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How Zachary Levi got ripped for Shazam!

He became a cult favorite playing geeky wiz kid Chuck in the NBC show of the same name, but Zachary Levi didn't feel as though he'd truly made it as an actor until he was offered the chance to portray the World's Mightiest Mortal on the big screen. "Honestly, Shazam! is the first time in my nearly 20 years of doing this that I feel like I can relax a little bit," Levi admitted during his appearance on Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum (via Collider). "I still felt like I was on the outside, like, I was not a part of the cool kids' table, ever."

He reserved a seat at that table when he signed up to play the super powerful DC hero, but winning the lead role in Shazam! was only the beginning. If you want to play a superhero, then you need to look like a superhero, and that means intense workouts coupled with an insane diet. Chuck Bartowski wasn't exactly the kind of guy you'd expect to see in all-over spandex and a cape, but Levi has undergone a real physical transformation since Warner Bros. gave him the nod. Let's take a look at how he went from supergeek to superhero, and how Zachary Levi got ripped for Shazam!

He's made the gym his second home

When Zachary Levi agreed to take on Shazam as his next big role, he essentially agreed to make the gym his second home. After all, this is a character who has stood his ground in a number of scraps with Superman over the years, and if this confrontation is ever going to play out onscreen, then Levi has to at least keep pace with Henry Cavill (assuming Cavill is still playing the Man of Steel by the time a crossover is viable). The movie's official synopsis even described Shazam as having a "ripped, godlike body," so there's little wonder Levi began hitting the weights almost every day.

"I'm working out like five, six days a week," the actor said during his candid chat with Michael Rosenbaum (via Collider). Levi went on to explain that he doesn't like to keep his routine written in stone, but he was more than happy to reveal what an average day as a superhero in training looks like. "Sometimes we'll do two-a-days and then more off days," he said. "But typically, we'll do an hour-and-fifteen-minute session every day."

Packing on the pounds

When someone who doesn't work out regularly starts hitting the gym hard, they usually experience what has become known as "newbie gains," an initial period of "rapid improvement in strength, size, and muscle" (via Lifehacker). This was evidently the case for Levi, who managed to pack on an impressive amount of pounds within his first six weeks of training. "Before I got the role, I was about 200 pounds — I've hovered around 200 pounds most of my adult life," he told Michael Rosenbaum in February 2018 (via Collider), confirming that he'd gained an additional 20 pounds in "about a month and a half."

Levi gave a similar account of his early gains when Variety caught up with him almost a year down the line. Speaking to the Hollywood trade at the New York City premiere of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 2, the actor revealed that he'd started seeing results right away. "I immediately put on about 24 pounds and then we carved that down in about half," he said. "So I've been hovering around 215 pounds, and I'm in the best shape of my life and stronger and happier and healthier than I've ever been."

How many calories is he consuming?

It probably won't surprise you to learn that Levi had to consume a hell of a lot of calories to achieve a Shazam-worthy physique. When Variety quizzed him about his weight gain at the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 2 premiere (Levi plays the super-dashing Dr. Benjamin Ettenberg in the hit Amazon show), the actor revealed that he'd been taking on between 3000 and 4000 calories a day ever since he won the lead role in the DC movie.

Levi gave a more accurate breakdown of his Shazam! calorie count during his appearance on Michael Rosenbaum's podcast. "3,700 calories, then with a bunch of other supplements like fish oil, Omega-3s," he said (via Collider). It's an impressive amount of calories for sure, but how does it match up against Levi's DC counterparts? The short answer is it doesn't — both Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill reportedly consumed up to 5,000 calories per day when training to play Batman and Superman, respectively.

What's on his plate?

When Levi described his diet as "pretty lean and clean," he really wasn't kidding. To achieve his body goals the actor had to give up things like Cocoa Pebbles and make every single mouthful count, which is why most of his meals consist of protein-rich chicken and large portions of broccoli, a favorite of bodybuilders everywhere. "If I have to, I will eat every last chicken AND broccoli to insure the survival of the human race," he said in an Instagram post, showing off his very plain but healthy-looking meal.

Levi was even eating broccoli for breakfast at one stage, documenting the experience on Instagram stories. One bemused follower took to Twitter to ask the actor why he would do such a thing, and Levi revealed that he has a variation on chicken and broccoli five times a day. "I basically eat the same macros all day long: meat and veg of varying combinations," he said. "I used to eat a lot of eggs in the morning, but I think I have an intolerance to them."

He eats when he's not hungry

Levi's physical transformation has clearly been a source of inspiration to his fans, with some even reaching out to ask the actor for hints and tips on getting jacked. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," he told one of his eager followers after they came close to falling off the workout wagon. "I've been in the gym five days a week for the last five months, and eaten pretty darn healthy/strictly, but not so crazy that I'm not still enjoying life," he tweeted. "The system works."

When another fan asked how her skinny husband could look more like Levi, the actor revealed that he himself used to struggle with adding muscle to his slender frame, and it was all down to diet. According to Levi, you can workout constantly, but if you aren't providing your body with all the right tools then you're going struggle to improve on those newbie gains. "The key, I found, was quite literally consuming mass quantities," the former Chuck star replied. "You have to feed your muscles. You have to give your body the building material necessary to grow larger. You have to eat, even when you're not hungry. It sucks, but it's true."

Taking aim at processed foods

Levi might advocate eating as much as humanly possible, but that doesn't mean eating whatever you can get your hands on. When he was asked how he manages to eat well while still enjoying his life, he gave a pretty straightforward answer — avoid processed foods. "From my perspective, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is avoiding all processed foods," he tweeted. "Sweet or savory, doesn't matter. It's all breaking down in your body as sugar, that is then stored as fat. But there's a lot of tasty CLEAN food out there. Get into it."

Junk food is far from the only obstacle when you're trying to balance gym life with a social life, however. Alcohol certainly doesn't help matters when you're trying to remain as trim as possible, and Levi discovered the benefits of cutting out the booze when he took part in Sober October 2018. "It was a little difficult at first, and it's still kinda strange not having a drink when I do go out at night," the star admitted. "But overall I feel so much healthier and happier and clearer of mind and heart. It's been a good cleanse. May even take it longer. We'll see."

He gets his meals delivered

Finding the time to prepare five clean meals a day can be a challenge, but that's where having a major Hollywood studio as your boss comes in handy. Levi praised Warner Bros. for helping him reach his targets when he spoke to Michael Rosenbaum (via Collider), revealing that the studio had arranged for his meals to be brought right to his door. "I do meal delivery. It's part of the job. They have been very good to me when it comes to taking care of this."

That's all well and good, but what does Levi do when he's not home? As an actor he has to travel a lot, but even then he sticks to his regimented diet plan. "I use different meal delivery companies in different cities, because I need to eat a lot through the day, and I don't know how to cook. Like, at all," he tweeted, replying to a fan who wanted to know where he was getting all his food from. "Here in NYC I've been using a company called Food Matters NYC."

Those padded suit rumors

Imagine putting yourself through months of training and hundreds of portions of broccoli only for one of the biggest names in fitness to call you a fraud. That's the situation Levi found himself in during March 2018, when Men's Health suggested that the actor was wearing a padded suit on set. Some behind the scenes photos of Levi in full costume were leaked online, and regular contributor Vinnie Mancuso took one look at the size of Levi's biceps and called foul play.

"The actor's arms looked huge in recent set photos, but are they real?" Mancuso asked. "The most convincing evidence against those being the Chuck star's unaltered arms would be any photo taken of Zachary Levi ever." The writer referred his readers to a photo of Levi attending the Justice League premiere in November 2017, but the leaked set photos didn't appear until March 2018, meaning the actor had several months to get bigger.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of what Mancuso coined "LeviGate 2018," Men's Health contacted Warner Bros. and asked to speak with someone from the costume department. Unsurprisingly, the request was turned down by the studio, who informed the magazine that it wanted to "preserve as much of the movie magic as possible while the film is still in production."

Levi reacts to the fake muscles story

In response to the Men's Health investigation, Levi posted a picture of his bicep to Twitter along with the caption "Sooo much padding." As if that wasn't sarcastic enough, he added the hashtags Fake News, Fake Muscles, Fake Weights and Fake Chicken and Broccoli. It was the actor's way of getting back at the fitness mag, but the author of the original article wasn't convinced. In fact, Vinne Mancuso said that the photo Levi posted was actually evidence that he was correct about the suit padding all along. "Yes, that is a large arm," he admitted in a follow-up article. "That is a gym-earned, above average sized appendage [but] try to tell yourself honestly that the arm in that photo is the same arm [in the leaked photo]. You can't. You just can't do it."

Levi has had a hard time shaking the fake muscle rumors since his spat with Men's Health. Some people seemed to think that he looked padded out in a trailer that dropped in January 2019, with one fan questioning just how he looked so huge. The actor gave a purposefully non-committal answer, but that's likely because he's sick of addressing the story by now. When Variety asked him about it on the red carpet just a few weeks earlier, Levi again denied that he needed extra mass. "Does it look fake to you?" he said, posing. "Come on!"

He's got himself a workout partner

According to a study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine (via Breaking Muscle), having a workout partner can greatly improve your performance in the gym, doubling cardio results in some instances. While many superhero actors are set up with world-renowned trainers (both Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot got ripped with the help of Mark Twight), the guy spotting Levi is actually a photographer by trade. Eric Blackmon has posted multiple pics and videos of Levi pumping iron, unofficially documenting the actor's progress.

"Apparently I'll be getting ripped for Shazam! as well, since Zachary Levi is kicking my a** in the gym," Blackmon tweeted in October 2017. "I need protein. Now." Despite the bleak winter weather, the pair remained dedicated to the Shazam! cause as 2018 rolled around. By February, Levi was already looking far more hero-esque in their sessions. "Just got done lifting things and putting them down with Zachary Levi," Blackmon tweeted in March, and by May both men were looking fighting fit.

It's all about the maths

Levi replied to the second Men's Health article with another photo of his guns, and this one was harder to argue against. The actor posted a topless pic of himself in the gym, along with a hilarious equation. "It's like the old saying goes," he captioned the Instagram post. "Hard work, over time, plus chicken & broccoli, minus carbs, divided by whey protein, in which 'X' represents the amount of supplements and 'Y' represents the sentiment of 'WHY the hell am I doing this to myself?!', multiplied by shameless selfies whilst staring into nowhere...carryyy theee ooone...equals results."

After seeing the post, The Wrap came out in support of Levi, praising him for fighting back against his "body shaming critics." Body shaming is an issue that women have been facing for many years, but men are also starting to feel pressured into having the "perfect" body, and the rise of the superhero genre isn't helping matters. "These bodies are attainable for a small number of people — maybe half a percent of the male community," Calabasas-based dietitian Aaron Flores told Healthline. "Yet they're associated with the idea of masculinity — the notion that as a man, I have to look a certain way, act a certain way."

He's been concentrating on mental health, too

When he spoke to Variety in December 2018, Levi was eager to discuss how being selected to play the lead role in Shazam! changed his life in more ways than one. His name is now known across the board in Hollywood and he likely picked up a pretty pay packet for his work on the Shazam! movie, but he was also extremely grateful for the chance to get healthy. "Honestly, that's the stuff that I'm most ecstatic about," he said. "Just the level of health that I've gotten to — mental health, emotional health, spiritual health, physical health — I am so jazzed about that and I want to keep talking about that, particularly mental health."

It would have been easy for Levi to give up after Men's Health suggested that he just wasn't big enough to play a superhero, but he wasn't working out for anyone but himself. "I just feel like we're in a place, particularly nowadays, where people need to be encouraged and informed on what self-love is, and to go and genuinely embrace themselves and love themselves, so I'm really happy about all of that," he added. Amen to that.