Interview with Mr. America in the Santa Monica Daily Press

Special to the Santa Monica Daily Press

Jason Kozma is ‘Mr. America’

Santa Monica Daily Press

Jason Kozma is one of the rare people who realized his passion early in life and then capitalized on it. After building a successful business as a personal trainer, Kozma started building his physique. The hard work paid off — the 34-year-old was named “Mr. America” last month.

As a child growing up in Nashville, Tenn., Kozma was inspired by his older brother to pursue bodybuilding. “My brother was lifting weights, and everything he did I had to do,” he said. “So we built a gym in the basement and started working out down there.”

This year’s Mr. America contest was held on Oct. 23 in Santa Clara, Calif. Last year was the first year that the contest had regained status after several years of relative obscurity. Once considered the Oscars of bodybuilding, the contest dates back to the 1930s. A loss of sponsorship was responsible for the lull. But the 80 competitors in this year’s show was a significant jump from last year’s 30, and it looks to be on the rise again.

Kozma became interested in bodybuilding at age 12 when his brother competed in his first show. At 16 years old, he entered his first competition, going on to win the novice and teenage divisions at the Tennessee state level.

Soon, college life overtook his competition schedule as he worked to finish his degree in business administration at Tennessee Middle State University. It was 12 years before Kozma would compete in a bodybuilding competition again.

Interview with Mr. America Jason Kozma

“I was going to college, I was busy with life,” he said. “I was trying to get my life and career together and stuff like that. Bodybuilding is not a cheap sport to do. The food’s expensive, and you need time to train.”

Interview with Mr. AmericaThe life of a successful bodybuilder is characterized by inviolable self-discipline. Every morsel of food is analyzed for fat, carbohydrate, protein and calorie content.

“Before a contest is when you’re dieting to increase definition for a bodybuilding competition,” Kozma said. “You’re trying to lose as much body fat as possible while retaining as much muscle mass as possible. Ideally, a pre-contest diet is between eight and 16 weeks. Anything more gets to be too long, and you lose too much muscle.”

Kozma lifts weights six days a week, whether he is training for a competition or not. Off season, Kozma eats between 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. Prior to a contest, he cuts back to 2,500 to 3,000 calories, and reduces his fat intake drastically.

Going into the Mr. America contest, Kozma’s body-fat content was 1.8 percent.

“That’s an incredibly unhealthy amount of body fat,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to be walking around like that for long … your organs would probably fail.” But becoming a personal trainer was still an integral part of Kozma’s plan. It would allow him to perfect the art of physical fitness while helping other people attain their fitness goals.

Determined to pursue his dreams, Kozma left for California at 22 years old, soon after earning his degree. “I came to California because it’s the only place where you can be a professional trainer and you don’t have to be anything else,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a part-time trainer. I always wanted to be a trainer. This is my dream job.”

Kozma employs five trainers to help train nearly 20 people a day during his busy seasons. Firmly confident in his talents, Kozma insists that no client is a challenge to train. “I know how to teach,” he said. “I used to teach karate for years, so I’m a good teacher. I mean, if somebody doesn’t do as I say, that’s not my fault. I don’t get frustrated about it. I’ve been doing it long enough where I can be choosy about my clients.”

Kozma spoke to the Daily Press about what led him to his Mr. America victory and about his life as a personal trainer.

After being off for 12 years, what made you enter this contest?

“Between this year and last year I became aware that they were holding the show again. Because as far as I knew it was still on hiatus. And I found out it was in California. So I said ‘I’m going to do that show.’ It’s a highly coveted title.”

What got you back into bodybuilding?

“My personal training career was doing really well — well enough to where I didn’t really need to push it. It was sustaining itself. I didn’t really have to worry about income, so I could focus on the next level. I was training with this trainer over at Gold’s, and I started seeing a lot of improvements, and I got my physique back. I only started competing again when I thought I could win. Because I was bouncing the idea around for a few years, but I said I wasn’t going to get back on the stage until I was confident I could win. I don’t just compete to compete. I compete to win. Some people do it just for the thrill of competition.”

What was your training regimen like leading up to the Mr. America contest?

“My training regimen is the same year-round as far as weight training. It doesn’t change. Off season, I lift weights an hour a day, a half an hour of cardio. And precontest, I lift weights for an hour to an hour and a half and an hour and a half of cardio. “Pre-contest, I cut my calories down. I actually went through two dieting phases because I did some shows earlier in the year as well, then I took a month off. And then I did it again, so I did two four-month diets. That wasn’t the best for my physique, but I still pulled a win out.”

How strong are you?

“I bench 455, and I leg press 1,600 for four reps. I’ve done squats with about 650 for four reps. It’s not a factor in the contest, but the more weight you lift, the bigger your muscles get. You won’t find any bodybuilders who can’t lift heavy weights.”

What do judges look for?

“It’s strictly visual. They look for primarily size and symmetry, which is equal development right and left, and proportion, which is the size of each muscle in relation to the other one. Shape and proportion.”

What possesses you to do this?

“I do it because I love it, and I’m good at it. And because it gives me something to train for, a goal to strive for, which is why I started doing it again.

Did you know you wanted to be a personal trainer and a bodybuilder since you were a kid?

“I never have been able to imagine myself wearing a suit and going to an office. There is quite a sense of accomplishment seeing people change. It feels great. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it.”

If you didn’t do this, what else would you do?

“I have no idea what I would do. There’s no such thing as ‘what if.’ ‘What if’ doesn’t exist. That’s part of my Zen philosophy.”

Since your life is so regimented, do you ever just eat whatever you want?

“No, there’s always a voice in the back of my head. Like, for instance, I can’t eat fettuccini alfredo because I’m like, where’s the protein? And it’s all fat. It does limit the foods that I allow myself to eat. Sometimes I think, ahh maybe I’ll go splurge, but then when I go someplace and I’m looking at the menu, I’m looking for the item with the highest amount of protein and the lowest carbs and fat. I just automatically do that. Because if I eat the crap that doesn’t fit my criteria, then I feel bad about it. I’ve been like that ever since I started competing because that’s when I really started to learn about diet. And I became aware that it made a difference.

“Here’s a quote for you: Most people don’t believe that what they eat affects the way that they look and how they feel. They don’t believe that it’s true. They know it’s true, they hear the words, but they don’t really believe that it’s true. So they don’t change their behaviors. That’s why people will come into the gym, work out everyday for four hours and don’t lose any weight, don’t look any better, don’t change their bodies at all. That’s because they don’t believe that the food they eat affects the way they look and feel.”

How do you know what to do with each client?

“I do what they need. I train them the way they need to be trained. And I know pretty much every way that you can do strength training and weight training. I don’t have to study in my free time to do it. It’s all in my frontal lobe. I train them three days a week, I have them do cardio for six days a week, and I have them go on a diet that I create for them … I start them on the real thing right away because they need to get results. People lose motivation if they don’t get results quickly. “It’s a lifestyle change. For a successful change in body composition, you have to change your lifestyle. And some people, regardless of what you tell them, they think it’s a temporary project. I’m going to do this for eight weeks and then … but their lifestyle is incompatible with having a great body.

When someone calls me and says, ‘I’m thinking of getting a trainer,’ I say, ‘When you’re done thinking about it and you want to do it, then give me a call.’ So I don’t do any selling. I don’t convince anybody to do it. “Anybody physically can have a great body. It’s not genetic. It’s 95 percent behavior and 5 percent genetics. Even morbidly overweight people will say, ‘Well the whole family is like this.’ I say it’s because you all have the same behaviors, not because you’re supposed to look that way. Some people have faster metabolisms than others, but that can be adjusted somewhat with certain foods and exercise and by eating the right foods at the right times. Weight training speeds up your metabolism. “It’s really a science when you’re learning it, but at my level it’s an art.”

Do you ever binge eat or drink?

“Yes, I love pizza. Drinking, pre-contest I don’t, but off season very occasionally. I’m pretty structured. Club hopping and stuff like that — that is not what bodybuilders do. I don’t get hammered every night.”

What was the night before the contest like?

“When I was first coming back to do the shows I was very nervous. I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. But this year I was much more relaxed, so I could sleep eight to 10 the night before. I’m not up late at all. I don’t worry about it. Especially for the Mr. America, I was very relaxed, very confident.”

That’s surprising since it’s your first competition at that level.

“Yeah, at that level, but I don’t get nervous about the level of the competition. You go, and you do it. Once you’re there, the people that are there are there, and you look the way you look, and you can’t change anything at that point.”

What could go wrong in the final days before a contest?

“You could eat too many carbs. You could accidentally consume sodium and retain water. You have to manipulate your diet pretty severely in the last few days before a competition in order to get all of the water retention off so you look more cut. So miscalculations with sodium or carbs can really screw you up. You see some guys get nervous, and then they lose confidence in their plan, and then they deviate from their plan, and that’s usually where they screw up.”

How are you different from other trainers?

“Everybody’s got a different philosophy. A lot of trainers will go with what they’ve read in the magazines, or go with the latest crazes. I don’t do any fads. All of my methods are tried and true and proven methods that get results. The current fad is functional training where you’ll see someone moving multiple limbs in multiple directions, like lunging while twisting, and stuff like that. I stick with the standard weight training you see in the gym — bench presses, squats, rows, curls… “That’s my opinion, but my opinion is an educated opinion. A person gets a trainer because they want to look better, not because they want to function better. Just by lifting weights, doing a normal, standard weight-training routine, people’s bodies will function better, and they’ll be able to move better anyway.”

What would you generally tell people about working out every week?

“Three days of weight training, then what they do for cardio is totally dependent on what they’re trying to do. If they’re trying to lose weight, they should do cardio probably six days a week for one hour. A half hour just to maintain their present condition. Three days of cardio a week will not produce sufficient results, or it will only produce short-term results. That’s not enough work … resistance training I usually recommend three days a week. “It is a lot easier to maintain the great body than to achieve it. It takes way more work to lose weight than to keep it off. And most of the routines that you read in the magazines are maintenance routines because they don’t want to scare people off. So they give you a work-out that consists of what, three exercises, 20 minutes of cardio, and then some ridiculous diet with cottage cheese and crackers.”

What kind of cardio do you do?

“I do the elliptical or walk on the treadmill or stationary bike. I never run. Running destroys muscle tissue faster than it burns fat. Running is very hard on your body. Bodybuilders never run. You burn more calories running but not fat. So you’re burning carbs and protein. It depends on what your goal is.”

What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in Santa Monica?

“The ocean is my favorite, and my least favorite is the fact that there are too many people. That’s just the way it is. I chose to live here because it’s the most pleasant place to live. The rest of Los Angeles is dog meat. Venice is a sty filled with drug addicts and criminals. The Marina is nice but too urban. You’ve got neighborhoods here. Trees, the beach, it’s walkable. And it’s accessible. You can get into town pretty quickly. Malibu is also next to the water, but it’s very far from downtown. I came out here and was driving around, and I found Santa Monica. I said, ‘This is nice.’”

Jason Kozma

From: Nashville, Tenn.

Age: 32.

Hobbies: Going to the movies, spending time with his girlfriend, Laurie Binder, an acupuncturist at

Education: Degree in business administration, Tennessee Middle State University. Certified personal trainer and nutritionist.

Web site: (update:

Residence: Santa Monica.

Gyms: Easton Gym, Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Gold’s Gym, Venice. (update: Life Gym Brentwood, Coast Fitness Hawthorne)


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