A while back, I saw a post that I thought was fake because of how unbelievable it was. It was a picture of actor Kumail Nanjiani, the nerdy actor/comedian from Silicon Valley. The Kumail I’m familiar with is a skinny-but-pudgy guy who doesn’t look like he’d ever lifted a weight in his life. But the guy in this picture said otherwise. A man who once looked like he only read comics now looked like the hero in the comic.
The photo was posted to his Instagram and after initially writing it off to Photoshop, he explained he had been training for a role as a superhero. What followed was a slew of comments and questions begging for him to share his secret diet and workouts that allowed him to have such a staggering transformation.
It got me thinking about how these film transformations fuel the fervor of “celebrity diets” that have most of the public thinking Hollywood elites possess some sort of secret for youth and fitness (outside of a scalpel).
Anyone casually interested in fitness will usually find themselves googling “favorite celebrity + diet plan” hoping for some insight. So how do these celebrities achieve such staggering transformations in such a short amount of time? Do they possess some insider info only the stars have access to? Well the short answer is no. There is a recipe they follow, and given enough time and commitment, most people can replicate their results (although I’m not sure you’d want to).
Either way, I’m going to shed some light on how they do it, and my hope is that in the process, you’ll understand they possess no magic pill. I’m going to assume it’s a given that these celebrities possess formidable resources to hire personal trainers, nutrition coaches, surgeons and even a bit of pharmaceutical assistance. But honestly, tummy tucks, anabolic cocktails, and skillful camera angles aside, there are some things you can’t fake. So here goes.
Step 1 — They achieve radical focus with a high-stakes deadline. When a celebrity is getting ready for a role, he or she is quite literally getting paid to achieve a certain look and hell or high water, they better be film ready. This means for 3-12 months at a time, they live like monks on extremely strict workout and nutrition regimens typically divided into two phases: a “bulk” and a “cut.”
Step 2 — They begin with a strength training and/or muscle-building cycle. Depending on the role, physical rigors it calls for, and the athletic background of the actor, almost every actor has to pack on a fair amount of lean muscle. This means 12-24 weeks of heavy muscle-building/strength training coupled with a diet geared towards gaining weight. This means a coach is watching every calorie to make sure they eat enough to sustain the two-plus hours in the gym doing compound movements like presses, deadlifts and squats, along with bodybuilding splits.
Step 3 — They transition to a cutting cycle to lose body fat that reveals the muscle they built. Once they have completed the first phase of their training and diet, having gained the necessary weight, a huge emphasis is shifted to their diet. No longer do they need to eat a surplus of calories but rather, a deficit. Typically, this means they go high-protein, low-carb probably consuming 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and .5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight (under 100g a day usually) for 8-12 weeks. This allows them to rapidly drop weight leading up to filming.
As soon as they complete their cut, the transformation is complete. Three to six months of bulking to put on 10-20 pounds of mass followed by two to three months of leaning out. They peak physically during filming the same way a bodybuilder would peak for a competition. Although far more drastic, this is the same time-honored formula any average Joe can use to build muscle and/or lose weight — a clear goal, timeline, and focus for a sustained period with coaching to keep you on track.
Hollywood may have lots of tools at their disposal, but when it comes to body transformation, they have to use the same methods as anyone else. Remember that next time one of them tries to sell you a weight loss tea. spt