Cardio and Muscle Building

Yesterday, fitness and nutrition expert Tom Venuto shared his thoughts about the fat loss benefits of combining strength training with a little cardio.

Today, the expert gives us his views on cardio and muscle building along with a few of his final tips.


Craig Ballantyne: Do you ever have some individuals that just don’t lose fat even though they are doing “everything right”? What do you do in these special cases?

Tom Venuto: Very rarely. If someone is honestly “doing everything right,” then they get results. However, I’ve worked with people who got results very slowly. If someone was journaling their training and nutrition and I knew they were honestly doing everything right and getting poor results, I might refer them to a physician or health professional for some testing, but I usually look closely at a few factors first.

What I’ve discovered over the years is that there are big differences in how people respond to various diets due to their metabolic type or somatotype. Somatotype generally refers to the physical body structure; ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph. Metabolic type refers more to how efficiently an individual metabolizes proteins, carbohydrates, fats and specific food types. Prescriptions by macronutrient ratio are often given according to metabolic type. I think there is value in metabolic typing if someone is stuck on the standard “conventional” fat loss diet, but I find some of the metabolic typing systems and questionnaires overly complicated and unnecessary.

In terms of metabolic typing, the single most important distinction you can make is simply a person’s response to concentrated carbohydrates. Some people handle a diet of 50-60% carbs perfectly, while a small handful seem to only respond to getting rid of the grains and starches, (and sometimes even limiting fruits). That leaves lean proteins, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, all types of vegetables and some fruits. The amount of starch/grain the person can handle is the X factor. That’s the factor I would test and manipulate if someone is on a diet such as 50-55% carb, 25-30% protein, 20% fat, doing everything right and nothing is happening. You can do it without complicated lab tests or long questionnaires – it just takes a little trial and error playing with your “X factor.”

If you asked me 12 or 15 years ago, I would have been the guilty one saying, “Never eat a low carb diet.” Today I’ve experienced first hand that carbs must be manipulated for some people to really get results. Over time as the person gets leaner and increases lean body mass, I find that the tolerance to carbs increases so that more carbs can be included during maintenance.

Another thing I do when someone isn’t losing fat is that instead of just looking at what they’re doing now, I like to know what they’ve been eating and how they’ve been training over the past three to six months. If someone has been chronically dieting and chronically overtraining for many months, sometimes the best thing they can do is take a layoff, or eat more!

More often than not, the client will be resistant to both ideas. If you give them some hard data, it’s not hard to persuade them. There are reams and reams of research on the effect of very low calorie dieting on metabolism, hormones and body composition. When I explain the consequences of prolonged very low calorie dieting, they’re more likely to listen than if I say do it just because I said so.

Show any man a study proving that extremely low calorie diets lower Testosterone, and you get their attention quickly. Many of the strategies that are most effective for fat loss are counter intuitive to what the average person believes. People are sometimes hard to change, but it’s a matter of educating people.

Craig Ballantyne: Another area of debate is the use of cardio during muscle-building programs. What’s your opinion of doing traditional cardio training when a client is trying to build as much muscle as possible?

Tom Venuto: Cardio should be kept to an absolute minimum on muscle building programs. In some cases it can be dropped completely. I prefer to keep three days a week for 20 minutes year round. I like the way it makes me feel and I believe it helps me stay leaner while gaining muscle without interfering with my gains.

When the fat loss season arrives, there is a progressive and gradual increase in cardio frequency, duration and intensity. I don’t recommend high volume cardio year round. It’s too easy to adapt to high volume cardio. Cardio should be periodized just like strength training.

People who are strongly opposed to aerobics often like to use aerobics instructors as the example of why “cardio sucks.” “Why did a survey reveal that the average aerobics instructor has twenty-something percent body fat? Why aren’t they leaner?” The answer is because they don’t periodize their cardio like bodybuilders do. Lay off the cardio when you want to gain muscle. Gradually increase and build to a peak when you want to get ripped. Your body will be more responsive this way when you do add in the cardio.

Craig Ballantyne: What levels of cardio do you recommend for general health purposes? Can you have good health without cardio?

Tom Venuto: You can definitely have great health without cardio. Even the medical and scientific communities agree on this now. In 1990 the American College of Sports Medicine revised their position stand on the recommended quantity and quality of exercise to include strength training. Today other organizations have finally followed and publicly recognize the health benefits of strength training.

We know that lifelong health and permanent fat loss can only be achieved if a client will adopt exercise as a lifestyle and stick to it. If a client won’t stick to a program he or she isn’t going to get lasting results. So when you make a recommendation you have to consider what your client’s preferences are.

If you have a client who hates weight training, well, I’d still persuade them to include a few brief strength workouts every week and explain in excruciating detail why they need it. But if they love being outdoors cycling, walking, hiking, rollerblading, I would also factor those personal preferences into their program. I teach my clients that when it comes to your health, all exercise counts and I encourage them to simply be more active in general.

Craig Ballantyne: Any final words, tips, or hints to help our readers lose fat?

Tom Venuto: Be flexible. Customize. Know your body type. Test and experiment with various methods and make up your own mind. Let your results dictate your approach. Don’t try to avoid risks, manage them. And work your butt off; there’s still no real “secrets” or “breakthroughs” – nothing works like hard work.