains from the movement will only be CNS/functional adaptations.
It's fair to say that gains occurring during weeks 3 though 5 will mostly be neural. That leaves us, best case scenario, with seven weeks to do the work. Using the Olympic lifts just cost us five weeks!
Now, it's quite possible that the actor will indeed be able to learn the movements faster and benefit from them sooner. But let's consider the facts:
A. Our actor is probably around 35 years old with limited training experience. We all know that it's harder to learn new motor patterns (especially complex ones) during adulthood than during childhood.
B. Even if he has lifted weights before, chances are that he always used controlled isolation or machine movements. When you're used to lifting slowly and using only a limited number of muscle groups, it's even harder to learn the explosiveness necessary for the proper performance of the Olympic lifts.
Now, from experience, the push press is a great shoulder-builder and the clean pull is a very good traps exercise. But snatches and cleans aren't nearly as effective because the time under tension is very short due to momentum taking over the later part of the lift.
Don't get me wrong, elite Olympic lifters do have superb shoulders and huge traps. But consider that these men have been training every single day for years on those lifts. Can we really expect the same type of structural gains to occur by performing those lifts for only 12 weeks? I doubt it.
You might not agree, Chad, but I've trained with dozens of Olympic lifters from all levels as well as trained over 500 athletes on those lifts. And it takes a very long time for structural gains to be visible from the lifts.
Chad Waterbury: Good points, Thib. I understand where you're coming from and I respect what you're saying. With that in mind, here's why I mentioned the Olympic lifts.
You're right, the learning curve for O-lifts is much flatter than, say, standing military presses. But I don't believe that a trainee needs to have Olympic-level form to benefit from cleans and snatches. In fact, I think novice trainees make the exercises much more complicated than they need to be if they're merely seeking hypertrophy.
Furthermore, it's likely that I wouldn't be using maximal loads that could screw up his motor pattern, and I'd use higher reps than most recommend for O-lifts in order to provide plenty of stimulus to the shoulder region. This follows suit with the high-frequency program I designed for the superhero to be – there would be plenty of volume without mind-blowing levels of intensity.
I don't care how inexperienced a lifter is, after his first bout of cleans and snatches with sufficient volume, his upper back, traps, and shoulders are hella sore. I can say this with utmost certainty because I "cut my teeth" on O-lifts during my first degree in college. Since then, I've spent the last ten years working with clients at all levels on Olympic lifts and I've witnessed some very dramatic gains in shoulder development within the first six weeks.
Second, one of the most important issues is individuality. I'm working with a guy right now who, before training with me, never executed a single Olympic lift in his life. So I demonstrated the proper hang clean technique and told him to replicate what I did. I was surprised by how well he could do it. So I upped the ante and had him try a power snatch. Again, great form.
Then, for the hell of it, I had him try a clean and jerk. I was amazed at how well he could perform it. His initial technique was equal to many lifters who've trained the movement for a year – and this was during his first session with me! Since he's 44 years old, I told him that I'll never sleep well again knowing that I was only two years old when he was 16. I could've taken that guy to the Olympics!
My point is that some trainees have a natural physical ability to perform O-lifts. Who knows, this "superhero" in training might be like my client.
But where I disagree with you most is with your last sentence. For many clients, my experience has shown the opposite to be true. I often use variations of Olympic lifts to help clients break through plateaus for shoulder development. With basic cleans and snatches, I'd say that the visible structural gains from those lifts occur faster than traditional presses, if a strong emphasis is put on volume instead of total-body technique.
I mean, I don't give a shit about a perfect triple extension if the guy merely wants bigger shoulders. In other words, when a young athlete hires me to improve his snatch, I use different techniques than I do for a novice trainee who merely wants more muscular shoulders.
The parameters for the former client are all about establishing proper motor patterns in order to prime his system for moving large loads. The latter client doesn't need to lift world-record loads, so I'll employ technique tricks to put a larger emphasis on his shoulder region, thus increasing the tension his shoulder muscles are exposed to.
I have much respect for Sale's research, but I don't believe the notion that the initial improvements will be solely due to neural factors. And it's likely that I wouldn't be using the same parameters he referenced.
Furthermore, I don't buy into the whole "the initial 6-8 weeks of any program is primarily based on neural improvements with minimal hypertrophy" touted by many reputable researchers. But that's another topic altogether.
But honestly, all of these O-lifts comments are a moot point. If the guy in question, for some reason, doesn't have sufficient motor skills to perform the movements, then I'll choose more traditional compound exercises such as military presses, push presses, and upright rows. But since this transformation is all hypothetical, no one can really know what exercises are best without working directly with the person.
My intent wasn't to say that O-lifts are absolutely required, but they're definitely a path I'd attempt to trek at the beginning of the program. Whatever shoulder exercises he's responding best to are the exercises I'll use, regardless of my initial list. Being a great trainer is all about being adaptable to the client's individuality.
T-Nation: Are you guys going to fight? 'Cause we could pay-per-view this and make some dough if you are. I kid. Let's get Berardi in on this. What say you, John?
Dr. John Berardi: I base all my recommendations on the client's physiology and body makeup (somatotype, carbohydrate tolerance, etc.), so I'll have to make some assumptions here and begin with a Toby McGuire or Brad Pitt type – thin, not much muscle to start with, reasonably fast metabolism, and desperately needing size to even look like he could lift a trash can, let alone stop runaway locomotives. (And, of course, I'm assuming we won't be using any anabolic steroids.)
For a guy like this, I'd give him something very similar to what Mike Mejia and I created in the Scrawny to Brawny book. In summary, the three main phases of this book (12 weeks in duration) prioritize a mixture of compound movements with some additional isolateral and isolation movements. And, by extension, there's a mixture of heavy loading parameters (1-6 range) and some lighter work (10-12 range).
The total strength training duration is between three and five hours a week as the base program is designed for those individuals with crazy-fast metabolic rates. This means about 3-4 strength training sessions per week.
However, what I'd also do is add in some interval work (2-3 sessions) and some active recovery sessions (yoga, stretching, and even some low intensity cardio: 2-3 sessions) above and beyond with the S2B book recommends. I'd do this to increase the athlete's overall conditioning (we want Superman to actually be able to perform heroic deeds, not just look like he could). And I'd do it to increase the athlete's G-Flux.
However, as you'd imagine, all this calorie expenditure would need to be balanced by a huge energy intake (in fact, that's what increasing G-Flux means). However, I'll address that in a moment. For now, it's all about a mix of heavy, compound loading, a portion of the program coming from isolateral and isolation movements, some interval work, and some active recovery.
This would amount to about 7-10 hours of exercise per week. And since we've only got 12 weeks, we'd get started immediately, not a moment later!
Thibaudeau: I like your take on things, JB. And it's somewhat easy for ectos, as you can jack their caloric intake way up without fear of them becoming too fat. However, what would you do with a "huskier" subject?
Berardi: I knew this would come up, especially from Christian! How did I know? Well, because Christian and I come from opposite poles of the physique spectrum. I was a scrawny bastard to begin with and he was the opposite! Now, we're both just big, muscular, bad-ass mo-fo's who also happen to be deadly handsome. [Laughing]
So of course he's looking out for the huskier guys and I'm looking out for the scrawny ones. However, for now, Christian, let's stick with training! One more thing though, and this is for the readers. Sometimes I think readers believe that because Christian made himself over from "husky" to muscular and lean, he only knows how to do that. And some think that because I made myself over from scrawny to muscular and lean, that's all I know how to do. Don't make this mistake, folks!
Christian and I have worked with thousands of athletes and clients. There's not much either of us haven't seen and done with people's physiques. Speaking of that, Christian, let's hear about your training recommendations!
Thibaudeau: Okay, gaining 20 pounds of muscle tissue in 12 weeks without drugs is very difficult to do. In fact, it'll almost be impossible for most.
If everything is done perfectly, most men can hope for around a 0.5 to 1.0 pound gain in muscle tissue per week. So gaining 6-12 pounds of muscle in 12 weeks is reasonable if everything is done perfectly. However, we can give the illusion of a 20 pound gain by emphasizing certain areas of the body.
You see, the body has a limited capacity to adapt to stress. So in the short run, focusing on certain muscle groups will allow you to gain more size on those muscles than if you were to train all the body equally. As much as I hate to say it, unless the actor will be portraying a superhero wearing a Speedo, we should reduce lower body work to allow for more upper body gain. This isn't how I'd train the average Joe and it's not the best way to train in the long run, but for our present purpose it's adequate.
Now, we need to focus on developing the muscles that'll give the illusion of power and size. I think that the most important area is the scapular belt, specifically the shoulders, clavicular portion of the pectorals, and traps. Arms come in a close second while upper back and the sternal portion of the chest are third in importance.
Shoulder width and thickness are the first thing we notice in a physique. When you first glance at someone who's muscular, the shoulders are the first thing that jumps at you and thus gives an illusion of size and power.
A good example of this is Sebastien Cossette, a young bodybuilder I prepared for his first show. Sebastien's strongest points are his shoulders/traps and his back. At the competition's weigh-in, everybody thought that he was around 220, yet he weighted in at 179! In the movies, much like with bodybuilding, illusion is more important than reality.
Not to mention that in most superhero movies the actor is dressed. Monster traps and shoulders are quite noticeable when wearing any type of clothing, while a muscular chest and arms need a tight shirt to be at their best.
That having been said, I'd use my specialization approach. In 12 weeks we should focus on:
Weeks 1-4: Lateral head of the shoulders and traps
Weeks 5-8: Biceps and clavicular portion of the pectoral
Weeks 9-12: Shoulders
Of course, other muscle groups will be trained, but at a lowered volume of work. Tell you what, I'll write a whole sample program and you guys can link it HERE.
Berardi: Wow, some great ideas here! I really like Chad and Christian's emphasis on upper body size – especially Christian's approach to enhancing shoulder width. This is great and should be a priority.
But I just want to have readers remember, this doesn't mean avoiding leg work. Heavy leg work, as spinal loading likely increases the anabolic response to exercise. So it's important to keep this type of exercise in here for overall growth!
I also like Christian's comment regarding recovery resources. However, two things are important here: first, relatively untrained clients can handle a higher intensity of effort (higher percentage of max) as they're unlikely able to recruit a large percentage of their motor units. So CNS overtraining doesn't have to be defended against so strenuously.
Further, with active recovery work, more frequent naps, and an easy-going schedule, more total exercise can be performed without a risk of overtraining. Of course, that's why I recommend a high level of G-Flux. At high levels of G-Flux, the actor can eat a ton of food – food necessary for growth – without the likelihood of getting too fat. To gain muscle this quickly, food intake has to be big!
This speaks to Christian's question earlier as well. I believe that the higher the energy-in and energy-out are, the better the body composition changes will be. So that's why I'd have both a scrawny and a husky guy doing more total weekly exercise than you'd think, including weight training, intervals, and recovery work.
Again, because the actor is relatively inexperienced in the gym (assumption), can rest and perform active recovery, and can eat a ton of good, clean calories, recovery from this work won't be a problem.
T-Nation: Okay, now let's look at nutrition. Give us an overview of your nutrition plan for our would-be action star who needs to put on fast muscle.
Alwyn Cosgrove: Again, it depends on his current diet, but it would likely be a "Zone" type approach with six meals per day – typically alternating between a solid meal and a shake. Each solid meal would be protein and vegetable based, and I'd like to see a piece of fruit with every shake. If we're having problems hitting our calorie goal, we can start to add extra spoonfuls of oil, peanut butter etc. to the shake.
Waterbury: Well, the dude better not need to be as ripped as Mr. Jolie was in Fight Club or we're all in trouble! That is, of course, if this must be a drug-free journey. With that in mind, here's what I'd do with him.
- Calories: Once I determined how many calories are necessary for maintenance, I'd add 500 to that number for his initial caloric requirement. During weeks 1-8, I'd augment the calories as high as possible before excessive fat accumulation sets in. During weeks 9-12, I'd continue to keep the calories as high as possible. Since the training regimen during weeks 9-12 will be nothing short of brutal, it's likely that I won't need to decrease the calories or macronutrient ratios very much.
- Macronutrient Ratio: I'd start out with a carb/protein/fat balance of 50/30/20. The majority of his carbs would be ingested at breakfast and post-workout; however, I'd have him consume carbs with everymeal. It's extremely difficult to gain that much mass without ingesting carbs throughout the entire day. Breakfast would consist of a 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio while post-workout nutrition would be around 3:1. The remaining meals would vary based on how his body fat responds to the protocol.
- Frequency of Eating: This is a big one. He'd need to eat every three hours while awake. During the AM hours, I might shorten that timeframe to every two and a half hours. And during the night, he must set his alarm halfway through his sleep (e.g. at the four-hour mark if he's sleeping eight hours). At this time, he'd consume a slow-digesting protein drink with some complex carbs and BCAAs.
I think a nighttime feeding is probably the most underrated element when a person is trying to recover and gain mass as quickly as possible. By having him eat up to eight times each day, it's likely that I could stuff a shitload of calories in him without excessive fat gain.
Even though this section is about nutrition, I'll mention one trick that'll greatly increase his recovery and anabolic hormones: naps. He'd be required to take, at least, one nap each day (two if his recovery ability is lagging). The nap would be around thirty minutes. This is definitely a secret weapon in the hypertrophy game!
T-Nation: Cool. Okay, John, what would you prescribe?
Berardi: This actor's motto will be, "If I'm not chewing, I'm not growing!" He'll literally be eating all day long.
I have some strength and power athletes working out 20-25 hours per week and eating 6,000 to 10,000 calories per day while holding at 6% body fat. That kind of eating takes a minute-by-minute commitment. And, if they're not eating, they won't be growing.
And remember, not only have my clients achieved amazing results with this sort of strategy, I've used this strategy to go from a scrawny 140 to 210 pounds in two years time. I then cut up to about 195 for competition – looking marginally super-heroish within the next year. Here's my three-year transformation from ages 18 to 21:
Of course, I mentioned that some of my athletes train 20-25 hours per week, but not all of them do. I didn't during my transformation, nor would my Hollywood pretty-boy. I'd likely have him train 7-10 hours per week. So he won't need 10,000 kcal per day. But 4,000 to 5,000 might be sufficient.
In fact, how about an example? Being a very scrawny bastard, here's the crazy diet I followed to go from 140 to 210:
Breakfast 8AM: 6 whole eggs, 4 slices of whole grain bread, and 4 packets of instant oatmeal
Lunch 12PM: 1 pound extra lean ground beef, 1-cup cauliflower, and 2 large baked potatoes
Evening Meal 4PM: 1 pound of extra lean ground beef, 1-cup broccoli, and 2 large baked potatoes
Post-workout 8PM: 0.75lb of pasta (weighed before cooking), 1-cup green beans, and 0.75lb extra lean ground chicken
Before Bed: 6 whole eggs, 4 slices of whole grain bread
Also, upon waking each morning I'd mix up a one-gallon jug of water and somewhere between five and ten scoops of whey protein. In addition, I'd open a bag of six cinnamon raisin bagels and put peanut butter in between each bagel. The protein drink and the bagels were to be consumed all day long when an actual meal wasn't being eaten.
Again, the motto was, "If I'm not chewing, I'm not growing." I'm not lying when I say that as soon as I'd finish each meal, I'd start right away with my protein shake and bagels and continue on them until the next meal. Even if I was in class, even at work, even when I felt like I couldn't stomach another morsel. Wherever, whenever, I ate.
Now, with what I know now, I might've done things a bit differently – I'd have better balanced my fats. I'd have added a bit more fruits and veggies. I'd have mixed up some Greens+ into my protein shakes. Yet there's no question that I'd maintain the same calorie intake.
Seriously, tally that up folks, that's probably triple what many of you skinny bastards are eating. My Hollywood-wannabe-superhero would be doing the same.
T-Nation: Interesting. What are your thoughts, Thib?
Thibaudeau: As I mentioned earlier, it's all about creating the illusion of size. What looks more impressive, a 200 pound guy with 15% body fat and hardly any muscle definition, or a 180 pound guy with 7% body fat and striations everywhere?
Take a look at the following pics. Sebastien is 202 on the left and 220 on the right. Which looks more like a superhero?
Another prime example is Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Despite being only around 155 pounds in that movie, his extreme definition makes him look much more impressive.
So to create the illusion of size we obviously need muscle mass. After all, even the best illusion starts from a base of reality. But you also need muscle definition – the more the better.
However, if our subject needs to gain 20 pounds, chances are that he probably lacks muscle the most. So in that regard, it's fairly hard to go right to a "cutting" diet. On the other hand, a real bulking diet complete with 5000-plus calories might also be a swing in the wrong direction as the added fat will obscure his definition, making the illusion of size that much harder to accomplish.
I'd recommend a carbs/calories cycling approach. On specialization days (Mondays and Thursdays during phases one and two; Tuesdays and Saturdays during phase three) I'd have high(er) carb days: around 400-500 grams during the day, most of which is ingested in the morning and in the two meals after the workout.
Carbohydrate choices should be low glycemic carbs except for the post-workout shake — for example, PLazma™ — which should contain ample amounts of carbohydrates. Protein intake should be set at 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Then complete the day with around 20 grams of good fats (on top of the fat already found in the chosen foods).
On regular training days (Tuesdays and Saturdays during phases 1 & 2; Mondays and Thursdays during phase 3) the carbs should be moderate at around 200g per day, with the same type of intake split as during the specialization days.
On non-workout days I'd go low-carb with a protein intake of 1.75 to 2.0 grams per pound of bodyweight, 30-40 grams of good fats and less than 75 grams of carbs. These days will allow the individual to stay lean and even get leaner.
As he progresses, adjustment in caloric intake and carb intake should be done depending on the look we want to achieve. Another way of progressing would be to switch around protein sources, going from more fatty foods down to leaner sources. For example:
Phase 1: Mostly red meat
Phase 2: Mostly chicken and poultry
Phase 3: Mostly fish and shellfish.
This alone will help you achieve a more steady and constant rate of fat loss.
Berardi: Again, some great suggestions. I'm gonna have to pick a bit of a fight with Christian, though.
First of all, we're making the assumption our superhero needs to be lean. Well, that would only be the case if the movie requires several "shirts off" scenes. If the actor will be "shirts off," then of course we might need to dial him in.
But, as Chad said, adding 20 pounds of "ripped mass" in 12 weeks puts us all into trouble! Trying to get a "before" Toby McGuire 20 pounds heavier in 12 weeks while also getting ripped – without anabolics – is damn near impossible.
However, if the actor doesn't have to do a lot of shirtless scenes, definition isn't all that important. Of course, I'm not talking about fattening the poor guy up! I'm just talking about increasing mass quickly and effectively without concern for visible brachialis separation or striated triceps.
Now, of course, I see Christian's perspective on carb cycling. It's likely necessary for some body types. For those individuals who don't handle carbs as well and have a natural propensity for higher baseline body fat percentages, calorie/carb cycling may be a necessity.
However, for those with a naturally leaner physique and a great carb tolerance, I still think packing in the calories and carbs is necessary. In fact, I've got dozens of case studies from individuals who ate in excess of 5,000 to 6,000 kcal per day, gained 20-plus pounds in 12 weeks, and either lost or maintained body fat throughout.
In fact, one client, Dan Pope, a regular T-Nation reader, gained 25 pounds during 16 weeks of the program, going from 160 to 185. His squat also went from 325 for a single to 385 for three. Checkout his after pic:
Lookin' pretty super to me! I think that addresses your question from earlier, Christian. In the end, the training would be pretty similar between a husky and a skinny actor and, if tolerated, the nutrition would be similar. Remember, I want a high G-Flux – lots of energy intake and energy output.
However, if we're talking about a husky guy who's a bit too high on the body fat scales, I'd likely either begin at a marginally lower calorie intake that follows my nutrient timing ideas (most of the daily carbs coming during and after exercise – outlined in my Tailor Made Nutrition articles) or do something like calorie/carb cycling, as you suggest.
To be honest, for the average person, I don't recommend calorie cycling as it's harder to organize than my typical recommendations. However, for our actor, he can hire a chef to prepare the meals. All he's got to do is eat them!
Thibaudeau: Good info, JB, and don't worry, I don't see you as picking a fight with me. I tend to assume everything from an endormorph or meso-endo perspective since this is what I am. The biggest successes I had were with clients of this same body type.
You being more on the ecto side of things better understand the needs of such individuals. That's also why I asked you what you'd do with a "big boned" actor. I'm sure that I can learn a few tricks for myself and my clients!
T-Nation: Enough with the love-fest! Let's look at supplements. What supplements do you have in mind for our superhero in training?
Cosgrove: The science surrounding pre, during, and post-workout nutrition is very solid, so we'd be using a workout shake at all three of these times (again, I'm assuming money isn't an issue). We'd also be using a protein or MRP powder for three of his meals. All my clients use fish oil and a multivitamin so that's a given, and to help with our goals we'd likely be using creatine.
Waterbury: I'd call up Tim and TC and say, give me ten of everything! Okay, I probably wouldn't do that because whenever I call either of them, their voices quickly metamorphose into a Middle-Eastern accent and they reply, "He not here."
Nevertheless, here's what I'd have him use:
- Metabolic Drive® This would be his primary protein powder source. Half of his protein intake each day would come from Metabolic Drive.
- Superfood To neutralize any potential metabolic acidosis in order to preserve muscle while keeping IGF-1 and GH as high as possible. Two full servings each day.
- Fish oil capsules 9 grams per day to increase neural recovery and metabolism.
- Surge® To replenish the muscles, I'd have him take one full serving at the onset of the workout, followed by one full serving after the workout.
- Micronized creatine 5g mixed in the post-workout Surge® drink.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids These would be part of his pre-bedtime and middle-of-night regimen. I'd have him take 10 grams with each feeding to increase recovery and muscle mass.
- Alpha Male® and Carbolin-19® To boost Testosterone levels and muscle mass.
- Spike® Before every workout in order to keep the fella scurrying around the iron.
- Finally, I'd reserve Brain Candy® for the days when he feels rundown. Brain Candy® works especially well between twice-daily workouts, so I'd probably use it often during the last month of the program.
The above plan would be used to jack up his muscle mass as fast as possible.
T-Nation: Hey Waterbury, are you trying to take the Biotest whore title away from Dave Barr? I kid. Berardi, what supps would you have our actor on?
Berardi: Let's look back to what I was doing supplement-wise: whey protein. That was it. Of course, as no one was even using creatine back then, I'd likely add a few additional things to make the muscle gain happen faster for my Hollywood star.
For starters, I'd have him use a protein blend like Metabolic Drive or anything with a high quality whey/casein/milk protein blend. This would be mixed in those big shakes he'd be sipping every day. I'd also add some Greens+ to that mix. Further, I'd likely throw some flax and olive oil into the big shakes.
In addition to this, I'd have him sipping Surge during and immediately after his workout. Then, about an hour later, he'd be eating his big post-workout meal.
Next, he'd be taking about ten capsules of fish oil per day, two with each big food meal.
And finally, he'd be taking about 5g of creatine per day as well, mixed into a morning beverage (but it doesn't really matter when he takes it, as long as he takes it). That would be about it, folks. Pretty simple, but pretty effective.
And, for the record, no, I wouldn't have him use prohormones or the like. They wouldn't be necessary for this actor. As he'd have the flexibility to train, recover, and eat when he wanted, there's no need for hormonal manipulation. The only way I'd consider that is if he was doing everything I prescribed and was gaining too much fat relative to muscle mass. And even then, we'd have a serious talk about the endocrine system and what should be expected from it.
T-Nation: Okay, Thib, your turn.
Thibaudeau: A superhero needs super-fuel! So Surge and a good protein powder like Metabolic Drive and Metabolic Drive bars are a must.
I still don't understand why some people aren't into Surge yet. It can almost double your rate of progress from a solid strength-training program by providing the necessary material to repair, rebuild, and reinforce muscle tissue.
Metabolic Drive shakes and bars will allow our superhero to meet his protein needs while on the run. They also help get the adequate intake without having to consume excessive calories.
My super secret is to use a combo of creatine, BCAA, and glutamine five times per day. At each serving you ingest 5g of each. The BCAA powder should be at least 50% leucine as this is the most anabolic of the three BCAAs. Glutamine has gotten a bad rep, but when used as part of this stack it's effective. I've had clients gain up to eight pounds in two weeks while losing fat by adding this simple strategy.
I also like Spike. Actually, I was almost surprised to like it as I'm really not into stimulants. But Spike is very effective and increases the productivity of my workouts. Finally, I think that HOT-ROX is a must if someone wants to improve body composition, especially when rapid improvements are needed such as in our case.
Thibaudeau knows a thing or two about making dramatic transformations!
T-Nation: Okay, good info. Now, most of you mentioned steroids above but gave advice for drug-free guys. So, several questions: Do you think actors use drugs for certain roles, or are those great transformations just "newbie gains" and professional lighting? Also, how would your general training and diet advice change if the actor was on anabolics?
Cosgrove: While I'm sure that drugs are involved with some roles, a lot of the gains are just the "perfect scenario." And a lot of it is just massive fat loss. As the other guys have mentioned, getting super lean can definitely make you look bigger, especially on film.
But let's explain the "perfect scenario." Think about it, could you lose a pound of fat and gain a pound of muscle this week if you were super motivated and only had to train? So you train, eat, recover and repeat – no having to go to work or do anything else. Of course you could!
These guys have the perfect situation for training. They can train multiple times per day and have all their meals prepared. So you look at the results you could get in this situation, magnify that with a multi-million dollar movie as motivation, multiply it by 12 weeks, and you can see pretty amazing results.
With anabolics, assuming this guy is a newbie and the rest of the situation is the same, it's doubtful I'd change anything. All the drugs would do in this short term situation (12 weeks) is speed up the progress that we were making.
Berardi: I'm not really qualified to say whether actors use drugs for certain roles. Maybe some do; I don't know. But let's think seriously about this – there are few actors out there muscular enough to rouse my suspicion.
Seriously, if Will Smith or Brad Pitt or Toby McGuire gains a measly 20 pounds for a role, and does so in six months (they usually have longer than 12 weeks to do it in), the message boards blow up with rumor of steroid use. What a joke!
Does the average gym-goer suck so freakin' badly that they can't imagine a world where great training, great nutrition, the right supplements, great adherence, and great recovery would easily produce a 20 pound muscle gain in six months? If so, they might as well put their lifting belt, their fancy lifting shoes, and their medium-sized lifting T-shirts up for sale on e-bay as they'll never, ever get bigger!
Seriously, multi-millionaire actors can hire fantastic trainers, bring on great cooks, buy the right nutritional supplements, and devote enough time to training and recovery to put on 20 pounds – no problem. And, truth be told, these gains are not only possible, they're freakin' likely!
Whenever I see the message boards blowing up with rumors over steroid use in a moderately muscular actor, I'm reminded why I wasn't out of a job a long time ago – people in the gyms and on the message boards just don't know what the fuck they're doing. Instead of going out and doing, they saddle up to their keyboards and type about doing something. Lucky for the readers of T-Nation, you've got guys like Alwyn, Christian, Chad, myself, and many others to prevent you from making the same rookie mistakes – both physical and psychological – that many other newbies make.
As far as whether my advice would change if the athlete or actor was on anabolics – it might. It all depends on their response. I'd start with the same prescription, expecting even more muscle to come on. Seriously, I've seen guys gain 30 pounds while staying lean on a cycle of steroids. It's crazy!
Then, if the actor was gaining more fat than I'd like, I'd taper back on the calories a bit or even use Christian's carb/calorie cycling. When on anabolics, carb/calorie cycling works wonders as "feed efficiency" (the amount of muscle gained per calorie) is much higher. So the individual could pack on more muscle on fewer calories.
T-Nation: Interesting take! Chad?
Waterbury: If it was the 1980s, I'd say that most of the superhero-types who were portrayed on the silver screen used anabolics. I think you all know who I'm referring to.
These days, the guys with a plethora of muscle are rarely leading actors. This last point perfectly coincides with what TC mentioned in his Bad Ass Mo-Fo's article. I mean, come on, Tobey Maguire?! Hell, it seems The Rock is the only big dude out there on the big screen.
With advancements in training techniques from some of the world's top trainers and much more powerful supplements, I'd postulate that fewer stars today are using anabolics. But again, this is largely due to the fact that no leading actors are carrying the physique that Arnold had in his Conan movies. And the fact that many trainers can make a six-figure salary just by training one guy for a movie role, it's easy to see why qualified trainers are quick to accept the challenge.
Nevertheless, it's indeed possible to slap some serious muscle mass on a young, healthy guy who has minimal weight-training experience. I'm sure we all remember how well our bodies responded to an intelligently designed program during our initial months of training.
Furthermore, when preparing for a role, actors are required to do nothing more than train, eat, and sleep. And that's precisely the reason why my superhero program is so intense. I doubt anyone with a full-time job, family, and school stressors could pull if off.
I bet the majority of T-Nation would double their gains if their only job in life was to train, eat, and sleep. Not to mention the financial motivations of landing a blockbuster movie contract. Intense motivation leads to faster neural recovery, and that's something that no steroid can offer.
The changes I'd make to my aforementioned routine would be minimal if the actor was using steroids. That's because I'm already pushing the envelope about as far as it will go. But, I'd probably be more willing to push the intensity levels of each set a little further with juiced-up dudes. But it's hard to say since each individual greatly differs with regard to training volume and intensity.
Thibaudeau: Well, I think that lighting, make-up, and being allowed to pump up before shooting a scene can make a difference. However, these things can't build muscle that's not there.
T-Nation: I remember seeing some behind-the-scenes footage of guys like Christopher Reeve in Superman and Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious. They both kept weights on the set and would crank reps right before the director yelled action. So good point about the "pump." Anyway, what's your take on the 'roid issue?
Thibaudeau: Some probably are using steroids. Heck, if a guy who doesn't like to train gets offered ten million to play a superhero provided that he gain 20 pounds of muscle, chances are that he'll take the "easier" road. (I'm not saying "easy" because without hard work and proper nutrition, steroids aren't going to turn you into a Greek god.)
However, weight lifting has now become a very popular activity and many actors are into it. Not to the extent as most T-Nation readers are, but they still like to hit the gym every once in a while. These guys will most likely look at the strength training and diet side of things before considering the use of illegal drugs.
I often hear people say, "Actor X was really buff in his most recent movie, much bigger than before. Must be on steroids." While anything is possible, I'm one to give the benefit of the doubt.
As the others mentioned, when an actor gets hired for a movie he has nothing else to do than prepare for his role until they start shooting. If the producers give him three months to prepare, that means for 12 weeks our actor has all of his time available to focus on his preparation and little else. In the case of our subject, that means he'd be able to focus developing his body 24/7.
Furthermore, if they give him ten million, chances are that he'll be able to afford a trainer to supervise all his training sessions, a nutritionist that'll build up his diet, as well as a chef who'll prepare the menus planned by the nutritionist. This makes everything a whole lot easier. No outside stress and obligations equals greater gains, just as Chad said. Furthermore, the motivation factor will be very high: nobody wants to lose ten million in income or look bad on screen because they were too lazy to do their workouts!
But to get back to the steroid issue, don't forget that the average actor isn't all that big or muscular. A guy who's even remotely in shape will stand-out on screen and appear bigger than he really is. Chances are that the producers would cast a relatively tall guy for the role of the superhero, so he already has a certain physical presence compared to the (possibly) shorter actors. Heck, Vince Vaughn almost looks imposing in Wedding Crashers because he's towering over the other guys. Add some muscle in the right places and a tall guy can look like Superman on film!
Now, I'm not saying that actors don't use steroids to prep for roles. Several probably do because they don't want to take any chances of failing. However, I think that it's ridiculous to think that if an actor is somewhat cut or muscular he automatically uses steroids.
Brad Pitt was really impressive in Fight Club because 1) he's ripped to shreds, 2) he's playing beside an atrophied Edward Norton, and 3) he's carrying himself with a ton of confidence. But Pitt was what, 165 tops for that role, and that's on 6'? Not exactly huge. But the definition made him appear freaky.
Just for fun, let's make a comparison. I won't even use myself or Sebastien Cossette this time, but my girlfriend Christiane Lamy. Now, Christiane is 128 pounds on 5'4" in contest shape and is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder. Who looks more muscular?
Now, if a woman like Christiane can build this type of physique without drugs, who's to say that Mr. Pitt had to take drugs to achieve a less impressive physique? Now, I'm not saying that he didn't used steroids; I'm saying that a person doesn't need to take them to look like that! Clenbuterol and Cytomel I could see, but if you need steroids to look like him, I'd strongly suggest considering a career as a marathon runner!
Now on to the last part of your question. If the actor is using anabolic compounds I really wouldn't change his training that much. Maybe increase volume a bit (around 10-15%). The biggest change I'd make would be his protein intake: I'd jack it up to around 2 to 2.25 grams per pound of bodyweight. The anabolics drastically increase protein synthesis, so if you increase protein intake, you'll increase muscle gains.
For a natural, this isn't always the case as he'll be limited by his body's capacity to utilize protein to build muscle tissue. For example, if your natural body can synthesize 150 grams of protein into muscle per day (just an example, this isn't a true number), increasing your intake to 300 grams a day won't lead to more muscle gain.
Berardi: I want to jump in here to say two things. The first is relative to Christian's protein intake comments. I think the 150 gram example (although I understand, it's just made up), is misleading. After all, there are metabolic advantages associated with higher protein intakes independent of protein synthesis.
Therefore, we're not trying to figure out just the right amount of protein for protein synthesis alone, although that's important. We're trying to figure out the right amount of protein intake associated with elevated metabolism, with optimization of hormone concentrations, with optimization of protein turnover, etc. Although there exists some debate on this topic, it's important to consider that protein intake is important for more than protein synthesis.
However, I don't take issue with anything else Christian wrote. If his actor is on an energy-controlled intake, it's likely he'll need more protein if he's on the juice.
My other comment is this: we've bantered around ideas for our ideal case scenario – the Hollywood star that's got time, money, and the best advice in the business. However, I want the readers of this article to understand that this information doesn't disqualify them from getting these types of gains!
I can hear it already: "That's good and all, but I don't have all day to train, eat, and get huge! I guess it's hopeless."
Well, wipe that crappy thinking outta your mind! I have clients every day getting these types of amazing results. It might take a bit longer, but it's happening. So quit coppin' out, close your web browser right now and either get to the gym or get to the fridge!
One of my clients, Fennell, took this advice and, as you'll see below, gained 40 pounds in less than a year. That's right, he came to us at 127 and 10% body fat. He now stands at 167 and 10%. The best part? He accomplished that without increasing his body fat percentage past about 12% at any point in time!
If you don't look like you want to, it's got little to do with you not having read enough of our advice – it's got everything to do with what you're doing with that advice! Get busy!
But wait, if you're a Hollywood actor and just signed a huge superhero deal, scratch that advice. Before getting to the gym or the fridge, give me a shout. My fees are reasonable, I swear. [Laughing]
T-Nation: Great stuff, guys. Lots to think about and apply! Thanks!