Our Interview with Fat Loss Expert Tom Venuto
So, how old were you when you started down the fitness path?
I started training when I was 14. That was back in the 80’s when Arnold Schwarzenegger was in top form after winning 7 Mr Olympia titles and when I saw Arnold’s physique, that’s what inspired me to take up weight training. I stuck with it through high school and put on about 25 pounds of muscle. When I went to college and saw exercise science was offered as a major, I realized that fitness could also be a career. So I started as a personal trainer right out of college when I was 20 or 21.
You are a natural, drug free bodybuilder. What about natural bodybuilding attracted you and how did you steer clear of going the "other" direction?
I was fortunate that I started training in a small town gym and if there was any drug use, no one broadcasted it. The bodybuilders there competed in natural competitions with drug testing. So I started out being surrounded with positive influences and had no idea how much steroids were involved in the bodybuilding world until l I got a lot older and wiser.
But steroids were never a consideration or a temptation for me over the years. It always seemed fake and artificial. Also, getting performance enhancing drugs on the black market is illegal, not to mention you don’t know what you’re really getting. And since laws and rules are being broken, and since steroid use has a public stigma attached to it, drug use turns a lot of people into liars. None of this is appealing to me.
What other people put in their bodies for personal reasons is their business. But when they take drugs in sports or competitions where drugs are banned, that’s where there’s a big problem. It smears the integrity of the sport and infringes on those who choose not to use. Sports should have a level playing field. Arguing that it’s not cheating if everyone is doing it is a cop out. The rules are the rules and not everyone is doing it and not everyone wants to do it.
I also know that you can build a great physique without drugs. You may never get huge or be Mr Olympia, but I think that most of the natural physiques look better even though they’re smaller. They have more of the classical, symmetrical look – more like a Greek sculpture and work of art than a huge hunk of mass.
What is a typical fitness week for you? How often do you workout and do you eat clean ALL the time?
I’ve experimented with all kinds of training schedules, but I always come back to the traditional bodybuilding approach: I use a 4 day split and I train 2 days on 1 day off, so that’s hitting each muscle group about once every 6 days. I’ll occasionally train 3 days in a row, but as a general rule I usually don’t do intense weight training more than 2 days in a row – I find it helps with recovery. My workouts usually last about an hour and my typical split is day 1: chest, bi’s, abs, day 2: Quads, hams, calves (light), day 3: Shoulders, tris, abs, day 4 back, calves (heavy)
Cardio training varies depending on my goals at the moment. Year round its usually 3 days a week for 20-30 minutes. Before competitions or when I want to lean out its usually 6-7 days a week for 30-45 minutes although I adjust cardio based on my results. I use cardio machines, especially the stepmill stairclimber, also some cycling, occasionally the treadmill and I do a mix of steady state longer cardio sessions and a little bit of interval training.
Re: clean eating: I eat clean about 95% of the time by choice, year round. A splurge for me is a restaurant steak or sushi rolls, sometimes a nice Italian pasta meal. An occasional glass of wine. My moms Christmas jello cake once a year of course. I eat pretty much whatever I want when I want it, but I usually don’t crave junk food. I enjoy eating clean and have plenty of recipes that make nutritious food taste great.
I think most dieters will be healthier not just physically but also psychologically if they loosen up just a bit and forget about trying to be perfect. If you’re diligent about hitting your calorie and macro targets, a couple of weekly splurges is not going to set you back, in fact it could actually help some people stick with their diet by avoiding the pressure of deprivation building up to the point of bingeing.
You have created an amazing career by helping people learn how to build lean muscle while losing excess fat. You have syndicated columns, newsletters and now and great book, The Body Fat Solution. When and how did you get started educating people on fat loss?
Right after I graduated from college I went straight into personal training, and I worked with clients one on one in the gym for many years. Then I started doing coaching programs. Coaching is where I didn’t necessarily train my clients, I wrote their programs which they did on their own, but they checked in with me weekly through a progress tracking and accountability system. I started the coaching programs in person where people met me at my gym, then expanded nationwide through phone coaching and then later email and online when the Internet came onto the scene.
I started publishing websites and newsletters online as far back as 1999 and went full time as an author, writer and publisher about 5 years ago. My first book, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle was released as an e-book back in 2003 and is still a top seller. The Body Fat Solution is my new book that was just published in hard cover last year by Avery/Penguin which is a major NYC publishing house.
I think I gravitated to educating people on fat loss as my specialty because of my bodybuilding background. You have to get extremely lean to compete in bodybuilding and fat loss – especially the nutrition side - was the one aspect of health and fitness that interested me the most. Coincidentally there was also the most demand for this kind of information.
You are now an accomplished writer and author syndicated all over the country. What is your ultimate goal?
My goal is to make a contribution to helping reverse the direction of the obesity problem and to get the evidence-based natural health and fitness message out to as many people as I can - millions of regular people, not just inside the bodybuilding community.
Does it ever frustrate you that people ask you the same questions over and over?
No, it’s part of any teaching or coaching job to keep repeating the key messages and drilling on the fundamentals. Even if I hear the same nutrition and training questions a thousands times that’s ok, and besides, repetition and teaching are the best ways to learn. The only thing that’s frustrating on a personal level is to see misinformation being perpetuated by other health and fitness professionals, either due to ignorance or marketing. It’s one thing when the average guy in the gym tells his buddy something that turns out to be a myth, but when the experts are all sending out mixed and contradictory messages, that can make things really difficult.
Dispel one myth, one piece of information you hear over and over but is so wrong.
It’s a myth that carbs make you fat. Carbs are only fattening if they contribute to putting you in a calorie surplus. Low carb diets can be beneficial in some ways, such as appetite control, automatic calorie control, and potential health benefits for individuals with disorders of blood sugar metabolism. Higher protein diets are also advantageous for fat loss and especially contest prep.
But Low carb dogma is damaging. For example, “insulin makes you fat,” “carbs make you fat” and “as long as your carbs are low enough, you can eat as much (protein and fat) as you want and you’ll still lose weight.” None of these statements hold up under scientific scrutiny
Vegetables are carbs. Fruits are carbs. Oatmeal, sweet potatoes, brown rice and beans are carbs. By now, everyone should realize there are healthy, natural carbs and unhealthy processed carbs. Cut back on the latter, not the former.
I could say the same about dietary fat. Demonizing an entire macronutrient or food group is wrong and creates an unnecessary and potentially unhealthy phobia of perfectly healthy foods.
Do you think the fitness industry as a whole is doing a good job educating the public?
I think there is more talent and knowledge in the fitness industry than ever before and that the fitness industry has changed in a lot of positive ways in the last 5 to 10 years. But there’s still a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of companies – even fitness professionals – who are out to capitalize on the ignorance that still exists in the general public about nutrition and exercise.
There’s a group of evidence-based fitness professionals who are writing, publishing and teaching today, and although it’s a small group, it’s growing. If more fitness and nutrition professionals would teach an evidence-based and critical thinking approach, their clients will be able to make better decisions and avoid the snake oil just from having a clearer thinking process.
If you can leave people with a few key tips on starting their road to ultra-fitness, what would you tell them?
I’m finding more and more that accountability and support are the missing links for a lot of people, so let me give you some tips based on accountability.
Start with self-accountability. Decide what you really want for your body and your health and commit your goals to writing. Make your goals specific, measurable, realistic, time-bound and in writing, so you can review them often. Read your goals every day to get them into your subconscious.
Second, be, accountable for what you eat by keeping a nutrition journal. Do it in writing, with an electronic device or online. I think everyone should keep a journal at least once in the beginning, until you reach the point where eating right becomes habitual and automatic.
Third, do the same for your training so you’re accountable for every workout. Create a training schedule and write the workouts into your calendar, just like any other appointment. Then track your performance for every workout. What gets measured gets improved.
Fourth, be accountable for your results. Use objective measures of your progress like your body weight, circumference measurements and body fat percentage. Measure your results weekly and log them into a progress chart. Monday is a great day for testing and progress reporting because that keeps you on your toes with weekend eating, which is when many people fall off track.
Once you’re accountable to yourself you can then get external accountability by announcing your goals to friends and sharing your weekly results with them. A personal accountability partner or a trainer is ideal, but there are support websites like our Burn the Fat Inner Circle that can be amazing accountability and motivation tools.
About Tom -
Tom Venuto is an internationally recognized fat loss expert, nutrition researcher and natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder. Since 1989, Venuto has been involved in virtually every aspect of the fitness and weight loss industry - as a personal trainer, nutrition consultant, motivation coach, fitness model, health club manager and freelance writer. He is the author of the #1 best selling e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle, as well as the hardcover, The Body Fat Solution. His columns are syndicated in hundreds of outlets.
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