Looking at him now, you would never guess Ali Omar was once out of shape.
But for the Iraqi-born teenager, it has been a difficult transition from overweight teenager to a competitor at the British Finals of the International Body-building and Fitness Federation (IFBB) in three weeks’ time.
“I used to play football as a kid,” said Omar, who turns 19 in November. “But as a goalkeeper. I didn’t move much, I was a lazy person. I spent a lot of time at home playing video games, ordering food. At 15, I weighed 95 kilograms, 30kg over what I should have been.”
Omar said there was not one specific moment that led down the path of losing weight, never mind a career in body-building.
“My brother used to lift weights, and I started going with him to the gym,” he said. “Things happened quick. In the first week only, I lost 5kg.”
Having caught the exercise bug, the teenager, who has lived in Dubai from the age of two, continued to lift weights throughout the summer of 2012, albeit without any change in his diet.
“I continued to train until I lost all the excess weight,” he said. “I became slim, it was unreal. I loved it.
“My brother convinced me to take up body building. He said, ‘Imagine going back to school looking all muscular’. I agreed and began lifting weight at 16, I was in Grade 10. After nine months, my body had developed to such an extent that people were shocked.”
In the summer of 2013, his brother’s trainer suggested Omar enter his first event, the annual Mr ISC Body-Building Championship at the India Social and Culture Club in Abu Dhabi.
“This was in September, so I agreed and we kept training until December,” he said. “I entered as the youngest competitor at 17, and I finished fifth out of 25. That was the beginning.”
After that, Omar’s development accelerated. He started training under Syrian coach Firas Tahan.
As part of his studies, Omar was at that point splitting his time between Dubai and London. Although enrolled in the UAE, under the British educational system he was able to attend lectures in Britain, before joining the Canadian University Dubai.
While in the UK, he took his training to a higher level. “In London, the standards are higher than here by about 70 or 80 per cent, in terms of training and what you eat,” Omar said. “So I started focusing on these aspects.”
At the 2014 Dubai FPC Men’s Physique Contest, which included professionals, Omar finished sixth out of 45. “It was at this event that I started to get known, especially on social media,” he said.
“I was the youngest competitor at every competition. All the others were over 20.”
He continued to develop during the following year and, in February, he finished in the top 10 at the Qatar Open Body-building Championship.
At that point, he was offered the opportunity to represent Iraq at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States.
He finished in the top 20 and received a special award for being the youngest ever participant at the competition at 18.
His success prompted US nutrition manufacturer ProSupps to sponsor him, and he followed his showing in Ohio with a second-place finish at the Scottish Championships in May.
Next up is an invitation to the British Finals in three weeks in Nottingham, and then the IFBB Amateur Olympia Liverpool in November.
Omar’s training schedule usually consists of a 45-minute cardio session in the morning seven days a week and a weightlifting session in the afternoon after his university classes five times a week. Closer to competitions, he adjusts his regimen.
“Eight weeks before a competition, cardio is 45 minutes, but when it gets to the last four weeks, we want to burn the fat quicker,” he said.
“So we do 20 minutes in the morning on an empty stomach, only water. We do a one-minute sprint, then a one-minute walk and so on. This ensures your body is burning calories the whole day.
“I then eat around three meals when I’m at university. After that it’s weightlifting, 20 sets of 15 reps. Then I have another three meals, so I have six meals in total throughout the day.”
Omar scatters his meals around his studies, often eating while studying or on his laptop at home.
“Even if I’m free, I stay at home to relax before the following day’s training,” he said.
“I have no real social life. My social life revolves around those at the gym.”
Though Omar represented Iraq in Ohio, he will represent himself in Nottingham, and – though he will not receive his British passport for another 18 months – the UK in Liverpool.
The British Finals come with an added bonus: five IFBB Pro Cards are up for grabs. Having a card allows the holder to compete as a professional. “My first dream is to be a professional within two years. I’m working to achieve that,” Omar said.
“My other dream is to get my weight to 95kg pure muscle. At the moment I weigh 86kg, with 84kg pure muscle. My goals are to get to 95kg and a professional card.”
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