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April 12, 2021 10 min read

Easily one of the most surprising transformations in the history of Hollywood was Kumail Nanjiani’s. It was like he disappeared one day, and came back later as one of the most shredded dudes in showbusiness.

It was clearly a labor of love, and it paid off. Nanjiani is proof that anybody can do it if they put their minds to it, it just takes a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of dedication. So how did he go from scrawny goofball to shredded main character?


If you don’t know Kumail Nanjiani, you might not be very impressed by his drastic transformation. It’s safe to say that people tend to have a certain picture of what a gym rat looks like, and Kumail and his filmography doesn’t quite line up with that picture we have in our heads often.

It makes him a pretty interesting example of how anybody with the drive to improve their health and pack on some muscle of their own will be able to if they put their minds to it. Kumail Nanjiani was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. He comes from a pretty small family, it’s just him and his brother Aijaz Nanjiani along with their parents.

He was raised Muslim, but after a lot of internal wrestling, he eventually became an atheist later in his life.  When he was growing up in Karachi he went to St. Michael’s Convent School for his O Levels. From there he went on to graduate from Karachi Grammar School for his A-Levels.

After finishing up his A-Levels, he decided he wasn’t quite done with school just yet, and decided at 18 to come over to America where he enrolled at Grinnell College up in Grinnell, Iowa. In college, he studied computer science and philosophy. This double major of his is a great indication of the kind of guy he would grow into after graduating college

Emily V Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani

He’s clearly very thoughtful while wanting to remain pragmatic and viable in the world. Kumail Nanjiani spent all that time in school, but the degrees didn’t get too much of an opportunity to stretch their legs. He ended up diving into the acting world and stand-up comedy world. The stand-up is pretty funny, he’s got a lot of wit packed into his set, but now, in hindsight is especially hilarious.

His routine usually centers on self-deprecating humor, calling himself a weak nerd that’s too weak to stand up to any kind of conflict. Nanjiani is usually the sweet guy or the huge nerd in the roles he’s played in movies and on TV. He got an early start on Saturday Night Live with a small part and has been climbing in popularity steadily from there.

From Saturday Night Live he grabbed some smaller roles doing things like voice acting for Adventure Time or popping onto The Colbert Report. He’s probably most well-known for his part on the HBO series, Silicon Valley, as Dinesh. It was a hilarious role, and it gave him a firm foothold in the broader culture of movies and TV.

His real shining star, though, is his movie, The Big Sick. This indie sweetheart is the shining example of Kumail Nanjiani and his public perception. It’s a heartfelt movie that explores the unusual relationship path he and his wife took to get to where they are today. It’s a story of love and loss and difficulty that resonated with a whole lot of people.

So, what spurred the change? He just fell off the face of the planet one day and showed back up after 10 months with Instagram posts showing off a body that he wasn’t even close to having before. Looking at him in The Big Sick and taking a peek at the internet-breaking change he made into the six-pack Adonis that cut his overall body fat down in half of an already pretty low percentage, down to 10% from 20%.

If you’re unfamiliar with what people look like when they drop down below that 10% threshold, take a look at Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III. He was rocking around 7% body fat, he looks legendary, but he also pretty publicly reports feeling like crap. It seems like he had it pretty good, he seemed comfortable being the skinny nerd, even poking fun of himself on incredibly public forums.

Turns out, it’s part of the all-encompassing reach of Marvel movies. Kumail Nanjiani landed a role as a character named Kingo in the upcoming Eternals. Seeing his dedication to preparing for the role, his tenacity in Hollywood, and his decade and a half of smart humor makes us hopeful for the upcoming role.

How did he make the change? You don’t get that cut by just deciding you want it really bad so you can play a role in one of the most popular film franchises in history. He had to really turn his life around, it took hard work and a very specific pair of diets to get the kind of big movie hard body that he has now. Let’s take a look.

Lean man with six pack abs

Cutting to the Kumail Core

Cutting his body fat in half wasn’t something he accomplished on his own. It’s important to remember that Kumail Nanjiani is a wealthy celebrity. He’s got access to resources a lot of people don’t, but looking at his diet and workout routine shows us that what he did wasn’t actually so far beyond the abilities of folks with way less money than he has.

Kumail was coached through the process with the help of his personal trainer, Grant Roberts. Grant Roberts is the former Mr. Canada, a professional bodybuilder, and a particularly successful lifestyle coach. He’s a massive personal health activist, spending so much of his time preaching the values and virtues of personal well-being.

The workout they came to together was simple. It was a straightforward six-day split with an active rest day capping off the week before diving right back into it. For ten months Nanjiani was pushing his body to its absolute limits nearly every day of the week, and even when he was giving himself a rest day, he was never really taking the full day off from physical activity.

  • Monday: Back and Traps
  • Tuesday: Chest and Abs
  • Wednesday: Legs and Calves
  • Thursday: Shoulders and Abs
  • Friday: Back Squats, Legs, Calves, and Cardio
  • Saturday: Biceps and Triceps
  • Sunday: Rest Day

He’s never totally specific about what his workout was like beyond the days he breaks it up into, but you can pull a lot from there. He’s probably in the gym for about forty minutes to an hour. You can tell from the way his body looks in the pictures he posted after his transformation that he got some pretty even coverage during his workouts.

We’re going to suggest plenty of compound exercises. Things like deadlifts that work out your full body and encourage a lot of movement, or exercises with dumbbells that give you a natural grip without forcing your muscles or joints into uncomfortable or damaging positions are perfect for giving you a slim, cut superhero physique.

These are going to target a lot of your muscles at the same time, while also encouraging natural movements. The magic of compound exercise is their ability to get you coverage in a natural fashion. If you can work out your muscles in a way that your body is built for, then you’re going to be increasing your ability to lift as well as keeping your joints healthy and your muscles flexible.

We tend to build muscle without considering how we are actually using those muscles in our daily lives. If you’re going to build muscle, it’s best to keep yourself limber and exercises that are going to move you through your full range of motion are going to preserve your flexibility and keep you loose for the next bout of exercise.

healthy food

Nanjiani Nutrition

In order to get shredded for his role Nanjiani needed to go through two phases: a bulk and a cut. You might have heard about bulking and cutting before, but for the uninitiated, we’re going to break it down for you. Bulking and cutting is a process bodybuilders and fitness models swear by.

The first half, bulking, has you eating pretty much anything you can get your hands on and filling your tank as much as you possibly can. The idea here is to give you the maximum possible amount of energy so you can hit the gym as hard as you're capable of hitting it. Nanjani talks about his bulking phase by saying,

“I did a bulk so I basically ate a lot of protein, but also whatever I wanted. So I ate french fries, I ate ice cream for like four months. And now I’m cutting, so now I’m on the crazy diet. And so now it’s like no sugar,” Nanjiani said. “Listen, I love desserts. But I’d been eating whatever I wanted for four months, this actually doesn’t feel that hard. It feels like, ‘Oh, thank god.’ I was eating a meal right before going to bed. [My trainer] wanted me to eat a meal, a full meal, so at like 11, 11:30 p.m., I would eat a full meal and go to bed.”

It was nearly half a year of his working his brains out and jamming as much food as he reasonably could into his body, and then getting up the next day and doing it all over again. You can’t bulk without digging deep at the gym and putting that energy to good use.

It’s one of the more effective ways to make sure you’re not tapping out before you hit your potential, if you’ve got the gas, you can lift one more rep. You can tell how much he was feeling this process. Kumail is quoted saying,

“When I was a kid, I assumed at some point in my life I would be in perfect [shape], I would be the perfect male form, right? I just assumed it would happen. I would have crazy abs,” he said. “It just never happened, and I’m 41 now. I was like, ‘If it doesn’t happen this year, it’s just never going to happen.’ At the end of last year, I was like, ‘Oh next year, I’m gonna be in the best shape of my life.’ It’s been really, really intense.”

It was hard work to chisel out this body he has now. It’s hard to achieve your goals, especially when it’s something like finding the perfect physique within yourself. You need to totally adjust your diet, you need willpower like you might not have ever had to demonstrate before, and you’re going to have to figure out a way to plan your meals ahead of time so you’re not able to fall into bad habits that will undo the work you’ve done.

When you’re focusing on cutting, you’re going to have to consider the foods you’re eating very carefully. A healthy diet that allows you to trim down your fat and lose the extra weight you’ve put on is going to be the product of a lot of nutritional balancing.

Your best bet is to cut out the sweets, stick to protein, and add a lot of fiber into your diet. Cutting out the sweets is how you’re going to eliminate “empty calories” from your body’s stockpile. Empty calories are what we call it when your body is given something rich in glucose that it doesn’t end up using.

When your body is faced with a surplus of its basic needs, it tends to hold onto them in some form or another. Your muscles, for example, will store a little bit of glucose locally so you can draw on it quickly when you’re exerting yourself, but once you start exceeding that small amount of storage space, your body starts to get creative.

That creativity is in the form of fat cells. Cut out the excess and you cut out the fat, if you cut out the fat, you’ll start breaking open fat cells for the precious glucose and start burning it off pretty quickly during your workouts. Sticking to protein and adding fiber to your diet is how you’re going to manage your hunger.

Working at a nutritional deficit is torture, but it’s what you have to do if you want a rock-hard body that shows off all of your hard-earned muscles. Your brain and stomach respond positively to the presence of protein and tell you that you’re feeling full more readily than any other food you can eat.

If your diet is high in protein, you’re going to greatly reduce the amount of torment you subject yourself to. Fiber like you’d find in fat-burning supplements has a similar function in your diet. Fiber sucks up water in your body and takes up a little bit of extra space in your digestive system.

This leads to feeling fuller for longer, and it does wonders for your ability to hit the bathroom because it creates a more solid stool for you to pass. High protein also means that you’re going to be continually building muscle, even during the cutting phase.

Keep feeding your body the materials it needs to function well, and you’re going to see positive results even while you’re burning off a lot of the energy and weight you worked so hard to pack on during your bulking phase.

  • Breakfast: Eggs and Avocado
  • Lunch: Chicken Breast, Brown rice
  • Dinner: Salad/ fish with rice
  • Snacks: Protein bar/ shake

You can see that Nanjiani was eating significantly less than other guys will eat when they’re trying to build their bodies. A lot of bodybuilders and professional models see themselves eating thousands of calories throughout the day.

The diet you stick to while cutting is a lot more similar to something somebody would eat if they had a desk job. Three meals and some snacks are going to suit you much better than stuffing yourself throughout the day to meet the insanely high energy demands someone like Simeon Panda or Ronnie Coleman might have.

Fitness of the Eternals

Kumail Nanjiani didn’t do anything you can’t. He may have had the guidance and customization that a personal trainer can lend you, but when you get down to brass tacks, it was a workout that’s just as achievable as anything you can bang out in your own local gym.

You might have a harder time than Kumail Nanjaini did during the bulking phase. It’s not something that’s as simple as just eating a lot and working out. You have to work hard, and you need to motivate yourself to really stuff your body full of food while also knowing how to hit the brakes and reverse your path so you can get cut on the other side of your bulking phase.

If you can figure out a way to maintain accountability, be that with a friend or by joining some kind of weekly workout group, you can do the same kind of work Nanjiani did to get that rare, superhero body.