March 1st, 2013

Eat More, Burn More: The Physique Athlete’s Method To Maximum Fat Loss

Physique athletes (bodybuilding, fitness, fitness model, figure and bikini competitors) eat and train differently. In fact, a lot of what they do to develop the leanest, most muscular, most aesthetically pleasing bodies in the world is the exact opposite of how most people do it.  For more than 20 years (more than 10 years online), I’ve been teaching men and women the physique athlete (bodybuilder’s) method to fat loss. I often sum it up as “eat more, burn more.”  The “burn more” part includes cardio, and in today’s post, I take a reader question that clears up the misconceptions about the role of cardio, what this philosophy means and how it’s possible that you can eat more and get leaner and more muscular doing it…

QUESTION: Hi Tom. I know nutrition is “element #1” in your Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle philosophy, but I plan on doing a lot of cardio because for this year’s Burn The Fat challenge, I’m in it to win it and I want the maximum results possible. That got me wondering, did you develop your philosophy of more cardio and less calorie cutting over the years from trial and error? Were you doing that right from your early days, or did you start out just cutting fat with the diet alone? I still hear people debate about how much cardio you should do and others debate that you don’t need cardio at all and I was just wondering how you came to your recommendations. Thanks!  Chris.

The Figure Athlete Body

The Figure Athlete Body

ANSWER: No doubt about it – nutrition is #1, so your food quality and quantity has got to be on point. Exercising more is a poor crutch for a lousy diet or ignorance of calorie math.  Adding cardio on top of a good nutrition plan simply makes fat loss so much easier and faster.

You can’t, however, give a cookie-cutter prescription to everyone, only suggested guidelines for a starting point and instructions on how to adjust mode, duration, frequency and intensity to break plateaus (we call that “dialing it in.”)

Just like nutrition, there’s no “one size fits all” plan. The amount of cardio may be different for everyone. It can go up or down during a peaking phase, and naturally, it goes way down for strength and hypertrophy phases.

If you stay leaner in the off season and/or increase the length of your cutting phase (start prep sooner), you can easily reduce the amount of cardio you need that way as well, so there’s no single specific amount you “must” do to get cut.

In fact, those people who say cardio is not necessary to burn fat are correct.  What’s necessary is a caloric deficit  – and that can be achieved with food reduction alone.

But adding cardio makes it easier to hit a larger calorie deficit than just cutting food alone, and it gives you infinitely more power in accelerating your rate of fat loss, breaking plateaus and “dialing in” for a contest or photo shoot peak. You also get some nice health and  conditioning benefits too.

Cardio – The Way I Do It

I’ve experimented with very strict diet and little or no cardio, but through trial and error, I discovered that my body responds much better and much faster to less aggressive calorie restriction with more cardio than calorie restriction alone. Most people in the “endomorph” body type category find the same thing.

My volume of cardio varies. I increase or decrease based on my body comp results each week. When I’m training for muscle mass, my cardio is very minimal – about  3 times per week, for health, conditioning and to help keep body fat in check while gaining lean mass.

During pre-contest training, I’ve written about how I usually build up to daily cardio and on occasion, for short periods, even some double cardio sessions (depending on my condition and time remaining to deadline).  Some people, therefore, seemed to think I’m some kind of cardio fiend. That couldn’t be further from the truth… As a bodybuilder, I’m a PHYSIQUE athlete, not an endurance athlete.

Over-doing cardio can cause interference effects in training response for power, strength and physique (with the effects impacting results in that order). But to maximize fat loss and reach peak condition, cardio is helpful and doing more is sometimes a necessary evil.

My philosophy is simple: you approach a body transformation goal with two types of training – weight training and cardio training. Weight training is the top priority. I then add as much cardio as I need, but as little as I can get away with.

Training (weights + cardio)  is the BURN part of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle. We are NOT dieters, we are athletes. We BURN the fat, we don’t STARVE it. And don’t forget, weight training burns a LOT of calories too.

The main point in my “burn more” philosophy is not that you must do tons of cardio, it’s that training more –  resistance training and cardio training combined – will produce faster fat loss and a vastly superior body than not training at all and just cutting calories.

Unfortunately, that’s what the whole mainstream weight loss world is still doing – just dieting.

The Wrong Way: Eat Less, Burn Nothing

I’ve worked extensively with two different groups of people – the bodybuilders / physique athletes and the weight loss mass market. The readers of my newsletter and members of my inner circle are very smart and resistance training savvy, but out in the mainstream, the method that is still pushed today to lose weight is: “go on a diet” or just cut calories. It’s a horrible approach.

This is why you always hear fitness pros say “diets don’t work” and they’re right in the sense that diet can only give you weight loss but not necessarily a better body. Even with a perfect diet, what kind of body do you think you could possibly develop with no training??? That’s why I have to chuckle when people say, “It’s 80% nutrition!” No, its 100% nutrition and 100% training!

With the”just cut calories” approach, you lose weight, but the composition of the weight lost is not good, and even if you  manage not to lose lean mass, when it’s over, your body does not look athletic, it looks soft… mushy.   You may look better IN clothes than before, but when the clothes come OFF you can see that all you did was lose weight, you didn’t transform your body.

The “eat more burn more” approach doesn’t necessarily mean trying to see how far up you can push your energy flux for no reason, it’s simply saying that the masses of dieters are doing it wrong just by dieting.

transform your body
The Right Way to Burn Fat And Transform Your Body: Put All The Elements Together

It’s the mix of 4 elements: that produces your BEST BODY – not just weight loss, but body composition transformation:

1. Nutrition

2. Weight Training

3. Cardio Training

4. Mental Training

If you add a 5th element – support/ accountability– then your success rate will skyrocket because that’s what helps you stick with the nutrition and training.

The nutrition always has to be there at the top of the hierarchy. The weight training always must be a constant too. Cardio is the variable. People who know how to use cardio and properly manipulate that variable will always have more control over their body composition than people who don’t.

Tom Venuto,
Author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle
Author of The Body Fat Solution
Founder & CEO, Burn the Fat Inner Circle

PS If you’re curious to know more about the trial and error process I went through in the early days to figure out my body type and how cardio helped me get six pack abs for the first time, I tell the (somewhat comical) story here:

About Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, fitness writer and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of Bodybuilders and Fitness Models (e-book) and the national bestseller, The Body Fat Solution, which was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Oprah Magazine, Muscle and Fitness Magazine, Ironman Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine, as well as on dozens of radio shows including Sirius Satellite Radio, ESPN-1250 and WCBS. Tom is also the founder and CEO of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community for inspiration and transformation

Photo credit: Copyright Jesse Spezza for

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16 Responses to “Eat More, Burn More: The Physique Athlete’s Method To Maximum Fat Loss”

  • Karina Cerda


  • Eddie Rozentul

    Hi Tom,
    Thank you, You’re a big inspiration to me, and most of my training and nutrition plan I based on your tips and THE book. Question Do you suggest to do your cardio before or after weight training, or it should be done at separate session?
    Thank you,

    • Tom Venuto

      hi eddie thanks. most important is that you simply get it done, so we could easily argue the best time to do it is when you are most likely to do it consistently in your schedule without missing. Second consideration is when you will have the most energy. So in a perfect world we could argue splitting up in two sessions on that ground because you will be fresh and not fatigued from lifting. For many though, 2 separate sessions is not practical (as per point 1), so doing cardio right after weights makes sense. I DONT recommend cardio before weights, if the cardio is intense at all, it usually will compromise your lifting performance. Cheers! Tom.

  • Hi Tom

    Reading your post – I’m nearly on the right track as I need to put in weight training number 2 and not number 3.

    I agree the amount of info I see about diets and little focus on nutrition is crazy. Pills, Supplements, just lowering calories is mad

    I have found that the mental training part is also very high priority. If we were computers and not humans we could lose fat easily. Just program our bodies and only eat nutrition and off we go. However we are more complex than that

    great post


  • Eddie Rozentul

    Thank you , Tom. Just one more point if you can clarify; if a fat loos is a goal, cardio training should be intense or moderate?
    Thank you again, You’re the best.

    • Tom Venuto

      eddie, cardio can be all levels of intensity. high intensity cardio like intervals is very effective and time efficient so a top choice when time is limited or you simply want the most results in the least time. The only problem there is when doing intense cardio concurrently with intense weight training there is the possibility of overtraining especially in the legs (cardio is using legs). so a good strategy is do some intense cardio for max results, but limit the intense cardio sessions to about 3 a week. If you want to do more cardio than that, to try to accelerate fat loss even more, go ahead, but for the 4th, 5th, 6th, etc session, make those sessions moderate or even light (like walking). you’ll burn even more calories and your body can easily recover from that. So a great MAXIMUM fat loss program could be 3-4 weight sessions a week, 3 intense cardio sessions, 3 moderate to light cardio sessions. Of course adjust based on results. if the fat is dropping off with 3 cardios a week theres no need to do more and its up to you how much you want to manipulate the food intake side as well. bring down food a little, bring up cardio a little – both can increase deficit and increase fat loss

  • Hi Tom

    Great advice as always. My plan and what I recommend to others is first focus on your diet and the weight with minimal cardio. I find you can get pretty lean doing this and you have much better looking results. I then just add in extra cardio when results start to slow or stop and just keep track of progress.

    The scenario I come across time and time again especially with women is too little food and too much cardio and an obsession with the number on the scales without actually focusing on what is happening to their bodies.



    • Tom Venuto

      Thanks howard – I think you have the right order of priority: 1. nutrition, 2. resistance training, 3. cardio training. nutrition and resistance training is the baseline and non-compromisable. cardio is the variable. some folks get by with less cardio… but some folks do need more cardio than others… ie “the endomorph”. You can also SPEED UP results adding cardio.

      I talked about the too little food and too much cardio problem, specifically, here:

  • Great post Tom!

    To achieve that ultimate physique, you MUST have a combination of nutrition and training. It’s about working hard and SMART. People often forget the “smart” part.

    I’ve lost 24 pounds in 11 weeks by training hard at the gym and being smart about my nutrition.

  • Greg

    Hi Tom, my friends in the UK have a slogan that does just what you advise against, “Eat less move more”. Of course the obvious first step is to eat less and put off the move more thus I prefer the amended version which is closer to what you advise, “Eat better move more”.

    Like the 4/5 step ladder of fitness and hooray for finally putting the god of cardio in its box, seen far too many obese people running after following the TV experts advise that this form of exercise is the only one that works.

  • Hi tom, I agree definitely with your prescriptions. Hi dedivated my life to physical activity, and I can confirm: a regular activity enriched with a rigth dose of cardio is the key to achieve nice body. I don’t find correct to associate the weight loss just with eating less! Good work! Cheers, D.

  • Kim

    ok cardio crdio cardio

  • Lyn

    I am trying to do an alternate of cardio and weight training. It is hard especially if you are doing it regularly. After some time, it gets really challenging so like you said, discipline and mental training is very important. You cannot maintain and further improve your physique if you don’t have a balance of all of these.

  • Ian

    I strongly believe that burning fat comes from doing physical activity first, this will have two good effects! First of all when the trainee is in pain it will sink in to there mind that if the dont want to be in the same type of pain for the next work out then they will prepare themselves.
    By eating right and doing some exercise at home and what not.
    Secondly the workout itself will benefit them by growing there muscles and conditioning themselves! I hope People like my advice! Have a good day

  • Great advice as per the norm. I am forever telling my friends that when you eat clean and exercise (even for 20-30 minutes a day) you will find yourself in great shape in no time. I believe that most people struggle with eating clean and even though they may exercise they don’t see any results due to the bad diet so they get fed up and ultimately give up. Keep up the great work!

  • Hi Tom:
    This is great information. I particularly liked your statement…

    “Training (weights + cardio) is the BURN part of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle. We are NOT dieters, we are athletes. We BURN the fat, we don’t STARVE it.”

    Most folks think that “burn the fat” is just an expression. However, it is a real process.

    Your explanation/clarification regarding the necessary balance required between cardio and weight training is just what I needed. Thanks.

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