Episode 97: Dr. Layne Norton – The Science Of Eating For Health, Fat Loss & Lean Muscle (Part 1) | 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)


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.

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

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

Energy Balance & Utilization

  • A calorie is an 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 to actually 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 mildly 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
  • 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 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 calorie relatively comparable

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