December 4, 2013

Interview with Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is one of the good guys in the fitness field.

For those who don’t know of his work, Tom is a former natural bodybuilder who turned a passion for getting fit into a passion to help others optimize their fitness goals. He is founder of the popular blog, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle and is author of of a number of succesful books. What I admire most about Tom is his balanced, evidence-based approach to exercise and nutrition (as you will know doubt see in the ensuing interview). He is a student of the science as well as an in-the-trenches practitioner. This combination of experience and insight makes him one of the most sought-after practitioners in the country.

I’ve known Tom personally for many years and I’m pleased to have interviewed him about his new book, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Transform Your Body Forever Using the Secrets of the Leanest People in the World, which will be released next week.

BJS: Thanks so much for consenting to do this interview Tom. I’ve always been impressed with your down-to-earth, scientific approach to fitness. For those not aware of your accomplishments, can you give a brief rundown on your background?

Thank you for the opportunity Brad. I’ve been training for over 30 years nonstop. I got my undergrad degree in exercise science and was a competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer for almost 15 years. Today my full time job is coaching people online through our Burn the Fat community and I’m also fitness writer. I blog at Burn the Fat Blog.com and I’m the author of two books on fat loss including The Body Fat Solution and Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle.

BJS: Your new book, “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle,” was previously published as an e-book. What is different about this book from the previous edition?

The original ebook was first published in 2003. The theme of the new version is the same – the book teaches regular people how to use the nutrition, training and psychology strategies of bodybuilders and other physique athletes – to achieve their own goals. In a decade, a lot of new research emerges and if you stay on top of your game, you grow and evolve as a coach and communicator. I believe it’s important to share the most up to date information and best practices with your readers, in the simplest terms possible to help the most people. So the book has been re-organized, revised and updated with 25% new material including new chapters and a new workout program.

The biggest change I’ve seen over the last decade, which is reflected in what I write, is not a single new diet breakthrough or the discovery of one superior training technique – it’s quite the opposite – it’s how we’ve learned that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Does low carb work? Yes. Does high carb work? Yes. Does 6 meals work? Yes. Does 3 meals work? Yes. Do plant based diets work? Yes. Do meat based diets work? Yes. Does a full body workout work? Yes. Does a body part split routine work? Yes. And yet, this is the hardest thing for the dichotomously-thinking human brain to grasp because it seems contradictory. Fueled by marketing, personal ideologies and the guru culture, most people want to keep believing there’s only one true way. But it doesn’t exist. We need to focus more on the vital few fundamentals that apply to everyone, worry less about the trivial stuff and craft a personalized plan we can live with.

In that spirit, the book stays focused on the same principles and it’s still structured and by the numbers, but it’s more flexible than ever before, allowing for the kind of customization that accommodates an individual’s lifestyle and preferences. It’s also accessible to people who aren’t bodybuilders or scientists. More than ever, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle looks at both what the research says and what the real world says – or as you have eloquently said – it’s about the art and the science.

BJS: You discuss how exercise and nutritional routines should be customized based on body type. Can you explain why?

I would describe my philosophy as being more about customization to accommodate everything unique about each individual than about body type in a genotypic classification system sense. Bodybuilders have been fascinated with body types for years – you see somatotyping mentioned in almost all the classic muscle building books – and I do explain those body types in my book too, but I then explain the limitations of the classic Sheldon system, and go beyond it by describing the new phenotypic view about somatotypes.

Mainly, it’s a simple matter of “know thyself.” Know your tendencies biologically and behaviorally, know your goals, know the lifestyle you want to live, and then that helps you customize your workouts and nutrition.

Some of the explanations for body types are so simple, they’re usually overlooked, but becoming conscious of them can be very helpful. For example, what is an ectomorph really, beyond a certain frame and bone structure? Most people think it’s a guy who inherited a really fast metabolism so he burns everything off and never gets fat. “Lucky him” the endmorphs say. But most research says that inter-individual variation in metabolic rate, while it does exist, it’s pretty small. When you look more closely, you see the ectomorph is a person who has extremely high levels of NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) and simply never stops moving. He may also have characteristics that influence him to eat less. Both of these can be genetically influenced. The reverse is true about the endomorph.

I don’t think there’s enough science to put legs under any body typing system in a way that you could just give everyone a quiz and then say, “You’re an X body type so follow program X and you’re a Y body type so follow program Y.” But there are biological and behavioral differences in people that affect how much energy they burn and how much they consume. I also believe there are degrees of carbohydrate intolerance. How much that influences differences in body composition is pretty speculative, but surely some people don’t fare as well on health markers with high carb diets and that’s easy enough for each person to test and prove for themselves. It’s also fair to say that the carb prescription for sedentary people is quite different than it is for athletes. So I think knowing yourself and customizing everything could be seen as a kind of “body typing” I simply don’t stretch it too far beyond that.

BJS: What’s your opinion on calorie counting? Is it really necessary?

Calorie counting is not necessary, but if your goal is fat loss, having a calorie deficit is necessary. The important distinction that a lot of people miss is that there’s a big difference between saying “you don’t have to count calories” and “calories don’t count.” That might sound like the same thing, but it’s not. Lots of people lose weight without counting anything. But that’s because they’ve still achieved a calorie deficit. Whether you count calories and you’re in a deficit or you don’t count calories and you’re in a deficit, the end result is the same – you lose fat.

In a perfect world, we could argue that it really is ideal to follow an eating plan that automatically produces a deficit without you counting calories. It’s like what Brian Wansink said, “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.” The problems are: 1. That’s easier said than done for a lot of people. 2. Many “experts” claim calories don’t matter for weight loss – that it’s only about hormones or eating special foods. Ironically, many diets that prescribe the avoidance of certain “evil fat storing foods” and the frequent consumption of certain “magic fat burning foods” are simply tricking you into eating less. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, except when the “magic” food concept is presented as a gimmick or when “evil” food avoidance becomes dogma and that often turns into real food phobias or even eating disorders.

My approach is to start out building meal plans by the numbers – know your calories and macros – because doing the numbers at least once in your life is an education about nutrition you can’t get any other way. If you’re stuck at a plateau – do it by the numbers as well. You may be shocked at how much you are underestimating caloric intake.

After you’ve done the counting thing for a while, it becomes second nature or “intuitive” if you prefer that word, and you don’t have to do it anymore. But the way I see it, “intuitively” eating the right amount of calories is not something that comes naturally in our modern, temptation-filled, sedentary world today, it’s something you learn and earn through an education and conscious mastery process. Anything else and you’re just guessing, and if you guess right, I would call that luck.

BJS: How important is the macronutrient ratio in optimizing body composition?

Getting a proper balance of protein, carbs and fat is important, but there’s no single macronutrient ratio that’s best. There is nothing wrong with one ratio like 40-30-30, for example, which became very popular through a best-selling diet program. But any reasonably balanced nutrition plan that provides adequate protein, essential fats, fiber and micronutrients, and doesn’t tilt to such extremes that anything essential is pushed out, can be chosen based on personal preference.

I also have no problem setting up meal plans by sensible macronutrient ratios – it makes it easy for me to visualize and conceptualize my plate and food portions. If you use the macro ratio method though, you do have to be conscious that you are using relative figures and one ratio also won’t apply across hypo-, hyper- and iso-caloric meal plans. In a calorie deficit (hypo-caloric) it’s reasonable and prudent to hold protein constant if carb calories are reduced and therefore the ratio of protein goes up though the grams may stay the same.

I would focus especially on hitting the protein goal and checking your quota in grams relative to your body weight, goals and training status, based on the current evidence for optimal protein intakes.

BJS: From a training perspective, how often do you recommend varying the exercises performed?

Short answer: More often for advanced trainees, less often for beginners; more often for bodybuilders seeking hypertrophy and symmetry; less often for pure strength goals. But everyone benefits from exercise variation.

A lot of strength coaches say that your body adapts to the repetition range quicker than an exercise and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. For example, you’re likely to plateau after weeks of squatting sets of 5 or sets of 10 while progressing the weight linearly. But if you implement heavy and light days with different rep brackets, or even three rep brackets, and you vary the intensity of effort too, you’re likely to be able to milk that cycle on that one exercise longer and then continue to get the benefits of one superior exercise.

But with that said, there’s no one exercise that can completely develop every angle, every aspect of every muscle. This is especially important for bodybuilders. A lot of bodybuilders at the advanced level say they feel like they start adapting to an exercise in as little as 3-5 workouts. At the advanced level, I think it makes a lot of sense to change at least some, if not most, of your exercises monthly, sometimes even sooner, and when staying with the same exercise, working the different rep ranges with varying loads as mentioned above. It’s also worth mentioning that boredom is a program killer for a lot of people and mixing it up keeps things interesting.

BJS:Any supplements you feel are particularly worthwhile for muscle building and/or fat loss?

No doubt there are a small handful of supplements with evidence supporting their benefits, some measureable and noticeable. But I’ve never been a big advocate of supplements. Most of them don’t work at all and the few that do are usually terribly oversold, especially in the advertisements.

To be honest, I have a hard time understanding the insatiable desire people seem to have to “take something” considering that supplements are never the make you or break you factor – they’re more like the slight edge. Let me also say that there are very very very big bucks being made in this industry, so always factor that into your buying decisions. Demand strong evidence before buying anything and be extremely careful buying from a company you don’t know anything about. Better: Buy from well-established company you trust, with a human you can contact.

I’ve used creatine before with noticeable results, mainly in workout performance (strength increase), but it doesn’t bother me one bit to train without it. I would use it again and possibly other products if I were in a competitive situation.

I do like protein powder because I use it as food – or as a recipe ingredient. I stir it in my oatmeal, or I mix it with peanut butter and greek yogurt (you gotta try that with chocolate protein – it’s like dessert). And I also appreciate a good smoothie, tasty meal replacement or protein shake recipe, especially if my diet is restricted – It feels like a treat.

BJS: Finally, where can people read more about you and find your book?

My home base on the web right now is my blog – Burn the Fat Blog and our online community where I coach and support our members is Burn the Fat Inner Circle. You can find my on facebook/burnthefat and twitter/tomvenuto. The Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle book is now available in a hardcover and audio version on amazon, barnes and noble and everywhere else books are sold.


  1. Great interview – thanks guys! And I couldn’t agree more, Brad. Tom is one of the good guys in health and fitness.

    Comment by John Sifferman — December 4, 2013 @ 10:04 am

  2. Ah wow I don’t normally like interviews, but there were a ton of brilliant nuggets of information in here. Loved the section on somatotypes – very eloquently put.

    Comment by Shane — December 4, 2013 @ 10:56 am

  3. I bought the original in 2003 (didn’t realize it was so new!) and I’ll get the update based on that and Tom’s work since then. He always struck me as a class act who is returning as much to the field of fitness as anyone.
    If you don’t believe what he has to say, I’ve got some Noni/Acai Berry/Raspberry extract juice for sale!

    Comment by Jim Robinson — December 4, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

  4. Excellent interview gentlemen!!! Great questions, and excellent answers!

    Comment by Bret Contreras — December 4, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

  5. I found that paperback and hardcover have different formats, publisher, number of pages…is the content identical? Thanks.

    Comment by Ondrej — December 5, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

  6. […] Therefore, calories definitely count. That’s why I really liked this thought from Tom Venuto (read more in this awesome interview here). […]

    Pingback by To Count or Not Counting? | Scott Webb — December 5, 2013 @ 8:29 pm

  7. hi ondrej. The book is published by Random House, but in North America (usa and canada), its a hardcover and the content and i believe the page numbers too are 100% identical. In the United kingdom (random house london) that is a different division of the publishing company so they did their own thing and decided to do a paperback instead of a hardcover. I dont have a copy of that in my possession yet, however the content of that book should be identical, except for a few language nuances. Page numbers could be different if the book trim size is different. cheers, Tom v.

    Comment by Tom Venuto — December 5, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

  8. […] HERE Broenfeld conducted an excellent interview with Tom Venuto – a guy whom I highly respect. […]

    Pingback by Random Thoughts | Bret Contreras — December 6, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

  9. Great interview Tom. I have learned a lot from your responses and your book will be my Xmas gift.

    I have a question. I work as a mailman and walk a lot everyday (12-13K steps as per my pedometer). Am I doing too much cardio so that your diet techniques would not work?


    Comment by yuma — December 7, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

  10. Yuma thanks for your feedback. I dont think youre doing too much “cardio” and if its your job, that may be a moot question anyway if you have to keep doing it. But you may find that with your activity level, you might need very little additional cardio and you could get all the results you need from nutrition and weight training. Perhaps a couple sessions of intense cardio to really work your cardiovascular system would be a good complement to the low intensity walking, IF you need to add more cardio at all. Cheers, t.

    Comment by Tom Venuto — December 9, 2013 @ 8:17 am

  11. […] lisaksin paar head tsitaati Tom Venutolt (pärit siit […]

    Pingback by Tarkpea teeb trenni | Näljatundest, ainevahetusest, low-carb toitumisest ja rasvapõletamisest — December 12, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

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