Egypt-born Mahmood Al Durrah has been making waves in the fitness industry since he won the Canadian Nationals as a middle weight in 2012. From then, he has won several titles and competed in the world’s most prestigious bodybuilding competition, the flex-filled, oiled-muscle display of Mr Olympia, in 2018. Along the way, the father-of-two has built a reputation as a bodybuilder, and as a coach, helping people with customized programs, and prepping athletes for competitions while sharing his insight with millions of fitness enthusiasts on social media.
Al Durrah was kind enough to take some time out of his day to answer a few questions.
by Yasmine El-Geressi
Q - Tell me about your background in bodybuilding and what has been your greatest moment in the sport?
I started competing back when I lived in Egypt. It was merely a hobby at the time, but I always knew it would be more than that. You sort of have a feeling for these things from a young age. Fast forward to my first competition in Canada in 2012, the Canadian nationals, or Mr. Canada; broke, barely able to afford rent, with 2 kids, and juggling work and contest prep, I was miraculously placed first for my first attempt. The year after was rough as I was caught in a house fire, and suffered 3rd degree burns. In 2015, I came back and won the Canadian Nationals a second time. In 2016, I won the North American Legacy cup in a heavier weight class. The contest included Canada, USA, and Mexico, and all islands surrounding. Then in 2017 I won it again plus the overall (beating all the other weight classes) and that's when I turned pro. There aren't that many professional Arab bodybuilders. That was a great moment for me. But surpassing that moment was my rookie year as a pro, that is what really launched my career as I became one of the very few professionals in the world to make it to the Mr. Olympia stage after winning a professional contest in my first year. It usually takes professionals a few years to do that. I believe that was my greatest moment; winning a pro contest in my rookie year and qualifying for Mr. Olympia.
Mahmood Al Durrah in hospital recovering from 3rd degree burns. (Supplied)
Q - What was the reaction of your family and friends when you told them you wanted to be a professional bodybuilder?
My brother was very supportive, he always was worried about my future, didn't really know what to expect, but was supportive regardless. My mother told me, "who are you to be a professional or like these people? These people are 1 in I don't know how many million, you are not one of those people". That made a hard dent in me. My father was indifferent but supported me when I competed. The rest of the time he would push for academics. My best friends however, they knew I’d make it. They really knew and they'd joke about the day I'm an Olympian, how they'll be there for it.
Q - Judging by your popularity, you have a physique that is in demand. How do you work on improving it? Describe your current training program and diet.
I think people are more drawn to the journey, not the physique itself. I believe a smaller version of myself is what would be more appealing to most. That being said, if you want to improve, it’s simple: train harder than last time. You have to keep pushing yourself and be consistent. That includes your seriousness in your training sessions, and your commitment to your diet during whichever phase, either getting in shape to compete at dangerously low body fat levels, or growing and adding a lot of more size. My diet is mostly high protein, around 1 kg of assorted meats throughout the day, and an average of 1.5 kg of cooked rice/potatoes. Vegetables are important for fiber and digestion. Supplements are also needed because someone like myself cannot get all his nutritional needs from just food. It’s a job, and it's not always fun.
Mahmood Al Durrah posing at the Mr Olympia competition in 2018. (Supplied)
Q - With gyms closed during the pandemic, how have you maintained both your body and your mind?
I had access to many gyms. One of perks of being a professional athlete (laughs).
Q - What is the most common mistake you see people making in the gym and what are three sure-fire tips you would give to our readers that want to get ripped?
Most people, including women, don't life heavy enough. To shape your body, your muscle has to grow. No other way around it. Even for women, to get rid of cellulite, your skin has to tighten, and for it to tighten, your muscle has to grow. The curves, the glutes, hips, all that is shaped with muscle. So how does a muscle grow? It needs to experience a stress that it has not before. The muscle has a brain, it thinks to itself that it needs to adapt to this stress it's carrying, so it has to grow to withstand it. Very simple, really.
3 weight loss tips for men and women:
1. Calories in have to be less than calories out. No other way. Its science. And science is always right.
2. Avoid dairy and sugar. Both cause inflammation, retain water, worsens any skin conditions, and even disrupt hormone balance.
3. Enroll in my program!
Q - For those readers that may not know, do you mind talking about the entrepreneur side of your life? What inspired you to start designing fitness programs and what sets them apart from all the others out there?
I learned from my early engagement with social media that people like stories. They like to relate. So, I monetized on that. I documented everything, my burns, my hard days as an immigrant, my earlier motorcycle accident in Egypt, my contests. After I won nationals the second time, I felt that I was ready to start coaching people. I started with bodybuilders only, but slowly spread out to the general public. A year later (2016) is when I dove into the actual business side of fitness, where I turned my coaching into an actual corporation with people handling my social media and sales. That same year, I also started a supplement line of products, Durabolic Nutrition. The supplement company really taught me a lot about the fitness industry, how to carry myself and articulate my way with contracts and monetize my audience. I sold my company 2 years after and then signed with one of the biggest companies in North America to endorse, Redcon1. As my coaching company, Durrahnation, continuously grew, focussing more on average people and steering away from just bodybuilding, other companies saw how I endorsed Redcon1 and how my social media platform grew; I landed 3 more contracts a year later: Ironbull Strength, Fitmenu, Wikibolics; all different companies. As my portfolio grew, I spread out into real estate, and stocks.
Q - As a successful entrepreneur and professional bodybuilder, I imagine that family life can be a balancing act. Is a healthy work-life balance possible?
It depends what type of life you want. If you want to have a slight above average income, drive a nice Beemer, live in a nice home, then yes, it is possible to have a healthy work life balance. If you want to own several cars or super-cars, live in a massive home, travel 2 to 3 times a year, anytime, to the best resorts, and have your money work for you at some point, then no. The process itself is gruesome. Once you reach that point, however, where the company runs itself and your employees do 80% of the work, it becomes a smooth sail, and you get to enjoy life and family and friends. But the 10-year process to get there is blood, sweat, and guts. I have horror stories. Between competing, harsh diets, failing every now and again, and working 12 to 18 hours a day; it does become very unhealthy on your body. Hair loss and eye bags just become part of your new look, and trimming your beard is a luxury. You really have to need it, not want it. Most people sort of want to be successful. Very few are willing to actually die for it. And I have had my fair share of hospital visits. It’s no joke.
Mahmood Al Durrah with his two children. (Supplied)
Q - A lot of people online now give fitness advice without being a professional. How can a person tell who to trust?
You have to look at their resume and do some digging. If they aren't professional athletes, have they created professional athlete, and became professional coaches? If they aren't professional coaches, are they professional athletes with the experience to back up their knowledge? And how far have they gone as pros? If they are neither professional athletes or coaches, how successful are they really at helping others? Do they have real testimonials from real people? What is their reputation? What does their lifestyle look like and does it reflect their success? And is it real success, or Instagram pretend success? You sometimes see people, for example, drive a fancy car, but live in a one bedroom apartment. As funny as that sounds, that's a red flag!
Q - Do you have any exciting future plans?
I want to expand my coaching company to far greater lengths. Future diet meal prep company, where we create the food for clients. Courses on how to become a successful entrepreneur in the fitness field, and how to be unique in a very saturated and competitive market. Motivational seminars. And maybe, a children's book (laughs). I was always into writing and comic art, I feel my soul needs a little bit of that at this point in my life.