April 2013: Dr. Layne Norton

by on April 23, 2013

JOHN: I first want to announce that Matt Meinrod has come on board to help me with interviewing the top experts out there. Matt is a tremendous writer and former Florida State football player. He could tear me in half inside of 10 seconds! Anyways, you will be hearing more about Matt.

I am excited to announce we have the well know Dr. Layne Norton with us this month for our expert interview. Layne is well known in our industry and is an impressive combination of text book smart, and street smart. This guy trains his butt off and also has a really cool educational background I will let him share with you.

So on we go with our discussion with Layne!

MATT: Thank you Layne for your time. Can you start off by giving our readers a little background on yourself, and what you are passionate about?

LAYNE: Thanks Matt. To be very brief, when I was young I got picked on a lot and received very little attention from girls. I was depressed and so I started weight lifting to try to improve my self esteem, meet girls and stop getting picked on. Eventually this led to a passion for bodybuilding and wanting to learn more about the science behind how muscle is built and body composition is optimized. I was doing a BS in Biochemistry in undergrad school because I knew I wanted to get a good science base and I loved that biochemistry allowed me to learn more and more about cellular functions and the human body. During my Junior year in undergrad, I started thinking about attending graduate school. I was really interested in protein metabolism and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I applied to the University of Illinois for Dr. Don Layman’s lab (one of the world’s pioneers of modern muscle protein research) in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. I was accepted and spent the next 6 years there completing my PhD. Along the way I won my pro card in natural bodybuilding, raw powerlifting, and got to do a lot of other cool stuff like start a coaching business which has no gotten so ridiculously busy that I’m turning away around 60-70% of potential clients right now. All in all I am a nerd who love bodybuilding and has a passion for practical application of science.

MATT: Layne, talk about protein to get us started. Do you think people seeking muscle growth focus too much on protein?

LAYNE: In general I think the average person focuses too little on protein and I think the average bodybuilder focuses too much on protein. The bodybuilding community tends to think that if a moderate amount of something is good for you, a crapload must be better and that is really not the case.

MATT: So how much protein is too much protein? Many dieticians talk about 30g being the maximum amount per meal which is silly, and anything else will be wasted or even harmful on the kidneys. Where do you stand on this? Does your opinion change on the natural athlete vs. the enhanced athlete?

LAYNE: Depends on what you mean by ‘too much.’ Do you mean dangerous or do you mean more than is needed to maximize anabolism? Or do you mean more than is needed for positive nitrogen balance… there are a lot of different interpretations of this question. As for being dangerous, there is no evidence that protein intake all the way up to around 1.3g protein/lb of bodyweight is dangerous to healthy organs. As far as I know, no distinguishable side effects or upper limit of tolerable intake of protein has ever been demonstrated. Now that said, intakes of above 1.5g/lb have never really been studied to my knowledge so I would not go so far as to say there is no danger to over consuming protein. Now if you are talking about how much is ‘too much’ in terms of going over what you need to maximize anabolism, then typically with most protein sources 30-40g at a meal will absolutely maximize the anabolic response. Now if you are talking about low quality protein sources like wheat and soy, this value may be a bit higher or if you are talking about an elderly person, or someone who is much higher lean body mass than most people (ie 250 lbs and lean) then it might increase optimal protein intake recommendations per meal a bit. But I can never see any reason to consume absurd amounts of protein like 500 and 600g per day. To be frank, that’s ridiculous. Many people have postulated that steroids increase protein utilization, and MAYBE that is true (no data that I’m aware of) but even if they did, you are looking at only a small difference in substrate usage. If someone added an extra 30 lbs per year of muscle mass, you are only looking at about 10g of fibrous tissue added per day, so if anything steroids may increase protein requirements for optimal anabolism very modestly. Certainly not by hundreds of grams as many people have stated.

MATT: What are the main differences in dietary needs of a natural athlete vs. enhanced athlete: Off Season and In-Season – given their goals are the same? Do the rules change when chemicals are introduced to the equation?

LAYNE: I do not think the rules change. Physiology doesn’t magically reverse itself when you introduce steroids into the mix. Things still run in the same direction, so to speak, steroids will simply amplify the response. Obviously my practical application of this is limited as I do not consider myself a steroid expert by any stretch of the imagination, but this conclusion of mine comes from examining the data that has been accumulated over the decades.

MATT: Speaking of chemicals, what are your thoughts on organic vs. non-organic food in terms of gaining muscle and overall health? Have you personally seen a difference between an organic diet vs. non-organic diet in weight loss and/or muscle growth?

LAYNE: No. Most data suggests that organic foods have little to no nutritional advantage over non-organic foods. I’m sure that many people will be angered to read that, but I’m sorry folks, that’s what the data has demonstrated thus far. It doesn’t enhance protein quality; it doesn’t seem to enhance vitamin/mineral quantity/quality. Grass fed beef may have more beneficial fatty acid breakdowns, but I would consider that a modest gain compared to the cost when you could simply add in an omega 3 supplement for much less money. That said, some people have said they prefer the taste of the organic food more, so more power to them.

JOHN: I am glad you brought this up. I have been lumped into this category of being an organic freak, when I have very specifically stated over and over organic food will not make your biceps bigger, or necessarily contain any additional nutrients. What I have said is there a lot of crap in pesticides (at least 50 are classified as carcinogenic), herbicides, etc. I look at organic food as more of anti-lock brakes on my car, versus a turbo engine. Though data is limited on the long term effects of exposure to these chemicals, I think it is wise to pick certain foods that are organic (like strawberries or fatty animal cuts), but damn sure not everything.

LAYNE: Fair points and I think one important thing to note is that anything is dangerous if you eat/drink enough of it… even water. As of now I haven’t seen enough data to suggest that organic food is necessarily safer when foods are consumed in the recommended amounts. Is it conclusive? Depends on who you ask, but I just tell people what the data says and as of now I have not seen any data to suggest that organic food is safer, so that’s what I convey to people. My only problem is really with people who treat organic food like a religion and try to force others to only eat organic food and actually look down upon them if they don’t. I find it ludicrous. If someone loves organic food, that’s awesome and I won’t fault them for eating it, but I don’t’ like people who have a superiority complex about it LOL.

MATT: What’s your philosophy on Meal Frequency for muscle gain and fat loss? If 6 meals a day is better than 3 meals a day, would 9 meals a day be better than 6? Is there a law of diminishing returns given each meal offers at least 3g of L-Leucine?

LAYNE: Well there is very little data to suggest that meal frequency makes any difference on fat loss. I think the data is pretty clear that it doesn’t make a difference in that regard. As for muscle mass, based on the research our lab did on protein distribution, I think that 3-5 meals is superior to 1-2 meals per day, but I certainly do not think that more than 5 meals per day has any further beneficial anabolic effect. It’s very difficult to explain, but essentially our lab has data which suggests that eating too frequently may actually impair anabolism.

JOHN: I also think this exists on a continuum. Many of the people I work with have a ton of muscle mass. It’s much harder for 3 meals to work for them, as opposed to the 150 lb intermittent fasting types. That’s not a knock on anybody, just my observation and common sense kicking in that your body probably isn’t going to digest 2 meals of 2000 calories as well as 4 of 1000.

I’d disagree on the digestion point. Your body has no problem digesting large meals as it simply slows down the rate of digestion in order to accommodate the incoming nutrients. Now that said, there is an anabolic cap to meals which is why I don’t’ recommend 1-2 huge meals per day. What I do tell people is that if you have to eat a ton of calories per day I recommend just taking in 4-5 protein doses per day but if you want to spread your carbs out more that’s perfectly fine to make it more feasible. I just think that eating too frequently, especially with protein is suboptimal for anabolism and there is actually data from our lab as well as new study that will be coming out in the Journal of Physiology from the School of Medical Sciences in Autralia that demonstrated eating 4 20g doses of protein was superior to 8 10g doses or 2 40g doses for stimulating anabolism over a 12 hour period. Now I do think that 30-40g is probably closer to the anabolic cap which is why I recommend 4-5 meals of 30-50g protein per day depending upon weight, age, protein source, etc but these data to demonstrate that eating too frequently or not frequently enough is suboptimal.

MATT: Studies show that 30g of protein offers 3g of L-Leucine, which then triggers protein synthesis. What do you think of this?

LAYNE: Leucine content is different for each protein source. Wheat is about 6.8% leucine, Soy is around 8%, meats are just over 8%, egg is 9%, and whey is around 11%. So the amount of protein required to hit a 3g leucine threshold is different depending upon the source. Leucine is important because it is the amino acid responsible for increasing muscle protein synthesis; no other amino acid has that effect (other than POSSIBLY isoleucine). 3g leucine appears to maximize this response in most people and the threshold doesn’t seem to change from men to women other than the fact that men tend to have more lean body mass overall than women.

MATT: How do you feel about eating through the night? I’ve read athletes and bodybuilders setting the alarm clock to eat. Does interrupting sleep for the benefit of eating more round the clock equate to better overall muscle gain/fat loss results?

LAYNE: My personal rule of thumb is I don’t interrupt my sleep purposefully, but if I do wake up (which I typically do wake up one time during the night) then I have a shake ready and I just drink that and go back to bed.

MATT: What kind of shake? BCAA, whey?

LAYNE: I use whey. It has been consistently shown to be the highest quality protein source in our studies bar none. If you don’t have any digestive issues with whey concentrate then it is perfectly fine to use. There is no anabolic advantage to hydrolysate or isolate compared to concentrate, though if you have digestive issues with concentrate then isolate or hydrolysate are great options.

MATT: If someone is bulking in the off season, can an athlete eat less protein if their carbs are increased? Or should the protein consumption remain the same?

LAYNE: Protein requirements modestly diminish in a caloric surplus since carbohydrates are protein sparing. Probably about 10% reduction.

MATT: What do you think about cycling protein your protein intake to keep your body responding well to it?

LAYNE: I’ve seen no evidence that has any validity and based on our data the body does not become ‘accustomed’ to it. We showed similar responses of muscle protein synthesis after feeding subjects diets for 11 weeks that they showed on the first day. So I’ve seen no data to indicate protein cycling is beneficial and in my opinion, I think it’s gimmicky.

MATT: Talk about insulin sensitivity post contest. The rebound effect, etc. Do you think an athlete should take advantage of this time to grow or should the off season gaining period be more gradual?

LAYNE: I think it’s funny that people talk about post contest being the best time to ‘grow.’ If they are talking about grow a lot of adipose tissue than yes. Your metabolic rate is decreased, testosterone is lower, and if you’ve been doing a ketogenic diet you will be less carbohydrate tolerant. Adding in a lot of calories at once is a recipe for disaster and rapid fat regain. Anyone who’s eaten a lot in the week after a show can attest to putting on 20, 30… even 40 lbs.

MATT: How do you feel about ketogenic diets? Are they healthy to use long term for fat loss?

LAYNE: I don’t think they are necessarily inherently unhealthy, I think many people implement them improperly or in a misguided manner. If you’ve been doing a low carb diet for 12 weeks, then you shouldn’t be carb loading the week of a show. That is a recipe for disaster. You should also VERY slowly reintroduce carbs post show in order to allow your body to adapt and prevent massive weight regain.

MATT: What is your preferred choice for fat loss? No carb, moderate carb, high carb, carb cycle? Please elaborate.

LAYNE: I do not use one size fits all approach. My approach in general is to keep someone’s carbs as high as possible while still having them lose bodyfat at the appropriate rate. This number is different for EVERYBODY. I’ve had people get shredded eating well over 300g carbs per day. I’ve also had people who were ketogenic by the end of their prep. It just depends on the person. I don’t try to force a clients metabolism into ‘my system.’ I modify my system to that individual’s metabolism.

JOHN: Layne, that’s not very “guru’ish” of you to not use a cookie cutter approach..haha

MATT: Do you think a competitor can get lean using just whey protein isolate as his sole protein for a contest diet?

LAYNE: Certainly, why not? Whey actually has the greatest anabolic, and thermogenic response of any protein. I know some gurus have suggested that drinking shakes burns less calories because your body doesn’t have to spend as much energy mechanically digesting it. But this is a very simplistic view of things. Whey protein causes a rapid increase in protein turnover which is ATP dependant and very thermogenic, and studies have supported that showing that liquid meals are actually slightly more thermogenic than solid meals.. not less. Now I’m not saying you should go out and liquefy all your food. What I am saying is that drinking shakes is perfectly acceptable on a pre contest diet.

MATT: Can you explain why a female’s metabolism can basically shut down and won’t burn fat at an efficient rate any longer? How do you reset that metabolism?

LAYNE: Well it’s not just females, I’ve seen it happen to quite a few men too. I think females are more likely to have this happen because more of them chronically diet for multiple shows and are more likely to have spent a great portion of their life dieting. I also hate to say it but they tend to get into diet/binge cycles more frequently as well. Basically if you low calorie diet long enough, your metabolism adapts to the point where you can’t lose fat anymore without basically starving yourself. This is called metabolic adaptation or commonly known as metabolic damage. We all know someone who does 2 hours of cardio per day and eats 800 kcals and can’t lose weight. It is because they have dieted so long and so hard that their metabolism has adapted to protect them from further weight loss. The only way to fix this is to slowly and deliberately add calories over time to restore their metabolic capacity. For more information I would highly suggest people watch my 9th Video Log entitled ‘Metabolic Damage.’

MATT: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen people make in the off season and for a contest prep?


  • Doing too much low intensity cardio (lowers metabolic rate over time)
  • Not optimizing metabolic rate
  • Doing extreme diets (super high protein, super low carb, super high fat, super low fat, etc)
  • Yo-yoing between extreme diet & binge cycles.

MATT: Do you feel that a bodybuilder or athlete needs an excessive amount of carbs to grow in the off season?

LAYNE: Need? No. Can they be helpful, yes. Especially for maximizing metabolic rate. But it has to be done correctly.

MATT: What’s your opinion on eating fruit? Is it different for an average person trying to lose weight compared to an athlete or bodybuilder preparing for a contest?

LAYNE: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating fruit. Some studies showed that eating fructose could lead to fat gain, but these subjects were eating over 70% of their daily calories from fructose! If you take that down to a much more reasonable intake fruit actually has a positive effect on fat loss, probably from its fiber content.

MATT: What are your thoughts on bodybuilders or athletes consuming milk while trying to gain muscle? I remember reading an article years back and they noted that humans are the only mammals who continue drinking milk beyond infancy. What’s your take on the milk debate?

LAYNE: All the research I’ve seen suggests that people who drink milk & use milk products are healthier, stronger, and have better bone mass than people who don’t. If you don’t have any allergy or intolerance to milk products then I see no reason why you can’t consume it. The only thing I’ve seen from the anti-dairy people is that ‘we weren’t mean to consume milk.’ That doesn’t carry much weight with me, humans do a LOT of things we weren’t intended to. Doesn’t make them bad or good, it means we need to research them to determine that. So far the research suggests consuming milk is a great source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D and is great for maintaining health.

MATT: We all know that macro nutrient manipulation is critical for optimal muscle building and fat loss results, but what role do micronutrients play in helping the athlete or bodybuilder max out their potential for gains?

LAYNE: Well obviously if you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, that can impair tissue synthesis all across the board. However, once you get enough vitamins and minerals, simply consuming more is not necessarily better. In fact many bodybuilders over consume vitamins (like A & D) and place themselves at risk for toxicity. I’ve seen many bodybuilders say they should take in more vitamin D because a study linked vitamin D & muscle mass. But that is only correlation and likely due to the foods that contain vitamin D also contain high quality protein. There is no vitamin D receptor in muscle and adding in extra has not been shown to improve muscle mass. The other interesting thing is that people who only ‘eat clean’ or limit themselves to specific foods actually tend to get LESS diverse micronutrient intakes, not more.

MATT: One final question Layne, what do you think about the concept of protein pulsing? So for example, you use fast acting proteins and get a large free amino spike and allow amino levels to return to baseline, vs. using longer slower digesting proteins that are probably more steady in nature and don’t give as much of a dramatic response? So big pulses vs. steady levels?

LAYNE: I think the data is quite clear. The study from Australia, combined with data from our lab, as well as data from Stuart Phillips’ lab at McMaster University has demonstrated that around 3-5 meals per day is much superior to 1-2 meals and 8-10 meals. Everyone in the fitness industry seems to want to jump to extremes. If a little is good, a shitload must be great. If a lot of something is bad, then we should consume NONE of it. This is misguided thinking. The answer always lies somewhere in the middle.

MATT: Thank you Layne for your time! How can someone reach you if they are interested in your services?

LAYNE: Thanks Matt, great questions. I would suggest contacting me through my website at www.biolayne.com but please SERIOUS inquiries only.