Episode 97: Dr. Layne Norton – The Science Of Eating For Health, Fat Loss & Lean Muscle (Full Version) | Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • Food has to be broken down and systematically put into forms the body can use for energy
  • Exercise is the hack – “Exercise is the only thing you can do to actually improve your biomarkers of health without even losing weight.” – Dr. Layne Norton
  • Creating a new identity: people don’t just eat because they’re hungry – there are major social and psychological elements to eating that need to be addressed when becoming healthier; in extremes, you may need a new community
  • The best diet is the one you can stick to forever – pick the form of restriction that feels least restrictive to you – this could be time-restricted or calorie restricted
  • What we know about gut health: (1) more diversity is better; (2) soluble fiber is positive and acts as a prebiotic; (3) prebiotics work better than probiotics; (4) some evidence that saturated fat is not good for microbiota (this theory is in its infancy); (5) exercise
  • Protein is the biggest lever you can pull for lean body mass – try making small changes to increase protein to existing meals and reach your daily goal (~1.6g-2.6g/kg body weight)
  • Don’t fall into the trap of looking at an acute response to something and assuming that is what the long-term outcome will be – anything is bad for you in the wrong dose
  • It’s possible to hit protein targets using plant protein sources but most are packaged in carbohydrates and/or fat so may be difficult to maintain calories and macros
  • It’s no mystery – the obesity epidemic is a result of increased caloric intake and reduced physical activity
  • Focus less on sugar and more on fiber: sugar doesn’t have any positive health benefits but if you’re controlling calories and maintaining fiber intake you will likely achieve balance – don’t go wild on sugar but don’t focus on restriction because you’ll likely end up binging
  • The more adipose tissue you have, the more aggressively you can diet without consequences to lean mass or health because the body doesn’t need to metabolize lean tissue
  • “If you do what’s easy in the short term, your life will be hard; if you do what’s hard in the short term, your life will get easier.” – Dr. Layne Norton
  • Bottom line on seed oils: you’re better off monitoring oil intake from a caloric standpoint but there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to demonize seed oil
  • Tip: keep saturated fats within 7-10% of daily caloric intake
  • There’s no hack for doing hard things! You can’t out-supplement hard training and eating well – enjoy the process


Layne Norton, Ph.D. (@BioLayne), is a physique coach and natural professional bodybuilder and powerlifter. He holds a Ph.D. in Nutrition Science and is a world-renowned expert on fat loss and maintaining muscle while losing fat.

In this episode, Andrew Huberman & Layne Norton discuss the science of energy utilization and balance, the efficacy of different diets, and how best to build lean muscle mass and lose fat. This is the full episode covered in its entirety, exclusive members-only content!

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Book: Fat Loss Forever by Layne Norton, Ph.D.

Energy Balance & Utilization

  • A calorie is energy stored in the chemical bonds of food – it’s literally a measurement of energy
    • All calories are created equal, it’s just a unit of measurement – but all sources of calories are not equal
  • Scientifically, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to increase the degree of water by one degree Celsius
  • Metabolism is trying to capture the metabolizable energy in food
  • ATP is your body’s energy currency – a lot of metabolism is creating ATP
  • Carbohydrates (other than fructose) are converted into glucose and enter glycolysis
  • Protein gets converted into amino acids which can be used for muscle synthesis or can get converted into glucose via gluconeogenesis
  • Fatty acids create energy through beta-oxidation
  • Energy balance: calories in versus calories out (the calories consumed versus calories burned)
  • Food labels can have up to a 20% error rate – “calories in” might be harder actually to track than expected
  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is about 50-75% of energy people expend per day – calories burned during the day without exercise or doing anything – AKA, the cost of keeping the lights on
    • Your metabolic rate is closely related to oxygen consumption
    • A highly trained person can get to 20 cal/minute burned
  • Thermic effect of food (TEF) 5-10% of daily energy expenditure
  • Ranking TEF: Fats have the lowest, carbs have moderate, and protein has the highest (but this doesn’t mean you should just eat more protein and count on burning more calories)
  • For most people, the biggest component of physical activity is non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) – fidgeting, spontaneous physical activity
  • NEAT: not purposeful movement – think, waving hands, tapping foot, shifting weight from one side to the other; NEAT is not something you consciously modify or try to do
    • The calories burned from NEAT can actually be significant, up to 100s per day

Exercise & Weight Management

  • Day-to-day changes in weight are much more dictated by fluid shifts than they are changes in adipose – this tends to be the reason most people quit their regimen
  • Wrist fitness trackers notoriously overestimate the calories burned from exercise
  • Calorie trackers are not accurate but you can use them for comparison: if you burned 1200 calories in an exercise one day and then 1600 the next, you can assume you burned more even if the exact numbers are incorrect
  • Exercise actually has a mild appetite suppressant effects – people rarely compensate for the calories burned during exercise
  • Exercise increases satiety signals: most people (70%) who lose weight and keep it off exercise regularly
  • Sedentary people eat more than lightly active and moderately active people
  • The power of belief is strong! If you believe something works, it is more likely to
  • Spontaneous activity (NEAT) fluctuates depending on exercise intensity and can impact the total calories out
  • 6 out of 7 obese people lose significant weight at some point in their lifetime – but why can’t they keep it off? Most people focus on weight loss but not what will happen after the weight is off, creating a new version of themselves
    • Pick the form of restriction that feels the least restrictive for you so it becomes a lifestyle you can sustain, not a diet
  • The thing that matters most about selecting a diet for weight loss is long-term adherence
    • Without fail, there’s a diet “honeymoon” period across all diets that wanes after a few months
  • Pick the tool that works for you: there’s basically no difference in fat loss between low-carb and low-fat diets
  • Diet cycling (e.g., trying keto for a few months then omnivore, etc.) is not recommended as a long-term strategy but could be helpful in helping you select what will work most
    • Cons: you may temporarily decrease insulin sensitivity until you adapt

Gut Health

  • We’re still in the early stages of understanding gut health, probably 20 years out of developing a consensus
  • Fecal transplant: fecal transplants from lean mice to obese mice will make the obese mice lean – this has been replicated in humans as well
    • Probably working through brain mechanisms of satiety  
  • Soluble dietary fiber positively impacts the gut because it’s a prebiotic
    • Sources of fiber: fruits and vegetables, some whole grains, some cereals
  • The recommended dose of fiber is 15g per 1,000 calories intake
  • “Fiber is a longevity hack.” ­– Dr. Layne Norton
  • Prebiotics are better than probiotics: most probiotics are not strong enough to colonize

Shifting Cholesterol Evidence

  • HDL is a marker of metabolic health: high HDL suggests that you are metabolically healthy but note, drugs that increase HDL don’t reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Lifetime exposure to LDL is an almost linear effect on heart disease – it’s not LDL alone but apo(B) which tends to track with LDL
  • Someone with high HDL and low LDL will still be at lower risk than someone with high HDL and high LDL
  • Inflammation follows the same pattern – low inflammation, low LDL person has a lower risk than someone with low inflammation, high LDL

Nuance In Muscle Synthesis

  • Leucine (amino acid) is almost exclusively responsible for muscle synthesis when you eat protein – but no, you can’t just supplement with leucine and expect muscle growth
  • Leucine stimulates mTor which ultimately starts protein synthesis
  • Muscle protein synthesis refractory period: after consumption of protein, there’s a 3-5 hour refractory period that will take place before another round of muscle protein synthesis can take place

Diet & Protein Intake For Muscle Synthesis

  • “Of the macronutrients, protein is definitely the biggest lever you can pull.” – Dr. Layne Norton
  • To maximize protein synthesis: consume 1.6-2.6g/kilogram of lean body mass
    • There aren’t noticeable benefits to going beyond this range
  • Not all sources of protein are the same: a protein bar isn’t as satiating as a piece of chicken with the same protein content
  • Does protein distribution matter? Doesn’t look like it unless you get into the territory of longer fasts (days, not 16:8) – the most important thing is hitting the daily protein goal
  • Start your day with high protein – use a protein shake instead of milk in cereal, have a shake if you prefer, but get the protein
  • The less you can change, the better you’ll do: make small changes to increase protein in existing meals
  • By changing the cuts of meat, you can pump up the protein, reduce fat, and keep calories relatively comparable

Intermittent Fasting

  • More extreme forms of fasting (24 hours, alternate day, etc.) have more noticeable effects on lean body mass than 16:8 fasting
  • Eating 2-3 high-quality protein meals per day will probably make more of a difference on lean body mass than time-restricted eating
  • Choose fasting depending on your goal: if you’re a high-level athlete or similar, it’s unlikely you’ll gain much intermittent fasting – if you want to maintain or lose weight and lose body fat, 16:8 fast is fine to help control calories
  • Distribution of protein matters but it’s a smaller lever than just getting protein in

Animal Versus Plant Protein

  • It’s possible to get enough protein in with plant sources but difficult to not sacrifice calories while doing so – most plant protein sources have a lot of carbohydrates and/or fat
  • Plant proteins have less leucine content (leucine appears to be the driver of muscle synthesis) – you can add leucine powder to your protein source but doesn’t taste very good
  • Soy: if it’s your only source of protein, dosing might be high enough to have adverse effects on testosterone and estrogen but 1-2x per day won’t have an impact
  • As best you can, identify isolated protein sources because it’s more bioavailable
  • Isolated potato protein has a similar profile to whey but it’s difficult to find

Breaking Down Food Quality

  • The nuance of obesity: it’s not just a matter of being lazy – obese people are more likely to have a history of trauma, obesity is strongly correlated to lower income
  • Shoot for at least 80% of food to come from unprocessed or minimally processed foods
  • Processed food makes people spontaneously eat more – study after study shows this outcome and it doesn’t seem to be only because of sugar or fat but more because of quality and high caloric content
  • A major purpose of keto or carnivore diets is to consume clean sources of food – skip the keto cookies, chips, etc.
  • Sugar intake has actually gone down slightly in the past 20 years, but oil consumption and caloric intake have increased (and maybe the real reason for the obesity epidemic)
  • People who eat more sugar tend to be more obese and have worse biomarkers of health – but fruit sugar isn’t the same; it’s not necessarily the sugar alone but the fiber as well
  • A sole focus on sugar can lead to disordered eating patterns and binging

Artificial Sweeteners

  • Recent studies show that artificial sweeteners can disrupt the gut microbiome but there is controversy with the results
    • In some studies, artificial sweetener beverages were better for improving adiposity than sugar with no difference in biomarkers
  • Non-nutritive sweetener (artificial sweetener) beverages might be a lever to pull if you are consuming regular sodas on a regular basis – a potential small alteration to the gut microbiome is worth the sacrifice
    • Artificial sweeteners also seem to increase satiety signals
  • Aspartame & stevia have no effect on blood glucose or insulin; saccharin and sucralose have a higher glycemic index and much sweeter taste which may wire taste buds to seek sweeter foods
  • Most studies with artificial sweeteners are very short so it’s difficult to make calls on long-term outcome
  • Note: Andrew Huberman and Layne Norton have both changed their views on artificial sweeteners – they may not be as bad as once thought but don’t seek them out, especially saccharin and sucralose

Seed Oils

  • Undoubtedly, oil has contributed to poorer health and obesity because it increases caloric intake
  • The controversy: seed oils are polyunsaturated so their bonds can be oxidized when exposed to heat (like cooking)
  • When you replace polyunsaturated fats with saturated fats, the effect on inflammation is neutral or positive at best
  • Bottom line: you’re better off monitoring oil intake from a caloric standpoint but there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to demonize seed oil
  • Tip: keep saturated fats within 7-10% of daily caloric intake

Diet & Exercise Differences For Males & Females

  • Diet: males and females respond similarly to a calorie deficit
  • Exercise: females adapt differently to training but it doesn’t change the way you should train – it’s mostly about taking muscle close to fatigue
  • Females put on similar lean mass as men, but the absolute amount of lean mass is greater in men
  • Females seem to recover better and be less fatigable, but this may be due to the absolute load  
  • Women don’t necessarily need to make accommodations for their menstrual cycle; base training on how you feel that day

Diet & Supplement Quickfire

  • Cooked foods tend to be more digestible and bioavailable than raw foods
  • Don’t char meat! There is evidence that this is carcinogenic
  • Metabolism is not an “on/off” switch – carb blockers (like berberine) can reduce the absorption of carbohydrates but that doesn’t necessarily translate into weight loss because you still have all the calories
  • Gastric emptying time: fiber improves GI transit time
  • Creatine monohydrate: most tested, safe, and effective sports supplement available – it increases lean mass, and strength, reduces body fat percentage, and improves recovery time by bringing water into muscle cells; there are some improvements to cognitive effects as well
    • 5g daily will take 2-4 weeks to notice outcomes
    • Creatine can be a gut irritant so you can dose up
  • Rhodiola rosea: reduces physical fatigue, and perception of fatigue, and may enhance memory and cognition – it may smooth out the effects of caffeine and reduce caffeine withdrawal symptoms
    • Ashwagandha may reduce have similar effects – but cycle about 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off
  • L carnitine can improve sperm and egg health
  • Caffeine consistently improves performance, even if you’re a habitual caffeine user
  • Beta-alanine is not helpful for resistance training but can help delay fatigue in endurance activities
  • The trouble with diet accountability & tracking? Check out Carbon Diet Coach

Rapid Weight Loss

  • Buy-in is huge for sustainability: obese people who lose a lot of weight early in their diet tend to keep it off longer
  • The more adipose tissue you have, the more aggressively you can diet without consequences to lean mass or health because the body doesn’t need to metabolize lean tissue
  • It’s normal for the average person to lose 25-30% of weight from lean mass

Journal Articles & Other Resources

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