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#163 – Layne Norton, Ph.D.: Building Muscle, Losing Fat, And The Importance Of Resistance Training| The Drive With Peter Attia

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Click here for Lane Norton’s first appearance on The Drive

Key Takeaways

  • Big reasons weight loss efforts might be failing: (1) Your wearable is probably not accurately tracking the actual calories burned during exercise; (2) People notoriously underreport energy/calorie intake (not intentionally, we often skip the handful of nuts or berries, but it all adds up); (3) Food labels are allowed up to 20% error
  • A calorie is a calorie, it’s a scientific measure of energy – but all sources of calories are not created equal
  • Peter’s rule of thumb: never do two bad things back to back – if you miss exercise today, be sure to exercise tomorrow; if you eat a cheat meal, make your next meal better
  • If you want to lose weight specifically, you will need to do some form of restriction on time or calories – could be calories, fat, carb, unprocessed food, fasting, etc.
  • The best diet is the one you can stick to! A lot of weight loss is really reprogramming habits and behaviors, more than any specific dietary dogma
  • You need to exercise! If you are focusing on cutting carbs and food restrictions, you are stepping over dollars to pick up pennies
  • Protein and calories are the most important things to consider in your diet – how you distribute carbohydrates and fat should be based on what you can adhere to and tolerate
  • Work your muscles to the full range of motion to maximize hypertrophy
  • Training frequency is more of a tool to distribute volume than it is a hypertrophy stimulus
  • Supplementing for hypertrophy training: whey, creatine monohydrate, maybe citrulline – you can skip BCAAs as long as you’re getting high-quality protein in your diet
  • Protein powder red flags: (1) Stay away from companies pitching “proprietary blends”; (2) Make sure brand isn’t nitrogen spiking (don’t want glycine on the label); (3) Watch out for unrealistic claims or “most anabolic” type marketing


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 of The Drive, Peter sits down with Dr. Layne Norton to discuss two main topics: first, energy balance and the role of macronutrients, diets, and behavior; and second, the importance of protein and weight lifting with hypothetical examples.

Host: Peter Attia (@PeterAttiaMD)

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

Calories & Energy Balance

  • Energy balance: calories in versus calories out (the calories consumed versus calories burned)
  • A calorie is energy stored in chemical bonds of food – it’s literally a measurement of energy
  • Scientifically, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to increase the degree of water by one degree Celsius
  • Lipid is the most efficient way to store energy
  • Metabolism is trying to capture the metabolizable energy in food
  • Energy balance is not linear within your own body (i.e., you don’t lose exactly one pound if you cut 3,500 calories) – and person to person
  • Individual variability in how much many calories one person can consume and burn
  • 5-10% of energy is lost in fecal matter
  • There is variability in how much energy you can extract from food
  • 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

Weight Management

  • Day to day changes in weight are much more dictated by fluid shifts than they are changes in adipose
  • It’s unlikely that you’re able to accurately track energy expenditure with smart devices and wearables
  • There’s up to a 20% error allowance in food labels
  • People are notorious at underreporting energy intake by 30-70% – this isn’t usually intentional!
  • People are (usually unintentionally) poor estimators of caloric intake which in isolation is probably not a big deal but in accumulation adds up – a handful of nuts here, a little extra dressing on the salad
  • Everything is on a continuum: there’s a big difference between being able to have a small bowl of ice cream because it fits into your energy expenditure and gives you better adherence to your diet versus starving then binging and going off the rails
  • To lose weight, pick the form of restriction that feels least restrictive to you – this could be time-restricted, or calorie-restricted
  • If you can eliminate snacks, most people will improve weight loss, definition, and biomarkers
  • People confuse hunger and appetite – a lot of the reasons people eat have nothing to do with physical hunger (boredom, stress, trauma, social cues, etc.)

Age, Muscle, & Movement

  • “If you want to be metabolically healthy, the best thing you can do is have lean body mass.” – Dr. Layne Norton
  • You’re generally in more discomfort when you’re sedentary than active
  • “There’s probably no more diagnostic test that is uncorrelated from clinical outcome than MRI of the lumbar spine.” – Dr. Layne Norton
  • It’s never too late to get active
  • Accidental death in young people is usually overdose or automotive, as you age it’s almost entirely accidental falls
  • After age 65, you can tie the majority of deaths to a lack of muscular strength or muscle
  • Hypothetical #1: “skinny fat” 50-year-old woman who has never lifted a weight and wants to be more active, thinks the best way is through cardio  
    • Barriers: she doesn’t want to get bulky – this is a myth! It’s very hard to “look” bulky
    • 4-month program sample: 3x/week 45-minute, 2x lower body + 1x upper body
    • Lower body strength is a bit more important than upper body strength in terms of falls
    • Early goals: don’t get hurt, don’t get sore, build a habit of exercise
    • Increase protein intake
  • If you’re sore all the time, you’re probably training incorrectly – if you’re never sore, you’re also probably training incorrectly
  • In the first 4-6 weeks, adaptation is high but you’re not seeing increases in hypertrophy
  • Hypothetical #2: 50-year-old male lifts 3x/week, full-body split, wants 10% body fat in 2 years, BMI 27 so a little extra body fat, not currently progressively overloading
    • Adaptation is not comfortable – you want to increase volume or load
    • Build in tapers to actualize gains and recovery
    • Back off volume and intensity in most places (around 8 reps) – train close to failure without going to failure to avoid excess fatigue and increased recovery time
    • Variation is key: there are benefits to 6 reps and 30 reps
    • Hypertrophy sweet spot: 6-10 sets per body part per session, adjusting rest periods inversely
    • Sample protocol for leg session, stay within 6-8 rate of perceived exertion (RPE): squat, Romanian deadlift, or single leg deadlift – then higher RPE 8-9 for isolation moves
    • Eat at a slight caloric surplus because it will be difficult to move the needle since he’s been training so long
    • Keep protein high, towards 1-1.5g protein per pound of bodyweight
    • Play the long game: cycling bulk and cut will change body composition in ways you might not like at first but will get better every cycle – cut 100-200 cal per day
  • The majority of stimulus you get for muscle growth is in the last 5 reps before failure
  • Work the fullest range of motion in all joints

Diet & Protein Intake For Muscle Synthesis

  • To maximize protein synthesis: consume 1.6-2.6g/kilogram of lean body mass
  • The trouble with diet accountability & tracking? Check out Carbon Diet Coach
  • 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, keep calories relatively comparable
  • Low fat can impair testosterone levels which can impact levels of lean body mass
  • Barring a ketogenic diet, stay around 20% of calories from fat, no more than around 40% (but that’s the end)
  • Keto diet is fine as long as you’re training is about 65% of VO2 max, once it’s higher, there will be lower strength accrual
  • Lifting doesn’t increase mTor to the point of detrimental health – it’s tissue-specific, pulsated, short-term hormesis  
  • We want to believe that there’s a perfect diet out there but there are tradeoffs for everything
  • Most people who eat high levels of meat and protein eat low levels of fruits and vegetables
  • Supplementing for hypertrophy training: straight whey tends to be most digestible and is best for protein synthesis (check out outwork nutrition, legion, optimum), don’t need BCAA if you are consuming enough high quality protein, no benefit to leucine supplement, add creatine monohydrate 1-5g per day depending on goals (don’t need on rest days), citrulline
  • You probably don’t need special fluids during your workout unless you’re heading for 3-4 hours
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