Extreme body transformations are one of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood. Now that comic book-based movies dominate the cultural zeitgeist, casting larger-than-life actors requires a little more than a few pushups and good lighting.
Christian Bale showed how black coffee, one apple, and one can of tuna per day could take him from Batman shape to dangerously emaciated within a span of four months. Matt Damon, Jared Leto, and Matthew McConaughey are no strangers to jumping up and down the scale for movie roles. In the superhero genre, there’s nowhere to go but up. Up the food intake. Up the supplements. Up the muscle. When millions of dollars and the future of major franchises are at stake, everyone has got to look the part.
Some stars credit chicken, broccoli, and clean living for their muscly makeovers. Others have admitted to more…say…intense methods to achieve peak cape shape. It may have been either keto and CrossFit or dehydration and deadlifts. These ten devoted actors pushed their bodies to another level by whatever means necessary.
10 Chris Hemsworth: Thor
Fitness has always played a part in Chris Hemsworth’s life. In earlier roles like Star Trek and Cabin in the Woods, Hemsworth was in good shape, but not god shape.
Hemsworth stated, “In the comic strip, Thor looks to be around 500lb, so obviously that wasn’t my goal.” He added that he wanted to “look the part and be as powerful as strong as I could while still maintaining that element of agility.”
Hemsworth enlisted the help of personal trainer Michael Knight (not the one from Knight Rider) to push him into true superhero shape. When asked about Hemsworth’s workout regimen, Knight reported that the routine was split into two parts; “The first was a bodybuilder-type protocol focused on high-weight, low-rep moves designed to pack on maximum size, while the second was total-body circuits designed to shift his excess fat while maintaining muscle.”
Hemsworth stated that he ate a protein-heavy diet and used monitored dehydration to make his muscle fibers pop. His trainer has gone on record as saying that he wouldn’t recommend his Thor diet and exercise regimen to others as it is not a sustainable model.
9 Henry Cavill: Superman
Unlike Kal-El, Henry Cavill is but a mere human. His transformation for Man of Steel required heaps of calories, exercise, and mental grit. Early in his acting career, Cavill’s physique could be described as “slim fit.” This was fine for his roles in The Tudors and Immortals, but it wouldn’t cut the mustard as Superman.
To achieve a believable Kryptonian body, Cavill turned to Mark Twight, the man who whipped the cast of 300 into fighting shape. Cavill trained up to two-and-a-half hours a day, four to five days a week. To pack on muscle and help with exercise recovery, Cavill consumed around 5,000 calories each day. This was largely meat, vegetables, and protein shakes. He has owned up to enjoying some pizza and other cheat meals during the grueling six-month process.
Utilizing bodybuilding and CrossFit workouts, Cavill packed on 18 pounds of muscle while keeping his body fat below 10%. Results like this would be nigh impossible for the average Joe. Cavill has openly stated that while steroids were an option, both he and Mark Twight were dead set against it. When asked why he took the tougher route, Cavill said, “To take a shortcut to that place is nothing that Superman would do.”
8 Chris Evans: Captain America
Apparently, Chris Evans used to skip leg day. As his fitness trainer Simon Waterson stated, “He just trained his biceps, and his chest, and his abs, and that was it. He could do a lot of pushing exercises but not a lot of pulling exercises. So he didn’t deadlift, he didn’t do many pull-ups, he didn’t have very overdeveloped legs.”
Since Waterson didn’t have a vial of super-soldier serum in his back pocket, he opted for a workout plan that would not only build muscle but also even out lagging body parts. Waterson claimed that they used a combination of heavy lifting and dynamic circuits, focusing on both “the aesthetic and the athletic.”
Evans’s diet leaned heavily on protein, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and supplements. In an interview, Evans reported, “Supplement-wise, I used a bit of glutamine, whey protein shakes, branched-chain amino acids, then 500 mg of Omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids.”
Based on Evans’s physique throughout the Marvel films, it appears he really can do this all day.
7 Hugh Jackman: Wolverine
Rather than showing up to the set of X-Men in Wolverine shape, Jackman’s physique gradually became more savage throughout the first three films. He reached his peak condition 13 years after his first appearance as the clawed mutant.
Jackman had been more of a song and dance man before being cast in X-Men (2000). He was by no means in bad shape, but his shirtless scenes were kept to a minimum. That went out the window by the time production began on 2013’s The Wolverine. In preparation for The Wolverine and Logan (2017), Jackman recruited fitness expert Dave Kingsbury.
Like others on this list, Jackman consumed mass amounts of meat, fish, vegetables, rice, and oatmeal. One key element, according to Kingsbury, was carb cycling. Jackman ate carbohydrates before 3:00 pm on training days and essentially eliminated them every other day. Supplement-wise, Jackman used pre-workout, creatine monohydrate, carnitine, and branch-chained amino acids. Hugh’s workout plan was as regimented as his diet. Kingsbury put Jackman on a four-week weightlifting program focused on progressively higher weight the first three weeks and lighter weight the fourth.
While the details were intricate, the exercises themselves weren’t. Jackman stuck to mostly bench press, pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts…everything a growing boy needs.
6 Chris Pratt: Star Lord
During his Parks & Recreation days, Chris Pratt looked as though he could be a guardian of the donuts, but not the galaxy. To become Star Lord, Pratt utilized both a fitness trainer and a nutritionist to boost his body from flab to fab.
Dr. Phil Goglia overhauled Pratt’s diet to contain “clean” food and supplements. Pratt reported supplementing with whey protein, a testosterone booster, branch chain amino acids, and fat burners. Although Pratt was trying to drop body fat, his overall caloric intake was increased to complement his intense training regimen.
Pratt worked with ex-Navy SEAL Duffy Gaver to put those calories to work. Pratt spent five months putting in four to six training sessions each week. He utilized a bodybuilding training style by focusing on different muscle groups each session. The results spoke for themselves: Pratt dropped over 60 pounds (27 kilograms) while adding lean muscle to his physique.
While his weight has fluctuated somewhat since Guardians of the Galaxy, he has managed to avoid slipping back to his Andy Dwyer bod.
5 J.K. Simmons: Commissioner Gordon
J.K. Simmons has starred in two major superhero movies but has never played a superhuman. That didn’t stop him from going to shred city in preparation to play James Gordon in 2017’s Justice League.
The 61-year-old Whiplash star brought on esteemed trainer-to-the-stars Aaron Williamson to build him into the grizzled police commissioner. Williamson said in an interview with Business Insider, “He wants to have some ‘beefing’ guns to show people that he is just not that guy that does Farmers commercials.”
Williamson put Simmons on a two-workout program and mapped out a muscle-bulking meal plan. Three to four days per week, Simmons would ride his bicycle to the gym before warming up with 15 minutes of cardio. Workout #1 focused on chest/back/shoulders, and Workout #2 was all arms and abs (as evidenced by the Instagram pictures he posted then).
Simmons’s diet was like others on the list: Lean meat, veggies, oats, and a few squares of dark chocolate as “cheats.” Considering he wouldn’t have to display his new body in Justice League, the effort he made was impressive… even if he was skipping leg day.
4 Kumail Nanjiani: Kingo
Kumail Nanjiani put in the extra effort on his way to becoming Kingo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Chase the pain” was the Silicon Valley star’s training mantra.
Nanjiani trained five days a week for the year leading up to shooting Eternals. The bulk of this was with trainer Grant Roberts. He spent the first six months bulking. Utilizing “old school” lifts and electric stimulation devices, Nanjiani focused purely on gaining size.
Next was a “sculpting” phase. This involved classic bodybuilder workouts, drop sets (weight goes up as the reps go down), and cable machines to achieve maximum muscle growth. Nanjiani ate four meals a day, with one cheat meal per week. His diet consisted mainly of eggs, chicken, rice, fish, avocados, and protein bars. In addition, he used a simple supplement stack of pre-workout, whey protein, vitamins, and cod liver oil.
Nanjiani has no plans to test his new physique out in a boxing ring or MMA cage. When asked if he felt he was now more intimidating, he stated, “Not at all. These muscles are useless. They’re decorative.”
3 Brie Larson: Carol Danvers
“Nine months of training really does some stuff to your body.” Truer words were never spoken by Captain Marvel star Brie Larson. The actress had already attained a lean, sinewy physique for her role in the film Room. But prepping to play Carol Danvers required taking her baseline to the next level.
Larson worked with trainer Jason Walsh of Rise Movement to get her body in Marvel shape. Walsh told Men’s Journal that Larson’s routine focused on mobility work, activation work, and then primary strength exercises. Walsh said, “That could be a squat aspect, bilateral exercises, unilateral moves, hip-hinge work, and a lot of hip thrusting and posterior chain work. Then we’d do circuits of secondary exercises—basically everything other than those primary moves.”
This included a deadlift, back and biceps routine, and a squats, glutes, and legs routine. For her diet, Larson started eating paleo before moving into a “clean food” diet or high protein and low carb food. She supplemented her training with creatine monohydrate.
The grind to get in Carol Danvers shape yielded one unexpected outcome: Larson reached her goal of being able to perform one-armed pull-ups.
2 Tom Holland: Spider-Man
It’s fortunate for Tom Holland that Peter Parker isn’t built like Thor Odinson. Holland had just been required to lose weight for his previous film, leaving him just six weeks to transform his svelte figure into that of the agile web-slinger.
With the help of trainer George Ashwell, Holland added an impressive 15.5 pounds (7 kilograms) of muscle to his 5’8″ (173-meter) frame. Because time was of the essence, Holland worked with Ashwell every day of those six weeks.
His routine focused on compound movements and functional exercises. This would help Holland fill out the Spidey suit a bit while improving movement and agility. This required stretching, deadlifts, incline bench presses, dips, bear crawls, dumbbell thrusters, renegade rows, chin-ups, and running. For recovery, Holland spent 30 minutes on the massage table after each session.
To keep body fat low while building muscle, Ashwell put Holland on a “two-fist” bulking plan. That meant that each meal eaten contained two fist-sized portions each of protein, carbs, and greens. For supplementation, he kept it simple, using collagen, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins. For the third Spider-Man film, he also incorporated muscle stimulation devices into his workouts.
1 Natalie Portman: Jane Foster/Mighty Thor
When Natalie Portman throws herself into film roles, she takes it to the next level of dedication. She shaved her head for V for Vendetta and emaciated herself for her role in Black Swan.
Now that she is taking up the mantle of Thor, another radical body renovation was necessary. This time, the goal was to pack on lean muscle. Portman generally stays fit by running and practicing “Gyrotonic” exercises (Imagine a blend of yoga, tai-chi, and gymnastics).
Trainer Naomi Pendergast worked with Portman for four months before shooting, then all through production. Regarding her preparation for the latest Thor film, Portman has been tight-lipped about her actual routine. She did reveal to Vanity Fair, “We did a lot of weight training and a lot of protein shakes—heavyweight training that I haven’t ever done before.”
Portman has been a vegan or vegetarian since she was nine years old. To fuel her workouts, she took in a lot of iron-rich veggies, fruit, almond milk, leafy greens, oatmeal, and pasta. Her supplement regimen was simple: Vitamin D and a monthly Vitamin B-12 shot.
When asked by television host Andy Cohen if she had a workout plan like co-star Chris Hemsworth’s, Portman said, “Yes, I am training, and I’m in so much pain. Like, I’m not good at this.” Good or not, the results have spoken for themselves. She is worthy.