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How Zac Efron Bulked Up Even More To Play Kevin Von Erich In The Iron Claw

For more than half a century with members spanning three generations, the Von Erich family has become legendary in the wrestling world, leading to their induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009. On hand to receive this prestigious honor was Kevin Ross Adkisson, aka Kevin Von Erich, who has himself won all sorts of wrestling accolades. The fascinating and tragic story of Kevin and the rest of Von Erich family is the subject of "The Iron Claw," in which the famous wrestler is portrayed by Zac Efron.

To play the part, Efron had to transform his body in a massive effort that may be on par with what he underwent in preparation for "Baywatch," which is very impressive. However, while that experience had its ups, it was also accompanied by significant downs that taught him what worked and what didn't. The actor then took that knowledge and used it to accomplish the new goal of increasing his bulk with great results. A couple of shots of Efron's larger build have spread across the media before the trailer dropped and sparked positive reactions from many, including Kevin Von Erich himself. Now, a trailer has premiered, showing off Efron's physique and an early look at the harrowing drama "The Iron Claw." Let's take a look at the vital steps the actor took to pull off his latest formidable look.

The intense Baywatch experience taught him a lot about his health

Like Alexandra Daddario and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Zac Efron was in incredibly great shape for his role in "Baywatch," but to achieve those results, the actor may have pushed himself to a level exceeding his co-stars. At the time, Efron was all for putting the work in, as he told Men's Journal, "There's this trigger that happens after two or three weeks of dieting and eating healthy food, where your body switches its primary energy source from burning mainly carbohydrates to burning fat."

The actor relished the process because it would make him crave foods he should be eating (like sweet potatoes, beets, and kale) instead of the junk that would just make his body goals harder to accomplish. On the other hand, the extreme steps it took to maintain the chiseled abs of a Greek god were eventually not worth it. A few years after the film was released, Efron admitted to Men's Health, "I started to develop insomnia, and I fell into a pretty bad depression, for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out. I had a really hard time recentering."

Despite the dark moments, Efron learned a lot from that experience and now fully understands what it truly takes to have almost no body fat. Clearly, he appreciated the lessons learned, yet will probably never go through a transformation that intense again.

Zac Efron loves to train constantly

There are certainly aspects of Zac Efron's intense preparation for his "Baywatch" body that he will not do again for future projects, such as the use of diuretics and some of the strict dietary choices. However, going into beast mode for workouts is something that he doesn't regret. For the film, he trained two times a day, five or six days out of the week, but that didn't seem to bother him. "When I'm very careful about my fitness and have a goal in mind, it keeps me motivated and balanced," he explained to Men's Journal. "I wake up earlier. I don't feel the need to be out — that kills your day, your hobbies, and your motivation."

That same mentality came in handy for Efron as he bulked up considerably to play Kevin Von Erich in "The Iron Claw." The actor told Men's Health, "I enjoy pushing myself and really laying it all out, to the point where I kind of have to do it. Otherwise, I don't feel like myself."

Yoga has always been an important part of the process

Zac Efron has relied heavily on intense weight training to maintain his physique over the years, but that is far from his only physical activity. When asked by Vogue what he prefers to do as a daily routine, he replied, "I love all different kinds of sports, but I do a lot of weight training, surf, and yoga." The actor has often shared his fondness for yoga especially, with several social media posts showing off what the workouts have helped him to do, like an impressive handstand he made on Instagram as he praised the teachings of his yogi.

In preparing for "The Iron Claw," yoga has remained a fundamental element of Efron's process, along with stretching and highly effective relaxation techniques for his muscles. Especially because of how hard Efron has had to work for the new role, foam rollers and a Theragun have become essential equipment after workouts.

He stopped taking diuretics

By far, the worst part of Zac Efron's "Baywatch" experience was the need to use pills called diuretics, which are usually intended as a treatment for high blood pressure. Diuretics (or water pills) help remove both sodium and water from your body, an effect that is very useful when trying to cut as much weight as possible. Yet this ended up doing more harm than good and was determined as the main reason for Efron's descent into depression during filming. As he told Men's Health, "Ultimately, they chalked it up to taking way too many diuretics for way too long, and it messed something up."

Fortunately, to play Kevin Von Erich in "The Iron Claw," none of that was needed, and the actor has preferred it that way going forward. "That 'Baywatch' look, I don't know if that's really attainable," he said. "There's just too little water in the skin. Like, it's fake; it looks CGI'd. And that required Lasix, powerful diuretics, to achieve. So I don't need to do that. I much prefer to have an extra, you know, 2 to 3% body fat."

He started eating more food in general

For his films since "Baywatch," Zac Efron has had a significantly healthier approach to meals during shoots. In a diet-focused exclusive for Men's Health, the actor said, "Sometimes when you're on set, I give myself permission now to sort of let up and eat what I need to eat. It's not the time or the place to put pressure on yourself unless you really need to be shirtless that entire film."

The far less restrictive behavior has not only allowed him to avoid a lot of stress, but those extra calories have also been essential for the bulking he needed to do to play Kevin Von Erich in "The Iron Claw." The best way to build muscle is to eat more food than the body needs while carrying out intense weightlifting. Based on his look in the trailer, the added calories and Efron's vigor for workouts were a highly effective combination.

He quit veganism to focus on intermittent fasting

For some time, Zac Efron's veganism helped him achieve his lean build, but eventually he realized that the restrictive diet was not great for his health. With that in mind, the actor transitioned to an eating habit that worked better for his body. When talking with Men's Health, he said, "I guess the philosophy around my current diet is intermittent fasting mixed with getting enough nutrition to sort of sustain me throughout the day. I started intermittent fasting just after I stopped being vegan. My body wasn't processing the vegetables in the right way, so I decided to stop it and try something new. Intermittent fasting's been really helpful with that."

With intermittent fasting, Efron could still enjoy vegan fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, but he was no longer limited to them. And although it is possible to follow veganism and bulk up, there is no denying that adding meats and dairy products to the diet makes the process considerably easier. Bodybuilders rely on nutrient-dense foods high in protein and healthy fats. While the actor may not have known it at the time, the switch turned out to be a great decision in preparation for "The Iron Claw."

Protein became the most important part of his diet

To show his commitment not just to bulking for "The Iron Claw," but to using a protein-rich diet to achieve that body goal, Zac Efron met the interviewer for Men's Health at a steakhouse in Thousand Oaks, California. The proof that his veganism was long over came as he ordered a Japanese A5 Wagyu steak and sides, along with a seafood tower of crabs and oysters to start it all off.

Efron then went on to explain that the switch to focusing on protein-heavy foods made him feel significantly less exhausted after intense workouts, but a part of him also wished that was not the case. The actor admitted, "Morally, of course, I still wish I was vegan." Yet at the same time, he also seemed to have enjoyed the change from the way he praised the Wagyu steak once it arrived at the table. "See, that taste, and that feeling right there," he added, "that's why I'm not vegan anymore."

Ice baths after intense workouts became essential

For "Baywatch," Zac Efron pushed his body to the max and paid the price afterward by throwing out his back, tearing his ACL, breaking his wrist, and dislocating his shoulder. The actor learned his lesson the hard way that if he was going into beast mode, he must also be just as extreme in his recovery. Through his Instagram, Efron shares his extreme but successful solutions to relax his muscles, like entering a cryotherapy chamber post-workout.

But of all the methods that the actor adopted, immersing himself in ice-cold water gave him the best results. He told Men's Health how ice baths had become a vital part of his routine. "It's my favorite part of the day," Efron enthused. "Before is when it's most miserable, and when you finally just commit and jump in there. From that point forward, you've conquered something deep within you; you do not want to get cold. That's the simplest philosophy: Anything you don't want to do, make it a habit." Given the high level of strain he had to put his muscles through in the bodybuilding process for "The Iron Claw," the freezing-cold recovery is exactly what he needed.

Already a popular practice among athletes, Efron has done what he can to get others to try taking the plunge as well. Also on Instagram (via People), the actor posted himself jumping into a freezing tube, along with the caption, "Ice baths are easy bro. Kevin Hart, let's go. I challenge you."

Being shredded was not required for recent films

Zac Efron clearly enjoys working out and staying in shape, but he had been doing it for so long that he began to question if his intense lifestyle actually made him happy. Therefore, when the actor had the opportunity, he let himself go a bit to find out. The actor explained to Men's Health that he thought, "What if I just say, 'F*** it' and let myself go? So, I tried it, and I was successful. And for all the reasons I thought it would be incredible, I was just miserable. My body would not feel healthy; I just didn't feel alive. I felt bogged down and slow."

The experiment proved his solid preference for an active life, yet during this period it was also nice for Efron to not have to be shredded for his most recent roles before "The Iron Claw." With glee, the actor recalled (via Men's Health), "['The Greatest Beer Run Ever'] was really fun. I just got to eat whatever I wanted. And we were in Thailand, which was a good place to do it. I love Thai food."

He followed a fairly strict diet plan

Zac Efron has talked about more than one part of his diet and fitness strategy for "Baywatch" that he will most likely never do again, and another is restricting his meal choices far too much. Almost every single day during the production, all the actor consumed was clean meat or fish with sweet potatoes. Although the extremely limited regimen produced the desired results, he would prefer not to go that route in the future.

To play Kevin Von Erich in "The Iron Claw," Efron still relied on unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods, but incorporated a good amount of variety as well. When talking with Men's Health, the actor laid out his improved regimen in full. "First meal of the day usually starts with bone broth; I really love bone broth," he explained. "It's satisfying and it's good for your stomach." Moving on to something more substantial, he continued, "Some sort of veggies with a really clean source of protein, whether it's chicken, beef, venison, elk, anything."

Efron then ended with the most calorific — and thus, most important — part of the day when it came to providing his muscles with the energy needed to bulk. "I usually have my highest carbohydrate meal sort of in the evening. That's usually another really good source of meat and healthy carbohydrate like sweet potatoes or quinoa."

High-carb cheat meals helped to add bulk

With excess calories being so essential to his muscle growth for "The Iron Claw," Zac Efron went to a high-carb option as his go-to for a cheat meal. "On cheat days, I love to eat massive amounts of pancakes," the actor revealed to Men's Health. "If I'm doing pancake day, it's a lot of pancakes. I'll go through a whole box of Kodiak cakes. If I'm gonna have a cheat meal, I still want it to be at least semi-good for you."

While pancakes are not a food that a fitness expert might recommend, there are other potential cheat foods that are considerably worse. With that in mind — especially if he added some berries, bananas, or other fruit into the mix — Efron would be correct in thinking that the meal was not too much of a break from his usual, health-centered dietary routine.

Kevin Von Erich is highly impressed with what Efron accomplished

When an actor undergoes a major body transformation for a role, it's always great praise if the real-life person they're supposed to play compliments their achievement. This is especially the case with Zac Efron in "The Iron Claw" because Kevin Adkisson, better known as Kevin Von Erich, was thoroughly impressed with what he has seen so far. The former wrestler told TMZ, "I saw a picture of the guy, he looked great. I don't think I ever looked that good."

As an athlete himself, Adkisson is fully aware of what it took for Efron to bulk up like he did, making his compliments even more substantial. The wrestler added, "He must really be working out hard. I'll tell you, for him to, for the picture that they showed me at first, and the picture I saw the other day, he must really be working hard. ... He does have a good body." Efron's look can be seen in the first trailer for "The Iron Claw," which hits theaters December 22, 2023.