How did you start bodybuilding?
I was a long distance runner in high school and college and after I was done with being as skinny as possible to be the best runner possible; being the extremist I am at heart, I decided to go in the other direction. I wanted to see how much muscle I could add to my body and the science of eating, supplementing and training fascinated me.
Did your background and education in medicine (3 years Med School) give you a more methodical and scientific approach to bodybuilding than most of us would have had?
It absolutely gave me an edge because I understood the science of how the body worked. Add to that a crazy, cannot fail, work ethic and that’s the recipe to add muscle at the maximum rate. I loved the process too which ensured that I didn’t “give up” before realizing the goal which was to look like a real bodybuilder, rather than a rock climber.
Few have ever made such an astonishing transformation as you were able to with your body. Do you feel you were exceptionally responsive to training and other factors compared to others, or was it an exceptional level of commitment and drive that took you from 150 to 300 pounds in just a few short years (explain the 10 daily meals, no alcohol ever, etc)?
I had an insane metabolism from 5 years of running 10 miles per day and I found out quickly that I could eat insane amounts of food and not get sloppy fat. The more protein I consumed, the more I seemed to grow with no tapering off. Training, however, took a little longer to master. I found out through trial and error that less was more.
With my fast metabolism, heavy weights, full range of motion, and days off (something I never do when I was a runner) were the key to making optimal gains. When you maximize your training, eating, and recovery, you grow at an astounding rate. I also never missed a meal or a workout or an opportunity to be the best I could be. I didn’t drink or go out and party. I lived the “bodybuilding lifestyle” about as perfectly as you can do it.
You were one of the most massive men to ever stand on a stage, yet you were never able to earn your Pro card. Do you ever wish you had, or wish you had come along later when pro cards were being given out so much more plentifully?
Back in the 90s and early 2000s earning an IFBB Pro card was a special privilege; it was a badge of honor because it was so hard to win one. The bodybuilding community knew every single pro out there because there were so few. Not winning my pro card was disappointing at the time, but it turned out to exactly what the Universe had planned for me.
By not winning, it made me more popular with the fans, promoters and supplement company owners. I probably made more money as an amateur than a lot of IFBB Pros at the time. So in retrospect, I got exactly what I needed to be a successful bodybuilder who was able to earn a living doing what he loved to do. Had I turned pro I would have just been another run-of-the-mill pro.
What was your favorite part of being a lean 300 pounds, and in what way or ways was it not so fun?
I loved the attention I got when I walked around in public; whether it be the shopping mall, the supermarket or a big bodybuilding competition. But tying my shoes and walking flights of steps was challenging at 315lb.
When did you decide it was time to stop competing, and what drive that decision?
I jokingly said to my friends, shoot me if I’m still competing at 40. I also promised myself that I would stop competing when I couldn’t be better than the year before. By 2004, my shoulder joint pain was really impacting my ability to train properly and to pose onstage so I said “That’s it, I’m done”. And once I make a decision, that’s it, I stick to it. I stopped competing at 34.
A lot of men of your generation believe the ’80s & ’90s were the pinnacle of our sport. Do you agree or not?
I think the talent pool expanded at an incredible rate in the 90s because more people came into the sport, training techniques improved and growth hormone hit the market. The physiques today are bigger and more impressive in a lot of ways; however, the 90s did have an incredible gene pool of competitors and that’s why people say the 90s was the best era in bodybuilding.
How were you able to psychologically deal with downsizing after being freakishly huge for so long?
Once I made the decision to stop competing, I created a new image of myself in my mind and I relentlessly pursued that new image. I had already proved I could be the biggest and hardest guy out there. Now I wanted to create something more enduring, a more streamlined look, perfect health markers, and, ultimately, my own supplement company.
You have been quite successful in business. Can you talk about Species Nutrition, RX Muscle, your coaching, and reptile breeding businesses? In what order did you start them, and how do you balance your time and energy between them all?
I started Rx Muscle as a print magazine in 2001; then I started working for Muscular Development magazine full time for 3 years (I started their website and ran it as the editor-in-chief). Species Nutrition was started up in my last year at MD (2008). When I left MD in 2009, I re-started Rx Muscle as a media website using all the knowledge and experience, I gained over the years with them. At that time I also re-focused my efforts on Species Nutrition and started coming out with all the innovative products I wished were around when I was competing.
More recently, in 2015 I started my reptile breeding business; Palumbo’s Pythons & Boas. I credit my wife Amanda as being the “Yin to my Yang”. Without her running the operations of all our companies—Species Nutrition, Rx Muscle, Dave Palumbo Enterprises, and Palumbo’s Pythons & Boas, I would have failed at everything because there are only so many hours in a day. Now with 3 children, we are really testing out the limits of what’s humanly possible.
You have 3 children now. How has being a dad changed your day-to-day life, and how has it changed you as a man?
Now I live my life for my kids; not my own selfish desires. That’s a huge change for a selfish bodybuilder. It’s also made me understand that my kids needs come first even if it means getting 4 hours of sleep a night.
Your recent health scare with thyroid cancer must have been frightening. Did the experience teach you anything or put things into a different perspective?
I learned that we really have very little “control” over life. I try to eat perfectly, work out, stay fit, and take every nutritional supplement that I should; yet the Universe has its own plans for us. I kind of intuitively knew that truth even before getting the cancer diagnosis. So rather than panic and stress and live in fear and anxiety, I stay focused on my passions and thoughts of health and well being and embrace every day that I’m alive in this mortal body.