Tom Venuto's

I Was Popping These “Muscle Pills” By The Fistful!

Tom Venuto

“The wonder energy food!” That’s what Vince Gironda, maverick trainer to the movie stars and champion bodybuilders, said about Desiccated Liver. Energy is nice and all, but this is the part where he caught me hook, line and sinker as a young, impressionable teenage wannabe bodybuilder: “Try this trick: take 2 desiccated liver tablets every hour for two weeks, and watch your measurements grow! I put one inch on my arm measurements without any extra workouts.” Yep, I admit it.. I tried that trick too…


Why not try it? There was no reason not to believe Vince right? After all, this was THE IRON GURU - trainer of the first Mr. Olympia Larry Scott.. trainer of hundreds of movie stars… a man carved out like a Greek statue… the first man who was ever truly “ripped to shreds.” The man promoting NATURAL methods, not drugs!!!! I had to believe him!

So I tried it. 2 liver pills every hour. Two weeks went by. My arms weren’t any bigger. A month went by. Damn arms still weren’t any bigger. I must have been doing something wrong! Must be the arm workout - yeah that’s it!

So I bought Vince’s arm training course. “Balanced arms.” I kept popping liver pills. I also started the new workout routine - giant sets! SIX exercises in a row - for biceps, triceps and forearms - all together. Damn that was tough! What a pump. Gironda’s arm workouts were awesome!

Now THAT worked a bit! I started seeing a little arm growth. No where near an inch Not even a half an inch. But my arms were visibly better. WAIT! HOLY CRAP! I was getting the bicep vein!! YESSSS!

Was it the liver pills - or was it that “shock treatment” of an arm routine? I wasn’t sure, so I kept reading more Gironda articles and bought more courses to learn more.

It was 1984. More significant than Van Halen to me (the older Van Halen’s were better), Robert Kennedy co-authors a FULL LENGTH BOOK with Vince Gironda: Unleashing the Wild Physique! Yeah baby! I snatched that one right off the bookshelf and read it… about 10 times! Read it so many times the cover fell off. (I still have it today, scotch taped cover and all.)

Wait a minute! Holy Mackerel! Right there on page 93 Vince said that intermediates should take no less than six liver tablets per meal! “Every week add an extra tablet of each until you double your starting level. Advanced bodybuilders make fantastic progress on 50-100 liver tablets per day over short periods of time.”

I KNEW IT! I wasn’t taking enough pills! More is better! I ordered more! The BIG bottles this time (ever heard the expression “horse pills?) I grabbed those suckers by the fistful, stuffed them in my pockets and wherever I went, I was all livered-up… ready to go! Even while I was in school, I could keep liver-fortified! YEAH! BABY!

It was all going great…of course, there was that one day in class. I was a sophomore or junior in high school - and I shifted in my seat, leaning a little too far to the side. The contents of my pocket spilled out all over the classroom floor. Liver everywhere…bouncing around the floor… rolling to the other side of the room.

You should have seen the looks on the other kids faces… not to mention the teacher.

I had been mortified for far lesser embarrassments in the past, but this time, somehow, I quickly and wittily blurted out, “I apologize. They’re just vitamins, minerals and protein pills. Trying to stay healthy.”

Nice save huh? No one laughed at me (ok, maybe just a few chuckles), as I scooped up all my little brown Argentinian livers. In fact, I’m certain those girls were checking out my biceps. And with each liver I snatched up off the floor, you could see those extensor carpi radialis longus muscles flex! I knew what they were thinking… “Yeaaahhhh. Tom IS looking good lately…he’s been working out.”

That’s right ladies. See these 15.75 inch pythons… they were only 15.42 inches just weeks ago. Triple compound supersets and beef liver.” Damn I was smooth. So studly.

By then I was the master of the body drag curl, the thumb under dumbbell curl, the PROPER way to do a preacher bench curl (excuse me, the Scott Curl). But my biceps never did put a full inch on just from taking liver.

Well, that didn’t deter me. Persistence always wins! I must have kept up my liver pill habit at that rate for a couple years. Even after I gave up, thinking that it really didn’t make much difference, I often went back and tried again. And again. And again.

Now it’s been so many years, I don’t remember the last time I took a dessicated liver. Can’t say I didn’t try though can you?

Believe me, that was one of just many - dozens, heck, probably a hundred nutritional experiments I tried when I was younger. Many of them prompted by Vince Gironda.

Looking back, do I think liver was a total bust? A waste? A scam? No, not exactly. I simply think Vince oversold it. Here’s the way I look at it today, now knowing a “wee bit” more about nutrition and supplementation than I did when I was 15 or 16.

If you think about it, desiccated liver is just dried organ meat. Red meat. I was taking “red meat pills” right? So what would taking “red meat pills” do for you? Would it make you grow like steroids or would it make you grow like eating… ahem, cough cough… red meat?

I reckon you know the answer. That’s right, taking protein supplements does the same thing that eating protein food does. Yes the protein is important and yes it’s building material for muscles. But the pills are no different than the food. Same thing with protein powder: Think of it as powdered food. But lots of kids today scoop the protein out of those tubs and pop all manners of protein pills thinking there is something “magical” in there…something “like steroids.”

It was foolish to think I would gain an inch on my arms only from protein supplements. maybe if i was horribly protein deficient, I would have seen the difference. But since my protein intake was already beyond adequate, there was no reason to suspect they were - or are today - anything special.

But wait a minute. Vince LOVED his liver so much. He always cited the rat study where group A fed liver swam for hours and group B without the liver was on the verge of drowning in just minutes. And even today you have some folks who swear by this supplement, even as they confess that it’s “old school.” Isn’t there SOMETHING to it? Anything?

Well, on the plus side, liver is a good source of very bio-available iron and some B vitamins. Since iron deficiency is not entirely uncommon, even in athletes (especially women), and such a deficiency could impact performance and recovery, it’s not inconceivable that someone who was iron deficient could notice an improvement in performance, energy and recovery when taking liver.

But that’s a case of going from deficiency state to a normal state.

Vince was famous for his diet programs and supplement recommendations to the point that many of his proclamations became the stuff of bodybuilding folklore. No better example than liver.

But with deep admiration and respect for Vince and my gratitude for all I learned from him in the exercise and bodybuilding arena, I would suggest thinking of desiccated liver purely as a protein supplement and little more.

Quite ironically, there is a HUGE body of research evidence showing that that dairy products contain extremely high quality muscle building proteins. If you want to take some liver as an extra protein source, I won’t discourage you - I don’ think there is anything wrong with it. But if you were forced to choose between liver supplements or whey/casein supplements… knowing what I know now… I’d go for those milk proteins.

Coming up next:

If you thought my liver pill experiment was weird… wait til you hear about my whole egg eating exploits… 3 dozen a day! Next article coming soon..

Until then, train hard and expect success!

-Tom Venuto

PS. By the way, this post was meant (aside from being for your amusement at my expense) simply to help you keep your expectations real. Protein supplements don’t produce drug-like effects. It was in no way meant to “de-bunk” Vince’s advice. To the contrary, far more things I tried from Vince’s playbook panned out than things that didn’t. Like the time I REALLY DID actually gain 12 pounds of LEGIT - DRY muscle in just months using ONE of Vince’s training protocols. That’s coming in a future article in my Vince Gironda series.

In the meantime, that workout program and a lot of others that worked gangbusters for me are featured in Alan Palmieri’s new Book, “Vince Gironda: Legend And Myth.” As the title implies, a few things Vince taught turned out to be myth. But the man was surely a true legend. Click the book cover below to check it out.


This was part of a series of articles about the Vince Gironda: The man, the myth, the legend. If you missed the first article, go to:

Published on 12 October, 2011


Shawn said:

Yesterday I got the email from Tom promoting “Vince Gironda: Legend And Myth”. I really admire the fact that after sending that out Tom would quickly write an article like this, so hopefully his followers don't blindly fall into something like liver tabs...

That being said, I still do make use of liver tabs in conjunction with BCAAs between meals from time to time, and find them to be very effective, but they certainly don't produce steroid-like effects nor do they replace a proper eating regimen.

Posted on Oct 13, 2011 12:10 AM

Norman said:

Great and hilarious post Tom, Thanx again and looking forward to the new book about the master Vince himself and his trainingprotocols. When will you publish an new book by yourself? after these really great pdf-books BFFM and THG, we need more of Tom Venuto's literature here in the Netherlands. Best Regards, N.

Posted on Oct 13, 2011 05:07 AM

Bob @ HealthyMeansYou said:

Crazy liver pill experiment Tom!

I don't think I would ever do it myself. I prefer just a regular whey protein shake. It's heck of a lot more convenient.

Posted on Oct 14, 2011 03:53 PM

ruth said:

Awesome story Tom, and a reminder that - HOLD THE PRESSES - real food builds better bodies. Like, you know - balanced meals etc! It constantly amazes me to see people who seem pretty serious about their bodies, taking supplements by the handful, yet also eating processed convenient foods and drinks that offer little nutritional value to their bodies.
We need to learn more about holistic health vs making our bodies look a certain way without attention to our overall health needs.
I am really looking forward to the 3 dozen eggs a day post . . . and visualising you doing the Rocky Balboa raw eggs before training trick.
Keep it coming!

Posted on Oct 21, 2011 03:15 PM

Post a comment

If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.

Please enter the letter "l" in the field below: