All gain no pain: Does Hollywood have a steroid problem?

How do the world's leading men get superhero abs seemingly overnight? Sometimes it's down to sheer hard work, says Harry Shukman. But sometimes, of course, it's not...

It’s been called the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. How do actors who play superheroes and action hunks get in Zeus-grade shape? How do they get ripped in the space of a few months, and maintain their vascular, zero body-fat physiques over a 90-day shoot? How do they do this well into middle age – fitting in high-intensity workouts twice a day – when the majority of their peers are doing burpees not for cardio but to help their baby grandchildren digest their dinners?

According to the personal trainers hired to whip A-listers into shape, the answer is performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs. Actors of a certain age whose roles depend on being hench are said to keep little vials of PEDs in the fridge, which they will inject into their bellies and thighs to give them an edge in the gym and maintain a toned look of rippling muscles.

Fitness industry professionals who have spoken to the Gentleman’s Journal say a surprising number of Hollywood actors, whose faces and abs will be familiar to you from their heroic roles in ancient battles and intergalactic showdowns, are secretly juicing. The audience might think the actor’s transformation involved a cutting-edge workout plan, long hours in the gym, and the consumption of a zoo’s worth of protein, but these experts say that’s only part of the truth. Call it the magic of cinema — it’s just an illusion.

Actor Rob McElhenny hinted that he may have had a little leg up in an interview with Men's Health in 2021

There was a fad a few years ago when celebrities shared their daily routines, revealing inhumane schedules of 3am workouts and cryo chamber recovery sessions. Grimes, the singer, parodied these extreme regimens by claiming that every day she practiced a batty mix of screaming therapy, sword fighting, and sensory deprivation.

As part of the trend Rob McElhenney told his Instagram followers how he got jacked for his role as Mac in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. “Look, it’s not that hard,” he wrote. “All you need to do is lift weights six days a week, stop drinking alcohol, don’t eat anything after 7pm, don’t eat any carbs or sugar at all, in fact just don’t eat anything you like, get the personal trainer from Magic Mike, sleep nine hours a night, run three miles a day, and have a studio pay for the whole thing over a six to seven month span.”

He said he didn’t know “why everyone’s not doing this”, adding: “It’s a super realistic lifestyle and an appropriate body image to compare oneself to.”

That was in 2018, but it took until 2021 before McElhenney seemed to hint that his incredible metamorphosis involved some bonus oomph. In a video interview with Men’s Health last year, he said during his training period he visited a physician “two to three times a week to monitor [his] testosterone levels”. McElhenney then jokingly batted away a question that he had taken steroids to get the body of Hercules. “I’m not going to get into the medical science of it,” he said with a deadpan face. He quipped that because he is an “alpha dog monster”, he had “elevated levels of testosterone naturally”. Bodybuilders taking testosterone injections to increase muscle mass need regular visits to a doctor to check their hormones stay within safe limits.

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