What does it mean to have a “healthy” body?
As fans await Magic Mike 3, the third film of the stripper series (now in preproduction), lead actor Channing Tatum ("Mike") has spoken up about what it takes to get his body to look like it does in the movie series.
On the Kelly Clarkson Show earlier this month, he said he hesitated to do a third movie because of the role’s taxing physical demands. “You have to starve yourself,” he said. “I don’t think when you’re that lean, it’s actually healthy.”
He went on to explain that it’s not just a matter of working out and eating well to get into that kind of shape. You have to work out twice a day and eat “completely right” at specific times during the day, he told Clarkson on the show. “Truly, I don’t know how people that work a 9-to-5 actually stay in shape, because it’s my full-time job and I can barely do it,” he said.
Experts in exercise physiology and training say Tatum is spot on in that it requires following a strict exercise and eating regimen to attain and maintain a Magic Mike–level physique, and for some it may not be healthy.
Getting (and Keeping) a ‘Magic Mike’ Body Would Require a Lot of Gym Time
It’s worth noting right off the bat that no matter how much you train or what you eat, we all have physical limitations in terms of what our bodies can look like depending on things like body shape, bone structure, and your genes, explains Todd Buckingham, PhD, lead exercise physiologist for Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation in Wyoming, Michigan. “Genetics play a large role, and some of us may never look like Magic Mike.”
But if you are trying to build and maintain that much visible muscle, anyone would indeed need to stick to a rigorous and very specific training schedule, says Michele Olson, PhD, CSCS, senior clinical professor in the department of sport science and physical education at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, who researches exercise and training physiology.
It would likely require doing strength workouts targeting each of the major muscle groups (legs, chest, arms, back, shoulders, and abdominals) for about an hour at least two to three times a week, Dr. Olson says. To effectively target those muscles, trainers typically recommend rotating through the different muscle groups on alternating days, so that muscles have time to recover between workouts and can work quite intensely on the designated day, she says.
On top of that type of strength training regimen, you’d need to do cardio, too, Olson says. This might look like hopping on a treadmill, stepper, spin bike, or elliptical machine for at least 30 minutes, three to four times a week.
That much exercise exceeds the minimum amount recommended for promoting long-term health, particularly that much strength training, Olson points out. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise) each week, including muscle strengthening activities of all the major muscle groups on at least two days.
The physical activity guidelines note that more exercise is generally better (and a lot of data backs that up). But more exercise is not necessarily better if other parts of your health and well-being suffer as a result, Dr. Buckingham says. (More on overexercising below.)
To Look Like That, You’d Have to Really Optimize Food, Rest, and Recovery, Too
In addition to time at the gym, diet is another big factor that makes Tatum look the way he does in the Magic Mike series.
Most people would indeed need to eat a very specific and strict diet to maintain that leanness, Olson says. And it’s worth repeating that no matter what we eat, some people may not have the genetic composition to be that lean, and others will be very lean with little or no effort.
For someone with a healthy amount of body fat, to slim down that much would likely require cutting out most processed foods, like fast food and processed sugar, and strictly limiting calories. You’d have to pay close attention to your macronutrient intake, which means sticking to a very specific number of carbohydrates, fat, and protein each meal and snack, Olson says.
Timing of eating would be important, too, explains Reda Elmardi, RD, CSCS, a nutrition consultant based in Boston. You’d need to fuel your workouts correctly (rather than try to do too intense or too long of a workout on an empty tank), he says.
And finally, leaving adequate time for muscle recovery and sleep is important to optimize the type of training plan Tatum says he’s following, Olson says. You’d need to leave enough time between strength workouts so that the muscle groups being worked could properly heal before you work them out again. That damage and repair process is actually how muscles grow; your workout causes microdamage and by repairing that muscle damage, the muscle grows back stronger. If you don’t give the muscle time to heal, you stop your body from yielding the results you want.
And you’d need to get your z's. Sleep helps promote production of testosterone and growth hormones that are essential for muscle growth, Olson explains. There’s also evidence that sleep is essential for production of the hormones that regulate metabolism, and that not getting enough sleep can increase risk for weight gain and obesity, according to a review published in November 2015 in the journal Sleep Science.
Skimp on sleep and you’re actually sabotaging those gym and diet efforts to achieve a lean physique (not to mention all the other health consequences of poor sleep).
RELATED: The Intimate Relationship Between Fitness and Sleep
So, Is a 'Magic Mike' Body a Healthy One?
A big concern about upping exercise and restricting calories in the way Tatum says he needs to do for his Magic Mike training is becoming too lean. Too much fat in the body can be damaging, but so can too little fat because of its effects on menstrual cycles for women and energy levels for both men and women.
“With low fat reserves, women lose their menstrual cycles, which can cause early osteoporosis or inability to become pregnant,” Olson says. “For men, low fat reserves will make it hard to have optimal energy, especially if you’re doing heavy workouts or have a physically intense job.”
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), typical levels of body fat (percentage of body tissue that’s fat tissue) for fit or average adults for men are 14 to 24 percent and for women are 21 to 31 percent, with professional athletes being potentially leaner. Olson notes that body fat below 20 percent for women and 15 percent for men starts to become unhealthy, however, and is when people might run into some of the aforementioned problems.
Olson explains that in addition to very low body fat, some other signs you may be pushing your body too hard when it comes to exercise are:
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble maintaining your typical exercise routine and intensity
- Feeling somewhat short of breath even at rest
- Feeling like you have low energy and are craving unhealthy foods that are high in calories and forms of sugar
- Feeling sore more often than not
And finally, when it comes to following a strict exercise or eating regimen, it’s really important to consider your emotional health when determining whether it’s a healthy plan for you, Olson says. Does following this plan allow you to relax, be happy, and do all other things you want to do over the course of a day? “The entire picture is important,” Olson says.
Strict training can absolutely lead to workout fatigue, not physically, but mentally, says Buckingham. It’s when the schedule becomes so physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing, you just feel over it, he explains. “If exercise is affecting your sleep or relationships or is controlling your life, then that may be too much exercise.”
RELATED: Are You Exercising Too Much? How to Tell (and Why It Can Be Risky)