Tom Venuto's

My Big Fat Greek Interview

Tom Venuto

This was NOT your usual interview. This was a super fun and very interesting interview and it was compiled in a very unique way. Not that I haven’t enjoyed being interviewed by all sorts of folks in the bodybuilding and fitness world over the years, but the person(s) who sent me these questions this time was different than my usual interview requestor. He was my own training partner, friend and business colleague Kostas Mar, whom I like to call “The Greek Statue.”

greek food

That’s actually an abbreviation of Kostas’s surname, because you know those Greek last names go on for pages and end in opolopolopolopolopolopolo poulos.

Just teasing, of course. I love the Greeks. They have such great culture and art and architecture… and FOOD… ah the food - fuggetabout it – the food?

The Greeks have great food. (when in New York, Try Periyali!). And hey I’m Italian, so putting Greek food above my own ethnicity could be taken as sacrilege by my fellow paison’s. Of course, I don’t have one of those ‘right off the boat’ Italian cooking moms. My grandfather was 100% full blooded Italian… New Yorker… Queens, and that’s where I got the last name, but I’ve been, uh, “diluted” a bit over the two generations, so maybe I’d feel differently if I’d been raised on real home-cooked Italian… not that mom my can’t cook – she’s a whiz in the kitchen – it’s just not “straight from the old country” Italian.

Did you know that out of all the diet books you see on the shelves today in a mainstream bookstore, if you grab one on the Mediterranean diet, you are far less likely to go wrong than with any other choice? It’s true (well, excepting my new hardcover, The Body Fat Solution. That one you can’t go wrong with either, of course, as bookstore fat loss books go, and it should be on every health conscious person’s shelf. (hint: you can get a copy at Amazon dot com, or grab one right off the shelf of your local bookstore (borders, barnes and noble, books a million, etc)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Mediterranean diets are good. Seriously, check out The Omega diet by Artemis Simopoulos for example. It’s healthy and there’s no fad diet BS in there. Mediterranean… Greek!

There was even a study recently published in the scientific journal Obesity Reviews which said that the traditional Mediterranean (including Greek) diet – you know that diet with all the olive oil and fresh vegetables and fish and other good stuff - is very healthy, and far less likely to lead to obesity than our typical Western diet (our diet is SAD: Standard American Diet).

Anyway, I’m getting off on a tangent, and suddenly getting hungry and strangely craving some feta cheese, so let me wrap up this intro and get to it. There’s one other thing Greek’s are known for: Bodybuilding.

Yep. Surprise, surprise. You usually think of bodybuilding as American. Venice Beach, USA. Of course there’s that Austrian dude, but even he became Americanized. I didn’t really realize the popularity of bodybuilding in Greece until I started training with a Greek who also happens to own some of the most prominent Greek bodybuilding websites online, both in English and in the Greek language. That’s Kostas. And he grilled me with over 20 questions in this two part interview.

Actually Kostas didn’t ask the questions, he just delivered them. Apparently, I have some readers (and even “fans”) in Greece, so Kostas surveyed his subscribers and forum members in anticipation of this interview. So, this interview is a compilation of many questions from many different people. So to all my friends in Greece – thanks so much for asking them. It was a blast answering. Enjoy! Here’s part one:

- Tom Venuto

Untold Bodybuilding Stories and Secrets

1) What do you think is more important in bodybuilding? Training hard or eating correctly?


Vince Gironda, the late, great bodybuilding trainer from Hollywood, used to say, “bodybuilding is 80% nutrition.” That must have been back in the 1960’s and people have been repeating that quote ever since.

I can understand why Vince said nutrition is most important, because there’s some truth to that. For the average person on the street and for the average bodybuilding beginner, their diet is a mess and putting the most focus on the weakest area is the most efficient strategy that will produce the most improvement for the effort invested.

Also, if total calories aren’t controlled, no training program in the world will get you leaner. If you’re overeating, even on clean food and even with a 100% perfect training program, you will still gain fat. Period.

However, as important as nutrition may be, I prefer to say that bodybuilding is 100% nutrition and 100% training. You need to get them both right and give them both 100%.

2) I would like to know how Tom got started with bodybuilding and why he loves the sport.

I must have been about 8 years old or so when I saw a picture in the Guinness Book of World Records, which I loved to read when I was a kid. Inside the newest edition of the book was an entry for “the world’s most perfectly developed man.” That man was Arnold Schwarzenegger. That must have been the late 1970’s because I remember I was living in San Jose, California at the time and that was also about the time Arnold was at his Mr. Olympia Peak.

I think I was too young to appreciate it, but I suspect that image of Arnold’s physique made an impression on me and was planted in my subconscious that far back.

Years later, when I was 14 and living on the East Coast, I saw Conan The Barbarian in the movie theaters. I didn’t go to see Arnold, specifically, I went because I was into Conan stories, Dungeons and Dragons, swords and sorcery books and art from Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo.

But when I saw Arnold on that screen I was awestruck. I had seen the art, but couldn’t believe a real live human being could actually look like that. Little did I know that the art was imitating life, not the other way around.

muscle and fitness 1982 Arnold as conon

The next day I bought a Magazine off the newsstand which had a picture of Arnold as Conan, in full warpaint. As I flipped through the pages, I saw pictures of guys like Danny Padilla, Boyer Coe, Bill Grant, Mohamed Makkawy, Samir Bannout, Roy Callender, Robbie Robinson, Casey Viator, Dennis Tinnerio, Franco Columbo and Tom Platz and that was IT. I was hooked.

I then bought Arnold’s autobiography, The Education of a Bodybuilder and started the workout programs from that back of that book. I never stopped since.

I fell in love with bodybuilding because I loved the look of the physiques, I loved the way the training made me feel and the way the results made me feel and I loved it because it was an individual sport.

Unlike soccer, which I had played since I was 7 years old, I was now the only person responsible for my success. I couldn’t blame a teammate if I failed and if I succeeded, I got all the credit. It was all up to me.

3) What advise would you give to a beginner who is trying to become a bodybuilder?

The first piece of advice is to simply go for it. Bodybuilding is a fringe sport and the average person will never understand bodybuilders or their mentality or their motivations, so damn the critics – even well-meaning friends and family – and just go for it.

Second is find role models, but pick them carefully. When I started, I had no clue about the difference between tested and untested competition; natural and not natural.

I will always admire Arnold and I will always have respect and appreciation for the open divisions, because those guys got me started, but my role models changed over the years when my eyes opened to the realities of the sport.

My advice to a beginner in this day and age is understand that bodybuilding and natural bodybuilding are completely different sides of the sport and set your goals and choose your role models accordingly. Also choose your role models based on a person’s character as much as his or her physique and list of titles.

I’m serious about finding role models with character. There’s a dark side and a sleazy underbelly in parts of bodybuilding. More than one bodybuilder who was idolized by many fans ended up in jail and not just for steroids, but for worse things.

Fortunately, in bodybuilding, we also have some of the most positive and inspiring people you will ever meet, and bodybuilding can give you some of the most life-enhancing and health-improving experiences you will ever have. It’s up to you which side of bodybuilding you want to be involved in.

Unless someone has the genetics and the true desire to go all the way to the top of the open division pros, I would advise bodybuilders to stay natural and choose natural role models. You can build an amazing physique naturally. Bigger is not better. Better is better.

4) Have you ever thought of competing in a Natural Olympia show?

I’m actually not very familiar with the details of that competition, I’m more familiar with NPC and INBF and WNBF, but Natural Mr. Olympia would be an amazing title to hold for sure.

ronnie and jay

5) What is your opinion about Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler?

As I said before, I have respect for all levels of the sport and I appreciate and am completely in awe of what these guys have achieved at the top level of their side of the sport.

Regardless of the genetic gifts that obviously there, you have to appreciate the sheer mass, strength and training intensity.

Cutler’s mass simply boggles the mind and Ronnie Coleman - he’s as strong as almost any strength athlete in any strength sport. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw him training on video. Unreal.

That said, I do prefer the more symmetrical and slightly smaller physiques.

Even if I could look like Ronnie or Jay, and with all due respect to them, if I could look like any IFBB pro, past or present, I’d prefer to look like a Lee Labrada circa 1988 or a Mohammed Makkawy circa 1983 or a Frank Zane circa 1979.

6) We would like to know whether Kostas has what it takes to follow you in hardcore training or whether he sits in a corner crying with pain.

Are you trying to start a fight or something? I don’t know if I should say anything because if I do, then the next time Kostas is spotting me on skull crushers he might just “forget” to spot me and I’ll walk out of the gym with a barbell wrapped around my head.

Well, let’s just say that I’ve never seen Kostas crying in a corner in pain, but he does have a few sneaky tricks he uses if he wants to weasel out of the last rep or two or even an entire set (Tell me it aint so Kostas, buddy!) But in his defense, he also has this “intensity switch” and when he flips it, his intensity can be off the charts and he’s hardcore to the last rep.

7) What is the necessity of bodybuilding supplements on a muscle gain phase? Where does natural nutrition stop and the necessity for supplementation starts?

I don’t think ANY supplements are an absolute necessity. If your diet is meticulously put together, you will get great results just with whole food, especially on a mass building diet when you have more calories to work with.

I think the supplements, even the basics like multi vitamin/minerals, are more important when your food is restricted. If you’re taking in fewer nutrients because your food supply is limited, it makes sense to pay more attention to supplementation at that time. When food is plentiful, why do you need to supplement with nutrients that are already in your food?

8) Which supplements have you used and what has worked and how?

I use protein powder almost daily, but that’s as much for convenience and flavor as much as anything. I stir a vanilla protein into my oatmeal every morning. I use a lot of whey protein, but also protein blends that have casein. I don’t consider protein powder to be anything other than powdered food, by the way. There’s nothing magical about it.

Creatine is a staple and in fact one of the few strength and muscle enhancers you can always count on. I also use a Multi vitamin and mineral and fish oil (still flax oil sometimes, but fish oil wins out if you compare flax and fish oil head to head). Also vitamin c - about a gram after workouts.

In a mass-building phase I use post workout drinks, not just for recovery but as an easy way to get all the calories I need. I have no problem with continuing to use recovery drinks in cutting diets, but in smaller amounts of course, although I usually prefer all whole food when my calories get low.

I do keep an eye on the studies about pre, during and post workout nutrition as this is an interesting area of research. But when you eat 6 times a day, I think worrying about nutrient timing around workouts is less relevant than most people think. If you bracket your weight training with two of your largest meals out of your 6 meals, I just don’t see how or why the drinks are necessary.

Some of the new pre workout energy and mental focus enhancers look interesting. I think anything that can improve your intensity, mental focus and energy in the gym is worth looking at because it’s not about any magic in the supplement pills you pop or the drinks you take, it’s really about how hard you can work in the gym.

On the other hand, there’s good old caffeine. A Starbucks red-eye (shot of espresso in a coffee) does the job quite nicely! (I read that natural bodybuilder Dave Goodin has a black eye before every workout (two shots!) How’s THAT for a pre-workout drink?

9) What is your strategy when you want to go “super low” with your body fat % ie from 5% to 3.5%? What is your ultimate “secret” as far as training and nutrition are concerned?

What I would recommend for someone overweight to get down to average body fat would be different than a bodybuilding contest diet, but there’s no difference between what I do to get from 5% to 3 or 4% body fat.

The entire final phase of a pre-contest cut is definitely high protein and low carb for me, although it’s not zero carb and I don’t like ketogenic diets which are actually higher in fat than protein, which most people don’t realize. I tried them years ago and even though I know keto diets work for other people, I just didn’t like that style of eating or the way they made me feel.

burn the fat, feed the muscle by tom venuto

Instead, I go very high in protein, about 45-50% of calories from protein, which is probably close to 300 grams or so, which is about 1.5 to 1.75 grams per pound of bodyweight. The protein intake remains constant and I cycle calorie levels by cycling the carbs. I use a 3 days low carb and one day high carb rotation.

This approach works perfectly for me and any time I try to experiment with other approaches it usually just messes things up, so I come back to this tried and true contest diet every time when I want to get cut. This is the exact competition diet system I explain in my ebook, Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle

stay hungry

As for “secrets.” Well, if you take the average guy on the street, he doesn’t know anything about bodybuilding diets with high protein, carb cycling and so on, so if you want to call that a secret for that reason, you can.

But the truth is, there are no real secrets except things like hard work, discipline, consistency, believing in yourself and making up your mind to reach a goal and staying laser focused on it.

Well, there is something. You really want a single-digit body fat secret? Learn how to be hungry almost all the time… and just suck it up without complaining… That tag line from the old Arnold movie has more than one meaning…

To Be Continued In Part Two


Tom Venuto,
Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

About Tom Venuto

tom_venuto_headshot1.jpg Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, independent nutrition researcher, freelance writer and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle (e-book) and the #1 Amazon best-seller, The Body Fat Solution (Avery/Penguin, hardcover). Tom’s articles are featured on hundreds of websites worldwide and he has been featured in IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Exercise as well as on dozens of radio shows including Martha Stewart healthy living (Sirius), ESPN-1250 and WCBS. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the premier fat loss support community, the Burn The Fat Inner Circle

About Kostas & Greek Bodybuilding

bodybuildersgr Kostas Marangopoulos is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, fitness writer and bodybuilding nutrition coach specializing in lean muscle building with 15 years experience. His educational background included a Master’s Degree and he is also a certified personal trainer with the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He is the editor-in-chief of the groundbreaking Greek Bodybuilding Magazine “ e-Mag” and the managing director of the largest Greek bodybuilding website and forum on the web, Kostas also manages two of the largest natural bodybuilding and fitness websites on the web, and

Published on 30 June, 2009


Remco said:

Great interview! Your knowledge on fitness is always inspiring

Posted on Jul 07, 2009 07:45 AM

Anthony Phass said:

Ciao Tom, Yiassou Kosta,

Come stai? Ti kaneis Kosta?

I really enjoyed reading this interview, although from reading your articles for 9 years now, your answers were 99.89% predictable!

Na se kala


Posted on Jul 11, 2009 05:55 AM

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