The Star Wars cast needed to be in super strong shape for stunts and light saber fighting. Altus Health, the on-set health team, share their diet essentials PLUS Star Wars workout video based on the cast’s actual on-set regime
The European premiere for the hugely anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi took place in London last night, with an already strong force of reviews behind it. The eighth film in the series, directed by Rian Johnson, premiered last Saturday and if the Twittersphere is anything to go by (just check out #thelastjedi and #starwars for live updates), it’s the best of them all. ‘The Last Jedi is everything: intense, funny, emotional, exciting. It’s jam-packed with absolutely jaw dropping moments and I loved it so, so much. I’m still shaking’ tweeted Gizmodo’s entertainment reporter Germain Lussier.
For the London premiere, the cast of this Disney film were all dressed to the nines, glamorous in a setting of futuristic props. Noticeably they are all in incredible shape, and who wouldn’t be with 12 hour shoot days fighting with a light saber?
Healthista spoke exclusively to Chris Vincent and Jack Graves from LA-based Altus Health, who have coached the Star Wars cast into optimum health and fitness for the past three films of the franchise, including actors Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Billie Lord and the late Carrie Fisher.
Not only have Chris and Jack shared a 25-minute Star Wars workout exclusively for HealthistaTV, (squeezed in between shooting scenes), but they also revealed the secrets of stunt-work fitness, diet dos and don’ts, and the importance of recovery vs getting a workout done…
The Star Wars workout
Healthista exactly what goes on to get the stars war-ready (excuse the pun) and personal trainer Jack filmed a typical on-set workout for the Star Wars crew exclusively for Healthista readers:
Training the Star Wars cast
The A-list crew of Star Wars need more than just an exercise regime. They need a health management team. Altus Health is a group of multi-disciplinary experts who work on the sets of big blockbusters such as Blade Runner, using the latest science to develop tailor-made programmes for every actor.
‘We combine four pillars – function, fitness, nutrition and mindfulness’, says CEO Chris Vincent. ‘We look at the actors blood chemistry and fitness abilities, do a very intense analysis of every biomechanical function of the body and use technology to measure all parts of their body. Then, under the guidance of our nutritionists, trainers and doctors, we put them on a plan. By the time they have finished the movie, everybody is healthier than before they began.’
And the cast can begin their training up to six months before filming starts, depending on how much of a transformation is at stake. ‘I would say they train four to five times a week when we have three months to go’, says Jack. ‘It’s a really intense period’. Even more intense, says Chris, when they aren’t given much notice. ‘In extreme cases we’ve done it in four to six weeks’.
There is no quick fix involved
Chris: We’ve been asked many times to get actors into a certain shape or asked if we can use drugs. But we pride ourselves on being 100 per cent natural and healthy. We’ve had many actors come from other companies with really bad habits and have damaged their bodies so to speak. If we can’t get them there healthily, we won’t take the job. It doesn’t matter how big the movie is.
Jack: We use a body analysis and blood chemistry so it’s much easier to create a plan to get them to their goal quicker. Otherwise, you’d have to cheat to get results and it’s not healthy for the person long term.
The Star Wars cast prepare for their own stunts
Chris: The production team will tell us the stunts they want the actors to perform as they don’t want to use a body double. Then we will meet with the stunt team to get a clear picture of the rig of the stunt and how athletic they need to be. They actors might be able to perform it once or twice, but it can take 100 takes to get the perfect shot.
Jack: The actors are going to be doing stunts for 8-9 hours a day. A big part of it is developing their endurance and strength, as well as their looks, so they are able to perform. They practise for months but it could last 10-30 seconds on screen.
they need strong arm and shoulder muscles and will need more muscle definition on the sword fighting arm
Chris: We don’t want it to look like it’s an actor who has just picked up a sword, but a character who has been fighting for years. So, they need those strong arm and shoulder muscles and they will also have more muscle definition on the sword fighting arm. There were some climbing scenes, and if someone has never been a climber, we had to strengthen their hands, wrists and core.
Jack: It’s largely about aerobic capacity, joint integrity and joint strength. Their shoulders, wrists and elbows are taking a bit of battering. So we do a lot of prehabilitation to make sure their body can take the impact.
Workouts are squeezed in where possible
The cast will sometimes meet us at 5am before shooting at 7am
Chris: Whenever there is camera turn around or lunch! Dialogue days could be 12-14 hours of sitting all day but a stunt day is 100 per cent active. We will do recovery, stretching and flushing [of lactic acid] in between scenes. We will watch the stunt and see if they are over-using one arm or leg and help to manage that area so they can make it through the days. On other long days the cast will sometimes meet us at 5am before shooting at 7am, before lunch or the end of the day which is sometimes two, three, or four in the morning.
It’s extreme, and a lot of people don’t know that side of that. They think the actor’s life is glorious, fancy dinners and fancy parties with a bit of filming. It’s a lifestyle they have to maintain even when they aren’t filming and you can see who is dedicated when you watch the films.
The most important thing is recovery
Jack: We will make sure they have at least one to two days rest in the week where instead, we would do yoga, have a massage or osteopath session. We use something called Game Ready for recovery. It’s a sleeve that goes over the legs and pumps ten minutes of hot water and ten minutes of cold water which helps flush lactic acid. I’m a massive believer in quality over quantity, so if they have had a stressed day, I’m not going to expect them to work out because it’ll only stress the body more, and put them at risk of getting ill.
Chris: On some of these big movies it’s over a million dollars a day for it to be shut down. So if a lead is sick or can’t move, it’s so expensive not to film. So we use chiropractors (I am one myself), physiotherapists, osteotherapists, nutritionists and massage therapists to prevent injury.
The Star Wars diet
Working up a sweat in the gym will get the celebs light-saber ready. But Chris says science is showing us that training could be just a small fraction of the work involved in getting optimum results. ‘We have found that training is most effective for brain health, strength and stress relief. Whereas the nutrition is essential for things such as weight loss and balancing hormones.’
And the nutrition, surprise surprise, is taken very seriously. There are no crash diets, (Jack strongly advises against the two shakes and meal diet), and a lot of education on implementing healthy habits into an actor’s life long-term. ‘Once we get someone to a certain level of fitness, our philosophy is 90/10’, says Chris. ‘Let’s say they train with us five days a week – that’s only three per cent of their life. We want to approach it from a lifestyle perspective so that these habits effect the other 97 per cent.’
These are some of the key diet principles Altus Health consider for their clients including the Star Wars cast:
A day in the diet of the Star Wars cast
Chris: We work with the chefs on set to make sure they are getting a lot of probiotics such kombucha and fermented foods, prebiotic food such as dark leafy green veg and stalk veg like broccoli which the good gut bacteria feed on to reproduce. We have a high organic vegetable content (they eat a lot of veg). They eat protein which is as clean as possible – organic, free range and grass fed, as well as a lot of deep water wild fish. And then healthy fats like avocados and a lot of coconut oil and olive oil. We like to teach them how to cook healthily at home, too.
Jack: At the end of the week, we make sure the calories in are lower than the calories out, with a deficit of at least 500 per week to keep them in good shape. We increase calories if we need to, some people needed to put on weight.
Good gut health
Chris: More research is coming out about the biome and gut health and how it can effect your hormones, body weight, and so much more. We look at how balanced the cast are, and sometimes by correcting some of those gut or hormone issues we can jump ten times forward, more than if someone was just doing training.
Low carb for disease prevention
Chris: We used to believe carbs, proteins and fats were the main food groups. But peer reviewed studies have shown successful outcomes of eliminating carbs from the diet for a lot diseases such as Parkinson’s, MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Dementia and Alzheimer’s. There are two essential fats and nine essential amino acids the body needs to survive, but we can survive pretty healthily without any carbs. We’ve incorporated grains and breads into our diet in the modern day which are really not necessary and just empty calories. Carb reduction is something we like to implement with all our clients.
Jack: Low carb diets help with weight loss simply because they reduce calories, and that’s what it comes down to. But sometimes a low carb diet can deplete you and drop the quality of your training, especially HIIT, aerobic training and weight training, if you are not fuelled. I like to follow carb cycling. This is two days of low carb (for me, this is 80g), getting calories from mainly fats and protein. The third day you would double or triple your carb amount. The fourth day you would go back to low carb and repeat. The two low carb days keep you in a calorie deficit and the third day gives you a boost to continue training through the week.
Sometimes a low carb diet can deplete you and drop the quality of your training
Get rid of sugar cravings
Chris: We start a lot of the clients on a pretty rigorous two week cleanse or detox which eliminates a lot of the bad food and reduces the cravings for sugar and carbs. As we build in the healthy nutritious foods, they start to crave these foods instead of sweets and chocolate. Some people’s habits might be to drink a ton at the pub if they feel down. We are supplementing those habits with healthy ones and get them to a point where they enjoy exercise and it’s their go-to for stress relief.
Burning fat for energy
Our bodies want to do everything they can to conserve energy for survival. Therefore they store fat in case of starvation
Chris: We will work with an actor or professional athlete to convert to using fat for fuel instead of sugar, which is called keto adapting. Our bodies want to do everything they can to conserve energy for survival. Therefore they store fat in case of starvation and burn the simplest fuel which is sugar. This enhances cravings, and makes it harder to get through the day without blood sugar dropping. We want to train the body to burn fat first. Once the body has been able to convert, energy levels can stay a lot more constant and higher without constantly having to feed the sugar. It’s like a hybrid engine – we can either burn electricity or gasoline. Fat burning is cleaner energy like the electric fuel, and the gasoline has a lot more by-products.
Jack: I like the thought of keto diet but it does requires a lot of effort to stay there because a small amount of alcohol or sugar will take you out of ketosis. Athletes, for example, will really benefit from fat burning energy this way. However for a normal person it’s extreme and difficult to follow with a social life. To get really effective results you need to test yourself every day by doing a finger prick or a urine test which you can get online.
Chris: Intermittent fasting is proving to be really healthy for the body. Most people are having breakfast at 7am and probably having a last meal at 8pm and a snack before bed. That’s a huge eating window. So we want to try and push breakfast back to 9/10am and keep shortening the window – it would be great to limit it to six to eight hours of eating. The reason people put on weight in life is because they are always storing calories and only ever utilising calories from the foods they have just eaten. We want to get the body to draw calories from its storage during fasting periods. The body will stop craving sugars as is starts to balance its own blood sugar, helping good gut bacteria to thrive. It’s hard at first as the body adapts.
I like mushroom coffee from Four Sigmatic. A lot of the Chinese Olympic team take it
Jack: I recommend magnesium for everyone because the way our foods are produced in bad soil means our foods are deficient in magnesium. I recommend Vitamin D, especially in England because there is no sunlight. B12 in the morning can give you energy. I like mushroom coffee from Four Sigmatic. A lot of the Chinese Olympic team take it and there is strong studies on it. The Cordyceps one is really good for energy because it allows the oxygen into your cells and the Lion Mane is more for cognitive performance – better focus and mind power.
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