“They call me Popeye, the Egyptian Popeye. I like chicken, beef, anything but spinach!” Often praised as the real-life Popeye—the Sailor Man, of course—Moustafa Ismail currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records for having the biggest arms in the world with jaw-dropping 31-inch biceps. While many naysayers and critics argue that Ismail’s massive arms aren’t natural and that he’s turned to Synthol oil injections, steroids or implants to add size, Ismail has denied every rumor and insists that his arms are 100% authentic after spending years in the gym. So, just how did he end up with the biggest arms in the world?
Born and raised in Egypt throughout the late 1980s, Ismail moved to the United States and settled in Massachusetts in 2007 where locals quickly understood why he went by the nickname, “Big Mo.” Having already earned his reputation for having some of the biggest muscles in Egypt, Ismail took two jobs in Massachusetts just to afford a gym membership and secure his reputation as a real-life Popeye. In 2011, he caught the attention of the Guinness Book of World Records and was invited on an all-expense paid trip to London where he debuted his 31-inch biceps. Afterward, critics were quick to suggest that Ismail’s arms were a sad tribute to steroids and implants, all of which he denied after showing an obvious lack of scars that would’ve been a telltale sign of surgery.
“I did an ultrasound test [and] a blood test,” Ismail said during an interview with the Associated Press. “I did an X-ray which proves I have nothing unnatural.” Instead, Ismail says that he works out twice each day and has been actively bodybuilding and weight training since he was 14 years old. Instead of focusing on his entire body, however, he has always focused on his biceps and, after a decade of hard and consistent training, he achieved his dream of having the biggest biceps in the world. According to Ismail, it’s as simple as that.
Landing a spot in the Guinness World Records at only 24 years old, Ismail takes great pride in his muscles and is often devastated when people jump to criticize him rather than share in his hard work by offering compliments and praise. “It is hurtful,” Ismail said after hearing amateur bodybuilder Janice Vincuilla say, “When I first saw him I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s a freak.’” After learning more about Ismail, his strict training regimen and impressive protein-packed diet, Vincuilla changed her tune saying, “The big Popeye arms, he’s incredible, but he works out hard, so good luck to him.”
To ease the controversy from his critics, Ismail accepted an offer to appear in a Fuji television documentary and flew to Japan where he was subjected to a series of tests to prove that his arms were natural and not the result of Synthol injections or implants. With ultrasounds on both his biceps and upper arms, he even had an MRI on his entire body, which supported Ismail’s original claim of being 100% authentic. Physicians found no traces of any drugs, implants or tampering whatsoever, which put Ismail in the clear and allowed him to keep his place in the prestigious Guinness Book of World Records.
“I have nothing to hide and so I agreed to do it,” Ismail said later during an interview. “I am nothing but proud of what I have achieved as an unknown and amateur bodybuilder. I wanted to show the world that Big Mo is real, and not fake as some critics have claimed.” Unfortunately, however, many critics questioned the legitimacy of his test results since Ismail refused to release the hospital or the physicians’ names. In fact, some even argue that he never had the tests done as no one has seen the ultrasound scans of his arms. Then again, breaching medical privacy is punishable by law here in the United States.
Today, the only thing that Ismail has acknowledged is that he experimented with testosterone-boosting drugs and growth hormones early in his bodybuilding career. However, he promises that his current body is the direct result of a strict diet that involves consuming 3,000 grams of protein each day. This is what gives him the strength to bench press 500 pounds and do a 400-pound bicep curl without breaking a sweat.
As for his bodybuilding career, there are no known records of Ismail entering any competitions, which means his only claim to fame is his enormous 31-inch arms. Now maintaining his strength with a diet that consists of four pounds of chicken, two pounds of steak, four cups of almonds, nine pounds of carbohydrates, two gallons of water and three liters of protein shakes each day, Ismail says he doesn’t like to always focus on how much weight he can lift. “It’s about me making the right techniques, even with the light weights, but getting good results out of that,” he said.
Since coming to the United States a decade ago, Ismail has established his reputation as a real-life Popeye while ousting the previous record holder, Gregg Valentino. While Valentino injected steroids into his biceps and was eventually caught after one of his muscles exploded and required surgery to repair, Ismail is adamant that his muscles are completely natural. Now training up to six hours each day, Ismail uses the criticism to motivate him even further, especially now that he is supporting his wife and sending money back to his family in Egypt, which leaves him barely enough money to afford a gym membership and his massive grocery bill.