In the fall of 1963, Marvel Comics created and released the Avengers, a comic book series composed of superheroes who, as the saying goes, teamed up “to fight the foes no single superhero could withstand.” Comic book artist Jack Kirby depicted the rotating roster of superheroes on paper as a spitting image of how Stan Lee described them: Earth’s mightiest heroes. Super solider Captain America bears a chiseled chest and well-defined arms, Thor has appropriately god-like shoulders, and when the wind blows his hair, a bulging sternocleidomastoid appears. Even Hawkeye, in his super-hetero purple outfit in the comic book series, has well-defined arms, a six-pack, and a medium built physique in addition to his bow and arrow.
Bringing Earth’s mightiest superheroes to real life on film has been no easy feat over the decades. While the movie version of Captain America certainly looked more svelte—if not downright dadbod-ish—in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s than like an actual super-soldier, let’s not kid ourselves: the muscles on the current cast of male Avengers are freakin’ huge—yes, even Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye has some definition.
The sight of large muscle mass on men for the big screen is great for entertainment, but in real life, muscle building—hypertrophy training—can be as dangerous as the super villain, Ultron, and as expensive as the film’s budget. Whatever the reason, everyday Steve Rogers who want to get Captain America-big, without the proper fitness and nutrition oversight, put themselves at risk from three very real super villains: additive-filled protein powders (and too much of them), GNC super-solider-like serum supplements (which studies have linked to cancer), and cost.
Guys are trying to get as big as actor Chris Evan’s portrayal of Cap by lifting hard and drinking multiple whey protein shakes a day—and then consuming micellar casein protein at night, messing up their colons and stools. Protein intake poses risks in both the quantity consumed, as well as in quality. Protein powders are often filled with preservatives, allergens, synthetic toxins and sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium or Ace K like Diet Coke), added coloring, and artificial flavoring. With flavor profiles like Cookies ’n’ Cream or Extreme Chocolate masking the taste of the whey, some protein powders have as many as sixteen ingredients (often more)—most of which are unnecessary artificial dyes, sweeteners, and God knows what (because they are unpronounceable). Oh, and did I forget to mention a lack of fiber can really mess up your colon? Then kidneys and liver have to process all this—often daily—and for what? They’re still not going to get to hang out with Scarlett Johansson.
Others go even further, emulating the Hulk, your even hangrier, ’roid-raging, GNC-supplement-and-creatine abusing scientist. Certain men to this day seem to worship this Hulk build with defined deltoids and trapezius muscles. The only way to get Hulk-big (other than gamma radiation) is through the use of supplements. With the use of supplements, however, comes the danger of testicular cancer, according to a recent study in the British Journal of Cancer. According to a statement by Tongzhang Zheng, who led the study at Yale University before joining Brown University, “If you used at earlier age, you had a higher risk. If you used them longer, you had a higher risk. If you used multiple types, you had a higher risk.”
Finally, what’s the cost of sculpting your body to resemble Thor’s? This mythological god looks like he’s not only joined the CrossFit cult, but opened his own “box” gym and leads weekly kettle bell dead clean lessons. Unless he pays someone to guide his training, how else can actor Chris Hemsworth get super-human shoulders and arms?
CrossFit and the art of getting big is expensive. In New York City, CrossFit costs $199 a month during peak hours. And while hitting the weights at a gym—whether through Crossfit or a personal trainer—can be costly, so is the act of feeding the beast with food: a revved-up metabolism and ripped muscles need a constant supply of fuel to heal, grow, and gain mass. This combo of paying for training and fuel, year after year, will certain take its toll on the bank account. Is it worth it? Muscle building site Scrawny to Brawny recommends ways to build muscle, but even these suggestions add up.
The Avengers films are sending the clear message that it’s ok to be huge—further perpetuating the culture of spornosexuality and muscle heads. Men are going to this film to not only gush over the 47 car crash scenes and Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, but also over the dudes.
If only Tony Stark could find a way to make muscle building easy. Maybe we’ll find out in the next phase of the Avengers films. Or maybe “Ant-Man,” starring the usually svelte Paul Rudd, will serve as a counter message. A sure-fire Avenger in the comics but not yet depicted in the current films, Ant-Man has the astonishing ability to shrink in size but increase in strength. Going forward, small is beautiful.