Health and exercise scientists from the University of Stirling have analysed the daily diet of around 12,000 calories that helps Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who plays “The Mountain” in hit television series Games of Thrones, maintain his 6ft 9in and 180kg stature.
The Icelandic strongman revealed the feast on Instagram and an analysis reveals he consumes five times the requirement of an average Joe.
Writing in The Conversation, Dr Lee Hamilton and Dr Oliver Witard examined how this daily meal plan, which includes 14 eggs, almost a kilo of beef and a wealth of greens and supplements, supports the actor’s aim of becoming the World’s Strongest Man – and how it could be refined to improve the physique of mere mortals.
“While few of us will ever need to consume a diet like this, there are aspects of it that can be translated to support the performance of ordinary people”, said Dr Hamilton
1. Forget the supplements, there’s an easier way
The Mountain’s supplement intake includes many items commonly consumed by gym goers including BCAA and Glutamine. However, little to no scientific evidence exists that supplementing these is any more effective for stimulating muscle growth than high quality protein.
Dr Hamilton said: “BCAAs may be useful in offsetting the soreness associated with muscle damage, which Björnsson may need when he’s taking on 400kg deadlifts - or crushing the heads of his enemies as The Mountain.
“For anyone new to lifting weights, these supplements may help reduce the severity of muscle soreness that occurs in the first few gym sessions, but the effect is small. Research suggests a more cost effective alternative may be a large glass of milk.
2. Protein, protein, protein
Protein is a popular element of The Mountain’s diet. Dr Witard explained why:
“A man of The Mountain’s size should consume in the region of 70g of protein per meal. Björnsson consumes anywhere from a 50g midnight snack to 150g in the beef in his main meal.
“In normal young, healthy adults, 0.4g/kg of protein per meal is sufficient to stimulate the muscle growth response – the equivalent of a 6oz steak per meal.”
3. Distribute protein evenly throughout the day
Evenly distributing protein intake throughout the day offers benefits when it comes to muscle growth and Björnsson eats every two to three hours.
“For an average man, this would look like 30g of protein, a large chicken breast, every three to four hours”, continued Dr Witard, “For The Mountain, it would scale up to six or seven 70g doses of protein every three hours, making for a total recommended intake of 420g of protein per day. About half of his current intake.
“Björnsson has a mountainous diet to match his body, however, we would “tentatively” suggest (we’re not arguing!) reducing his protein intake and redistributing it evenly over the day. At the same time he could moderately increase his carbohydrate intake to suit his training needs on a day-to-day basis. Research suggests that regular intake of high quality protein sources spread throughout the day may help the rest of us achieve a healthy and functional old age by allowing us to better hold on to our muscle as we age.”
4. No midnight snacks necessary
The Mountain takes in protein supplements or raw eggs during the night, but is there any benefit to this?
Dr Hamilton advised: “Protein consumed close to bed or between asleep is successfully digested and absorbed and the subsequent amino acids incorporated into muscle so this is a viable strategy to increase the supply of amino acids to our muscles.
“That will be of great help to The Mountain who consumes over 10,000 calories a day to achieve his required intake. However, most mere mortals should be able to consume their recommended total daily calorie intake, about 2,500 calories a day, without losing a good night’s sleep.”
5. When it comes to fat, make sure it’s good for your heart
A survey of the much-loved character’s fat intake reveals it is close to around 4,000 calories, so approximately 35% of his total intake. However, it contains a high content of so called “heart-healthy” polyunsaturated fats from sources such as almonds, oily fish and avocados.
Dr Witard said: “These types of fats are essential to a healthy, balanced diet no matter who you are.”
This article is published in full on The Conversation.