Game of Thrones star reveals his giant diet ... here’s what it would do to you

The Mountain, aka Icelandic strongman Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, consumes 12,000 calories a day to fuel his rigorous body-building regime

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 May, 2016, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 May, 2016, 3:01pm

“If you want to grow big and strong, you’ll need to eat up!” It’s a piece of advice we’ve probably all heard at some point in our lives. But at 2.06 metres and 180 kilograms and with the strength to dead lift almost 455kg, few will have taken it as seriously as Icelandic strongman Hafthor Julius Bjornsson.

Bjornsson plays “The Mountain” in hit television series Game of Thrones, a monstrous warrior who crushes his enemies’ heads with his bare hands. In the real world, he is also one of the world’s strongest men.

Recently, he posted details of his daily routine on Instagram, and it is quite a feast. An analysis by Men’s Fitness reveals the much-loved star consumes around 12,000 calories a day, close to five times the requirement of an average Joe.

But how does this diet support his performance aims of becoming the World’s Strongest Man – and could it be refined to improve the physique of mere mortals like you and me?

Let’s first address his supplements. The use of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) is common practice among gym goers. However, no scientific evidence exists that supplementing BCAAs (isolated components of complete proteins) is any more effective for stimulating muscle growth than high quality protein, such as milk. And BCAAs do seem to be useful in offsetting the soreness associated with muscle damage – although they do not improve the recovery of muscle function.

For those new to lifting weights, BCAAs may therefore help reduce the severity of muscle soreness that inevitably occurs in the first few sessions at the gym. But the effect is small and a more cost effective alternative may be a large glass of milk, which can limit markers of muscle damage post workout. Milk or chocolate milk is also a convenient source of easy-to-consume liquid calories – handy when you’re faced with needing 12,000 a day.

The next supplement that appears heavily in Bjornsson’s diet is the non-essential amino acid glutamine. There’s no doubt he looks incredible on his diet, but there is little evidence to support the purported performance-enhancing effects of this supplement.

With regards to protein, how much a man of this size needs is a difficult question to answer and will depend on a range of factors.

Retrospective analysis of a range of protein feeding dose-response studies has led to a suggestion that in young, healthy adults, 0.4 grams per kilogram bodyweight of protein per meal is sufficient to maximally stimulate the muscle growth response. This means that a man of Bjornsson’s size should consume in the region of 70 grams of protein per meal. Björnsson consumes anywhere from 50 grams (midnight snack) to 150 grams (main meal) of protein per meal.

Evenly distributing protein intake throughout the day also seems to offer some benefits when it comes to muscle growth. Bjornsson seems to eat every two to three hours, which a study shows seems to be a sensible approach. It may also help improve the effects of resistance training.

For an average man, this would look like 30 grams of protein (a large chicken breast) every three to four hours. For Bjornsson, it would scale up to six or seven 70-gram doses of protein every three hours, making for a total recommended intake of 420 grams of protein per day. That’s about half of his current intake of 850 grams.

But is consuming protein at night of any benefit? Recent evidence demonstrates protein that is consumed close to bed or while asleep (naso-gastric feeding) is successfully digested and absorbed and the subsequent amino acids incorporated into muscle. This means eating before bed or during the night may be a viable strategy to increase the supply of amino acids to our muscles.

Strongman training and strongman events involve a mix of maximal efforts, “as many reps as possible” activities and set workloads completed over the quickest time possible. The latter two event types can last 60 seconds or more and require very high intensities of work.

It’s difficult to come up with a carbohydrate dose recommendation without a clear picture of Bjornsson’s training regime, but based on the above assumptions, he would require a carbohydrate intake in the range of 5-7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. This would equate to a total of 900-1,200 grams of carbohydrate per day. Bjornsson’s current intake is around 800 grams per day from food, plus whatever he consumes via his carbohydrate supplement.

While Bjornsson’s absolute fat intake is quite high (about 456 grams a day, equating to over 4,000 calories from fat) as a percentage of his absolute caloric intake, it isn’t too far off the acceptable macro-nutrient distribution range of 20 to 35 per cent for active people. His dietary fat intake is close to 35 per cent of his total calories and contains a high content of so called heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats from sources such as almonds, oily fish and avocados.

If this 12,000 caloric intake is a true reflection of his energy needs then the only changes we would suggest to reduce his protein intake, redistribute it evenly over the day to have a minimum dose of 70 grams per meal and moderately increase his carbohydrate intake to suit his training needs on a day-to-day basis.

We see no need for BCAA or glutamine supplements and he could benefit from consuming more of his calories in liquid form from sources such as milk or chocolate milk. Finally, he would be highly likely to benefit from a creatine supplement and possibly the strategic use of caffeine.

While few of us will ever need to consume a diet such as this, there are aspects of it that can be translated to support the performance of ordinary people. The key point is the regular intake of high quality protein sources spread throughout the day, advice which will undoubtedly assist the performance goals of The Mountain, but may also help the rest of us to achieve a healthy and functional old age.

The authors (Oliver Witard and Lee Hamilton) are lecturers at the University of Stirling’s Health and Exercise Science department. This article was originally published on The Conversation