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#235 – Layne Norton, Ph.D.: Training Principles For Mass And Strength, Changing Views On Nutrition, Creatine Supplementation, And More | The Drive With Peter Attia

Key Takeaways

  • Levers to pull for reduced mortality: cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, muscle mass
  • Get in lifts that are analogous to what you need in the everyday lift: squat (sitting to standing), deadlifts (picking things up from the floor)
    • The best thing you can do to improve bone density is to lift weights
  • The key to longevity in lifting is to leave your ego at the door – know when to press the gas and when to back off
  • The best exercise is the one you’ll do consistently; yes, some protocols are better than others but being on the couch is always worse
  • Fiber has consistently been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer – shoot for 15g/1000 calories
    • Look for real food sources of fiber such as low-sugar fruit, cruciferous vegetables, beans
  • To lose fat or control body weight – you have to restrict something; pick the method that works for you whether it’s calories, fat, carbs, macros, etc.


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 his training as a powerlifter and shares training principles that non-powerlifters can apply to improve muscle strength and mass. They also discuss, the pros and cons of creatine supplementation, changing views on nutrition, and much more!  

Host: Peter Attia (@PeterAttiaMD)

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

What Is Powerlifting?

  • Powerlifting is a competitive sport where you have three attempts to perform a squat, bench press, and deadlift – max weight wins
    • Training includes variations of movements to build strength with less fatigue, such as single leg deadlift instead of barbell conventional
  • You’ll have about 15-30 minutes to rest between lift attempts; about 60 minutes between types of lifts
  • During rest, the goal is to relax a bit but not too much so you can amp up again before the next lift
  • Your body really doesn’t distinguish between excitement and anxiety – it’s about reframing what it means when the nerves kick in
  • Injuries during meets are less frequent than injuries during training – focus during a meet is more intense and volume is lower; fatigue is high during training
  • At the top level of powerlifting, you can get in two high-level meets per year – the hard part is getting to competition day with high energy, low fatigue, minimal injury
  • Train how you compete: the best weight strategy for a meet is keeping your body weight close to the competition weight throughout training so you don’t have to cut

Training For Power

  • Progressive overload is the most important training principle – incrementally increasing weight
  • It’s never too late to start lifting weights and building muscle
    • Even in later years, you can start from sitting to standing with a chair, then squatting to the chair, then without the chair, etc. – this is progressive overload
  • Ways to progressively overload: (1) add more repetitions; (2) add more sets (which really only applies if you’re an advanced lifter)
    • You won’t keep adding repetitions or sets forever, you have to weigh stimulus versus fatigue
  • The goal is to find the balance which allows you to maximize stimulus and minimize fatigue
  • Rate of perceived effort (RPE): self-reported assessment of effort during exercise on a scale of 1-10, 10 being that was 100% all out you have no more left in the tank
    • You don’t have to train to failure to gain strength; you need to know what it feels like to estimate it but it doesn’t need to be a constant in training
    • In general, people are bad at guessing 1 rep max (1RM) by an RPE of 5
  • You’re better off training within a few reps shy of failure versus going to failure because failure is so fatiguing
    • You don’t have to get as close to failure in compound lifts as you do in isolation lifts
  • Strength is a skill – you learn how to grind through a lift at a heavyweight
  • Don’t underestimate the psychology of lifting: people prefer periodization because you have more variety

The Role Of Sex And Testosterone In Lifting

  • Women may be able to tolerate higher training volumes than men
    • It’s possible that because women are leaner, the absolute load is lighter so recovery is faster
  • Men have more lean mass than women starting at puberty – likely because of testosterone fusing muscle fiber
  • In mice: the group with testosterone gained muscle faster than the control group without testosterone
  • You may still confer benefit 5 years after taking testosterone


  • Pros of creatine (1-5g/day): increases lean body mass, and strength, and there appear to be cognitive benefits – it’s also inexpensive, efficacious, and safe
    • There really isn’t a benefit beyond 5g/day
  • Creatine pulls water into muscle tissue, clears metabolic waste, and recruits fuel
  • Creatine does not affect androgen levels
  • When to use: benefits are accumulated so you want to load it to saturate the muscle
    • Many people will get GI distress at first, incrementally increase if you’d like
  • Cycling doesn’t seem to have any benefit

Time Under Tension Training

  • Force is the expression of strength – heavy weights will move slower
  • For hypertrophy, force is less important than just having enough heavy sets
  • Training time under tension or tempo is beneficial at lighter weights or if working through pain but will not necessarily lead to more muscle gain than heavy weights at regular speed
  • Slower reps increase metabolic stress as opposed to mechanical tension
  • You won’t get as strong with lighter weights because you will really never go too heavy – but of course, it’s better than the couch and a great exercise if it gets you moving consistently
  • You don’t need perfection to improve health and fitness – the most benefit is when you start
    • Similarly, if a machine makes you feel safer and gets you moving versus dumbbells or barbells – use the machine

Finding “Experts” On Social Media

  • It’s hard for people to identify a fitness expert nowadays with all the social media influencers
  • You want people who speak with nuance, are curious, ask questions, etc. – and remember, credentials aren’t foolproof
  • Layne’s suggestion for finding experts: find people who say “I don’t know”, find people who are comfortable within their scope, and be cautious if someone speaks in superlatives (e.g., 5 hacks for xyz, tricks for xyz, etc.)
  • Follow a broad array of people, including those with differences of opinions, otherwise, you are in an information silo without exposure to other data

Nutrition & Evolving Views

  • Low carb diet does not appear to be better for fat loss than low-calorie diet – choose what you prefer
  • Nutrition is very dogmatic but shouldn’t be
  • It’s hard to avoid inherent beliefs about nutrition because everyone eats, we draw conclusions about what we put in our body and how our body reacts
  • Being wrong is a good thing because there’s room to improve
  • Key areas Layne’s opinion has changed: (1) importance of LDL cholesterol – it is an independent risk factor and we should mind dietary saturated fat intake; (2) supplementing with branch chain amino acids will not help post-workout recovery more than protein; (3) you can intermittent fast – when combined with resistance training and high protein you can get plenty strong and big while intermittent fasting
    • If you’re concerned about protein intake while fasting, focus on loading protein even outside the window but limit carbs and fat
  • Carnivore diet: only eat meat (though some have added honey and fruit)
    • It’s basically an elimination diet; of course, you’ll lose weight because calorie intake is lower – you can only eat so much meat
  • Most people are so out of touch with their bodies that elimination diets appear to work because you’ve probably cut out something your body didn’t agree with but at the expense of foods that you can tolerate and are nutritious
    • Replacing food doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it’s usually in favor of something or at the expense of something
  • Even higher sugar, lower sugar fruits still have benefits for fiber intake
  • Popcorn actually has a good amount of fiber and is filling
  • Fiber has consistently shown (though there aren’t many studies) to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer

Making Sense Of Fat & Oils

  • There is an epidemiology that says when you substitute saturated fatty acids (SFA) for polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)
  • Omega-6 fats will increase inflammation because double bonds can be oxidized but hard outcome data doesn’t show that
  • The biggest contribution to added calories in the diet is added oils
    • On a per-calorie basis, seed oils are higher calorie
    • The narrative fits: we never ate seed oils in the past and now we have a lot more health problems – but it’s hard to single out as the enemy
  • “Fat is what will take something from a 500 calorie dish to a 1500 calorie dish.” – Dr. Layne Norton

How To Approach Dieting

  • It’s no mystery – the obesity epidemic is a result of increased caloric intake and reduced physical activity
  • Two factors that predict eating disorders: poor body image perception + hard food rules
  • Binge eating: eating excessive calories followed by guilt and some sort of compensatory mechanism such as purging, fasting, unreasonably high amounts of exercise, etc.
  • There are downsides to any diet – choose the form of restriction that works best for you
  • People are notoriously bad at estimating energy intake without tracking and weighing – try it for even just a week to get a handle on what portion control really looks like
  • What gets monitored, gets changed
  • Pay attention to hunger signals – portions are really large now, and you may not need the whole meal
  • Having trouble with diet accountability & tracking? Check out Carbon Diet Coach
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