Since childhood, Iraq native Dani Younan has dreamed of pursing his passion in competitive bodybuilding. After fleeing to Jordan and immigrating to the United States, Younan worked and saved every penny to pay for a gym membership—which eventually led him to his passion and career.

Today, the 24 Hour Fitness service representative, who has been with the company for four years, competes all over the country. Younan earned his pro card in 2016, and he is a two-time champion of both Musclemania California and Pacific USA. This year, Younan placed first in Fit World and second place in Hawaii Pro. But his most recent achievements were taking sixth place in Mr. Olympia—an impressive feat for someone who has only had three years of professional training—and first place at Legion Sports Fest, qualifying him for Mr. Olympia 2019.

24Life asked Younan to share where his passion for bodybuilding began, what fitness and health mean to him, and what’s next for him.

24Life: When did your passion for bodybuilding begin, and what sparked it?

Dani Younan: My dad was the reason I started lifting. When he was younger, he wanted to become a bodybuilder, but his situation and resources did not allow him to. I started lifting at 12 years old and did my first competition at age 17.

24Life: You moved from Iraq to Jordan to the U.S.—tell me about that experience and what brought you to the U.S.? 

DY: I moved to Jordan for a better and safer place to live, due to the war happening back home. It was probably the worst thing to ever happen to me, moving to Jordan. We were always alert and afraid of immigration sending us back to Iraq because we didn’t have any papers or legal rights to stay in the country. Then we came to USA thanks to my uncle, who did my mom’s paperwork and brought us to live with him.

24Life: Tell me about your early years in the U.S., training and working to get a gym membership—why did you choose to join 24 Hour Fitness?

DY: When first living in the United States, I did not have the finances to support my bodybuilding goals. I would train long hours at home, and I worked extra hours until I would finally be able to afford a gym membership. I was at the gym many late nights because my job restricted me from training in the day, but I did not let it limit me from training. 24 Hour Fitness is open 24 hours a day, which worked great for me.

24Life: How long did you train before entering your first competition? What was that first competition like?

DY: I trained for five years before I entered my first show. Going into my first competition, I really didn’t know what expect. I trained myself without any help or coach. I competed at the NPC Border States, and I ended up taking fifth place.

24Life: You’ve competed in a number of competitions over the last few years. What have you learned with each competition, and how did you implement that knowledge to get better and better each time?

DY: Bodybuilding is an art. That’s why they don’t consider it a sport. Each and every show is different with training, diet and nutrition. I was lucky enough to be able to work with one of the best coaches in the world, who took over my diet and nutrition, and I follow the plan he sends me on a weekly basis.

24Life: What does your training look like today? What does a week of workouts and eating look like for you?

DY: Training, workouts and eating always changes, depending if I’m prepping for a show or I’m offseason. Training days during the offseason are four to five days a week, and I increase once I get closer to a show. Pre-contest, I train seven days a week. As far as workouts go, it’s the same: Offseason, I do one muscle or body part a day; pre-contest, I train each body part twice a week. Eating during pre-contest is higher protein and lower fats and carbs. Offseason is higher carbs with low protein.

24Life: What do you like to do in your free time for fun, when you’re not training or working at 24 Hour Fitness?

DY: I like to eat out, take my dog to the beach, hang out with friends and also I love spending time with the family.

24Life: How has 24 Hour Fitness been an instrumental part in your bodybuilding training and success?

DY: 24 Hour Fitness is the main reason why I was able to keep up with my training, thanks to the hours of operation and the multiple locations around the country. I also love that the equipment is always up to date and working.

24Life: What is your go-to pre-workout and post-workout meal?

DY: My go-to pre-workout meal is sweet potato and chicken breast. My post-workout meal is white rice and chicken breast. That changes when I get closer to the competitions. My protein source changes, and the amount of carbs drops.

24Life: What does true health and fitness mean to you?

DY: For me, true health is finding a reasonable balance between my body and the environment. True health is measured by how I feel physically, think mentally and respond emotionally.

24Life: Favorite and least favorite workout?

DY: Favorite workout is legs. I love the fact that it challenges me. I don’t have a least favorite workout; it’s like having kids—they all have to be treated equally.

24Life: What is the most difficult part of training for a competition—and the competitions themselves?

DY: The most difficult part of training and competition is the lack of energy and the body aches.

24Life: Who do you admire or look up to—who inspires you?

DY: Arnold Schwarzenegger is my role model. Against all odds, he reached his goals as a bodybuilder and an actor. He made his mark, and I too hope to leave my mark.

24Life: Is your dad, who also wanted to become a bodybuilder, a big part of your bodybuilding journey to this day?

DY: Yes, absolutely. He gets more excited than I do when I do well or win shows. He also constantly watches my videos on YouTube.

24Life: Do you have a mantra or quote that you live your life by?

DY: One of my many favorite quotes is, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

24Life: You came in sixth place for Mr. Olympia this year—an impressive feat for only three years of training. What’s next for you? 

DY: I recently competed at the first Legion Sports Festival and I won, which requalified me for Mr. Olympia 2019. Now I have five to seven months to rest and put on some size to show up better for my next Mr. Olympia. I’m hoping to earn that top spot!

24Life: How long will you continue to pursue bodybuilding and enter competitions?

DY: I will continue bodybuilding and competing as long as I am alive and healthy. I live and breathe bodybuilding. Bodybuilding has made me who I am today for the better.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Dani Younan