Tom Venuto's

My Big Fat Greek Interview, pt 2

Tom Venuto

In part two of my “Big Fat Greek Interview, I answer questions about fruit and dairy in pre-contest diets, dextrose in post workout shakes, high intensity vs volume training, tips for female bodybuilders, plus my take on the current state of bodybuilding and the future of natural bodybuilding…

10) What in your opinion is the role of fruit and dairy products during cutting periods?

I include fruit in my pre-contest diet, but because it’s a low carb diet, there’s not a lot of carbs in general and that means there’s not a lot of fruit. I eat more green vegetables and fibrous carbs than starches or fruits on a contest diet. But you shouldn’t interpret that as meaning fruit is fattening; that is absolutely not true. You can get shredded with fruit in your diet, no doubt about it. The reduced carbs helps on many levels, but getting cut is still mostly about the calories.

Same goes for dairy. Dairy is not fattening, in fact the latest research says the opposite – there are dozens of research papers saying that something in the dairy products is important for fat loss, whether that’s calcium or vitamin D or something else, the researchers are still trying to hash it out.

Most bodybuilders cut dairy because they say it makes them smooth and or bloated, and that’s probably true when you consider how many people are lactose intolerant. But “causes bloating” and “makes you fat” are two different things.

I don’t eat much dairy on my contest diet, but again that’s not because I think it’s fattening, I just choose to allocate my calories to protein, fibrous carbs, essential fats and then I rotate in the starchy carbs based on my carb cycling schedule.

11) How much can you bench/have you benched? What are some of your best lifts as a natural bodybuilder?

I was never powerlifter material so I don’t have much to brag about here. My best bench was 335 for 3. I partially tore my left pec a few years ago so heavy benching days are over.

My best full squat was 405 for 6 with belt and knee wraps but I had a ruptured disk at age 19 so that has always been a limiting factor. I turned to high rep squats partially for that reason. I also got interested in high rep squatting because Tom Platz was an idol of mine in my early bodybuilding years, and he built the worlds best developed, freakiest legs by using a mix of high rep squats and heavy squats, not just heavy training.

My best high rep squatting is 225 lbs for 54 reps, 275 for 32 reps and 325 for 20 reps. I probably won’t squat 4 plates again, too risky for my lower back, but I think I still have it in me to beat some of those repping PR’s. One of my training partners “PWNED” me years ago when I did 50 reps with 225 and he did 75. That pissed me off so much I remember it to this day. I’m going to beat that rep record yet.

12) Do you think dextrose and post workout drinks are overrated?

I think post workout drinks with simple sugars and whey are fine and they serve their purpose. In fact, since these are cheap ingredients, I think you can make a good case for making your own or buying inexpensive whey and simple carb drinks, and get pretty good results while saving yourself a small fortune.

These “everything but the kitchen sink” formulas that are being promoted lately are expensive, but the additional benefit of a lot of the added ingredients is questionable. I think post workout nutrition is pretty simple and people overcomplicate it. If I think drinks are “overrated,” I only think so in that I believe you can get equally good results with food if you eat a bodybuilding diet with 6 meals a day.

13) Should there be changes in a bodybuilder’s training style between high volume and high intensity training or is it someone’s choice?

Training volume is one of the variables that’s going to be different from person to person based on individual preference and choice as well as one’s genetics. An extremely high volume is generally unwise for the natural bodybuilder, but I’m convinced that an extremely low volume program as a default style of training is equally unwise in most cases.

I never got good size from a one set to failure program, unless that was like 3-4 exercises, each with warm up sets and then one all out set to failure (but that’s still multiple sets isn’t it?) What I noticed from the very low volume training was more strength than size. On the other hand, I never argue with results. If you do low volume training as your year-round method and it’s working, keep it up.

14) What in your opinion is more important? Food selection, food quantity or nutrient timing?

That depends. Most important for what? Fat loss? Health? Happiness? For fat loss nothing is more important than calories in versus calories out. The reason I say this is because you could select the best foods and have perfect nutrient timing, but if you’re in a caloric surplus, you won’t lose fat, it’s that simple – you have to get the food quantity right.

You also have to get the food quality right for good health. And for the athlete or bodybuilder, nutrient timing is also clearly very important. But all these factors need to work together in synergy, I don’t think it makes sense to try to put them into a hierarchy where you say that it’s all nutrient timing or it’s all about which foods or macros you eat and not calories. It’s everything together.

15) How do you imagine yourself at 60?

Still living the bodybuilding lifestyle. Ripped, jacked and looking at least 10-15 years younger than my age. As I get older I want to be a role model to other people who want to be in great shape in their golden years and I want to stand as a counter example to anyone who says it can’t be done. All you need is ONE person who has done something that others say is impossible and that blows excuses and generalizations about age and fitness/physique of the water.

When I was a teenager, I was introduced to guys like IFBB pro Albert Beckles, a masters champ who competed in IFBB pro shows in his 50’s. He was the talk of the magazines in the 1980’s, not just because of his amazing, peaked biceps and ripped condition, but because he appeared to be getting better into his 50’s and was actually winning the pro shows. (Below: Beckles training in the 1980’s at World Gym in Los Angeles):

Thanks to guys like Beckles, the idea got planted in my head that a great physique was totally possible after age 50. As I look back now since I’ve hit the big 4-0, I see how valuable it was to have that kind of idea given to me at a young age.

It’s unfortunate, but some people think it’s all downhill after 60 or even after 50. But this old paradigm, like the idea that you can’t build a great physique without drugs, is slowly but surely dying as more people are maintaining tremendous physiques into their 50s and 60s.

16) In bodybuilding there is a time for bulking up and a time for cutting up. Do you think the body and our system gets stressed in a negative way if you keep alternating between the two? Is it beneficial for a bodybuilder (who doesn’t compete) to bulk up and cut down? What are the benefits, if any?

How do you define “bulking up?” If you mean getting fat and gaining as much weight as you can in the off season, then sure your body gets stressed in a negative way.

It’s not all that different than the weight cycling that obese dieters go through and we know from research and medical studies that yo yo dieting has many negative effects on your health.

Sure, you’re going to gain weight and body fat in the off season, but that’s like going from ripped to normal not from ripped to fat.

I wrote an article about that here:

Getting fat in the off season is dumb and serves no purpose. Even if there’s no negative effect on your health, you’re just making it harder on yourself when contest time rolls around – you’ll have to diet longer and harder to get it all off.

It’s better to do a slow steady lean gain and put a limit on how much fat you are willing to gain. For me that’s double digits – If I hit 10% body fat, I tighten up the diet and add cardio. It’s a matter of personal standards as much as anything.

17) Can you go into a few tips for female bodybuilding? Do you think the program or a competitive woman should in any way different from that of a man? (nutrition & workout wise?)

There’s almost no difference in training. The only real big difference between men and women is in the daily energy requirements. Women almost always need significantly fewer calories than men, so if a female tries to follow the nutrition program of a man, or if she tries to follow a diet program that gives the same amount of calories to all men and women, she usually will not lose weight and will sometimes gain.

The rest of the differences between men and women have more to do with personal goals than with gender per se. If women should train differently than men for example, it’s mostly because they have different goals for their physiques than men in general. If a man and woman had identical goals, I would train them mostly the same.

There are some other female-specific concerns, but the training program is mostly a function of a person’s primary goals, not gender. I think female-based workouts are more for marketing purposes than anything.

18) What is your opinion of the natural bodybuilding physiques that are competing these days?

Awesome and getting better. Look at guys like Jim Cordova. AMAZING! I think there’s a “3-minute mile” effect occurring in natural bodybuilding. Every year, we’re seeing better and better physiques in the natural federations. What people once believed was not possible without drugs is now being achieved, so the physique improvement perpetuates more physique improvement as the bar keeps getting raised.

It’s like when Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes. Before that, everyone thought it was impossible. But once a single person had broken the barrier, we realized it was not a physical barrier but a mental barrier. Within one year after Bannister broke the three-minute mile, 37 other runners did it too!

How do you explain this? Nothing changed in the runner’s bodies; nothing changed in the laws of physics; there were no new breakthroughs in running techniques. It was simply the runner’s beliefs of what was possible that changed - the mental barrier was broken – and this is now happening in natural bodybuilding.

This is why it’s so important to work on mental training as much as physical training and I gave so much attention to goal setting and mental reprogramming in my bodybuilding and Fat Loss programs.

19) Recently, watching for the millionth time the movie pumping iron, I saw that the purpose of bodybuilding was symmetry, good posing and body parts flowing with each other for a complete beautiful physique. Nowadays, with the help of new equipment, workout programs, advanced supplementation and new age pharmacology, mass is what is most important in bb shows. What in your opinion is the future of bodybuilding? How long can the harmony of a good body withstand the continuous demand for more and more mass?

I don’t think we have to look to the future, the mass monsters arrived a while ago and they’ve already pushed the limits to the max. Unfortunately, it’s hard to go backwards once a new standard is achieved or declared and the fans and judges are every bit as responsible for this as the athletes are.

A symmetrical, ripped and big bodybuilder will always beat a symmetrical, ripped and small bodybuilder. But the harmony is lost when the symmetry is lost. When symmetry is sacrificed for size, and that is rewarded, that’s when I think the future of bodybuilding is in jeopardy.

The fans need to show an appreciation for the Reeves’ and Zane’s and Labrada’s of the current era and a dislike for the distended stomachs and size for the sake of size. At the same time, the judges have to reward symmetry, cuts and classical body shapes.

Size is a part of the bodybuilding judging criteria and always will be - as it should - but we can’t expect this sport to go in a positive direction if we reward size at the expense of symmetry and shape.

20) Where do you see bodybuilding as a sport going in the short term and in the long term?

Open, professional bodybuilding is probably always going to remain a subculture indefinitely because mass monsters with freaky physiques are always going to be perceived by the public as freaks or at best, as fitness extremists.

However, I think that natural bodybuilding could get more mainstream publicity, recognition and appreciation than anyone realizes.

The reason I say that is because my second book, The Body Fat Solution, was published by a mainstream New York City publisher and was written for a mainstream audience. It’s NOT a bodybuilding book at all, like Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle.

As I was on the promotional tour for my new book when it was first released, I did dozens of interviews on mainstream radio like WCBS, ESPN and even Martha Stewart on Sirius satellite radio. I was also featured in the Wall Street Journal, Oprah Magazine, First for Women magazine and other mainstream publications which are as far removed from bodybuilding as you can get. Well, something really interesting happened…

I thought I was going to steer away from talking about bodybuilding when doing my media tour, because I didn’t want to intimidate potential readers or scare anyone away in the mainstream weight loss market, but the exact opposite happened. The newspaper reporters and radio hosts kept asking me about bodybuilding, and especially because my bio says I’m a natural bodybuilder. Although the average person has no idea what bodybuilding is all about, they’ve heard about steroid use in mainstream sports like baseball, so when they hear that a bodybuilder is “steroid-free” it’s actually very newsworthy right now.

I think this creates a tremendous opportunity for ambitious natural bodybuilders who are well-spoken, to get out into the mainstream and educate the public about the virtues of bodybuilding and weight training the natural way. In fact, it’s a totally untapped area, but so many bodybuilders just think about getting their picture in a muscle magazine or on bodybuilding dot com, they are completely oblivious to the bigger opportunities.

Just to give you an idea of thinking out of the box here, I was brainstorming with my new publicist last week and she was talking about approaching magazines that are read by moms and booking interviews on how to help them keep their teenage sons off steroids.

If more natural bodybuilders would do this kind of thing, they would be making a great name for themselves and for the sport of bodybuilding, while at the same time, helping other people. You’d be a hero, and yet bodybuilders are usually very narrow-minded when it comes to this kind of thing.

Think BIGGER and you’ll make yourself a better and more successful person and you’ll make bodybuilding a better sport for us all.

21) When will you come to Greece and do a seminar?

When will you guys invite me? (And what are you going to feed me when I get there?!)


- 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 25 August, 2009

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