#163 – Layne Norton, Ph.D.: Building muscle, losing fat, and the importance of resistance training

“I always tell people, I don't think I would've had the success I did in business or social media or academia if I hadn't done weightlifting because that taught me so much about other things in life.” —Layne Norton

Read Time 39 minutes

Layne Norton is a physique coach, a natural professional bodybuilder and powerlifter, and holds a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences. In this episode, Layne explains how he became interested in weightlifting and fitness both professional and academically. He provides insights into preventing and managing injuries while using consistency and determination to boost his professional success in bodybuilding and powerlifting. Peter and Layne also review the science of body composition and what’s really driving muscle growth, including the role of nutrition, supplements, and a number of important and misunderstood hormones important to muscle protein synthesis. Furthermore, Layne stresses the importance of maintaining muscle mass even while losing fat for improving metabolic health and longevity and provides the keys to developing healthy habits. 



We discuss:

  • Layne’s childhood and why he gravitated towards weightlifting and bodybuilding [2:45];
  • Layne’s academic path, overcoming ADHD, and kicking Adderall [11:45];
  • Paradoxical observations about expertise, and Layne’s career transition to health and fitness [22:00];
  • The power of persistence and resilience in the face of setbacks [32:15];
  • Battling injuries, managing back pain, and setting lifting records [43:00];
  • Bodybuilding vs. powerlifting: comparing and contrasting the training approaches [57:15];
  • Cutting weight without losing muscle mass: exercise and dietary protocols, fasting, and a look at the literature [1:06:00];
  • Muscle protein synthesis and the importance of leucine [1:25:30];
  • Nitrogen balance and muscle protein synthesis, and the regulatory role of hormones for fat flux and muscle growth [1:37:00];
  • What’s really driving muscle growth: intrinsic vs. systemic factors, IGF, and hormone signaling [1:46:30];
  • The role of protein, carbohydrates and insulin on muscle growth and preservation, and the importance of context when interpreting study results [1:55:30];
  • Clarifying the role of cortisol—a misunderstood hormone [2:07:45];
  • The problem with studies trying to isolate one nutrient [2:15:00];
  • The important role of inflammation from exercise [2:19:25];
  • Keys to preserving muscle, and the value of habits, consistency, and resilience [2:23:30]; and
  • More.

Layne’s childhood and why he gravitated towards weight lifting and bodybuilding [2:45]

  • Dom D’Agostino introduced Peter and Layne and Peter has wanted to interview Layne for 2.5 years
  • Despite what people might assume, they have similar viewpoints on most things
  • Layne grew up in Evansville, IN
    • Played baseball since age 5 and lettered in high school
    • Sports did not come naturally to him and he had to work at it: “That may be apparent for my baseball aficionados out there. I was a five foot 10, right-handed first baseman. So, that’s not your prototypical first baseman”
    • Also ran cross country in high school, “definitely not the sport that you would pick as the precursor to strength sports and bodybuilding”
  • Layne was picked on and “borderline emotionally abused” by other kids when he was growing up 
    • He was nerdy, talkative, and goofy and had ADHD
    • I started lifting weights just to hopefully have people stop picking on me and get some dates. And lifting weights didn’t do either of those things, but I developed a passion for weight training.”
  • He loved weight training, but it didn’t come naturally to him
  • Neither did academics, but “I did find at a young age that through sheer volume of work I could overcome a lot of that stuff”

“I really appreciated lifting weights … from the perspective of the work investment to the payoff compared to how much talent was needed…For me, it felt more fair…in terms of level of work you get in versus what you see.” —Layne Norton

  • It’s also very measurable in a black and white way: can see that you’re lifting 10% more
  • Boxing drew Peter into strength and endurance training, and older men who trained in his gym served as mentors to keep him safe, explain the sport, and give him common sense around training 
  • Layne went to the library for weightlifting books and magazines when started in the late 90s 
    • “We have really advanced our understanding of weight training. But the basics, progressive overload, that sort of stuff is still relatively similar. And I remember the book did talk about periodization, which at that time was not a new concept in athletics, but for weightlifting was a new concept”
  • If you’re consistent, you will get stronger regardless of what you’re doing
  • He entered his first bodybuilding competition at 19

“I’ve always been drug-free in terms of anabolic steroids, growth hormones, all that kind of stuff. No performance enhancing drugs. I don’t have any problem with anybody who does it as long as they compete in untested organizations.” —Layne Norton

  • The only evidence-based natural bodybuilding coach, Joe Klemczewski, lived in his hometown and helped him prepare
  • Layne won the teenage and novice divisions
  • “Dr. Joe wasn’t right about everything, obviously. But the crux of his information and being so focused on being evidence-based and not necessarily buying into dogma, that sort of thing, that definitely did help me”


Layne’s academic path, overcoming ADHD, and kicking adderall [11:45]

  • Listening to Joe talk about physiology made Layne want learn more about the human body and do more academically
  • Layne was the first person in his extended family to go to college 
  • ADHD made it hard for him to focus in school, and he found he had to study more than his classmates
    • In an advanced chem course in high school, he studied for 15 hours for a test but a friend who got the same grade only studied a bit the night before
    • Layne’s college roommate could sit and study for 8 hours straight, while he would get in about 30 hours of productive studying if he tried that, so he learned to work in 30-45 minute blocks with breaks in between
  • At Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, he was worried whether he would be able to compete with the other students, so he studied hard and got all As
    • He took Ritalin and Adderall growing up but weaned off of it in grad school because he had developed the right study habits and hasn’t taken meds in 15 years
    • “I always joke, the only problem with Adderall is whatever I was doing when it kicked in was what I was going to be doing for the next eight hours”
  • He thinks struggling when he was young helped because he learned to deal with adversity
  • Layne had planned to study marine science – he was and is passionate about sharks and still has a goal of diving with a great white shark
    • Peter mentions a National Geographic special that mesmerized him where researchers towed a dead whale out to sea to study tiger sharks they thought would feed on it but ended up getting footage a giant great white shark 
    • Layne’s plan was changed by a professor at Florida Institute of Technology who studied great white sharks
      • He said such jobs were very rare, very hard to get, and didn’t pay well
      • Told him to get an undergrad degree in a more general science and then specialize in grad school
  • Layne started in biology instead of marine science, but ultimately switched to biochemistry
    • His first year chem professor, Chris Schnabel, told him to do biochemistry instead because it would lead to more options and better opportunities
    • His second year organic chem professor (“He was firm but fair. If I look back, best mentors were always firm but fair”) asked him to be a summer research assistant even though he got a B in the class because he was passionate and worked hard
  • By his junior year he had started writing articles for bodybuilding.com

{end of show notes preview}

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Layne Norton, Ph.D.

Layne Norton is a natural pro bodybuilder, professional powerlifter, and a bodybuilding / figure / physique coach.  He has won numerous bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions and currently holds the world record for the IPF 93 kg class squat.  He is the co-author of several books, including Fat Loss Forever: How to Lose Fat and KEEP It Off, as well as several research publications. He has a degree in biochemistry from Eckerd College and earned his PhD in nutritional sciences from the University of Illinois.

Website: Biolayne 

Podcast: Physique Science Radio

Twitter: @BioLayne

Facebook: Layne Norton

Instagram: Biolayne

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  1. I’m really looking forward to the discussion about blood flow restriction training (Kaatsu)!

  2. Peter says he does not train to push the upper limit of strength. Excuse my ignorance, but does Peter try to get *stronger* or only maintain through his training?

  3. Please, please, PLEASE! Interview Dr Donald Layman. He ran the lab Norton came out of at U of I. The two of you could do an amazing deep dive on optimization of muscle growth AND our changing needs for protein as we age to provide optimal muscle retention. PLEASE have a chat with him. Thank you!!

  4. Great interview as usual.
    Only disagreement re: finding expertise:
    I agree debates tend not to be that helpful on some topics unless you approach them with a certain requisite knowledge and a practiced ability to spot logical fallacies, which I would wager most people aren’t equipped with unless they’ve studied philosophy and the topic at hand.
    That said, re: certainty of knowledge: this is true in inductive fields and fields of discovery (i.e. science), but not in timeless fields like that of philosophy. There may be new formulations of old ideas in philosophy, but foundational logic and philosophy (and therefore religious debates) don’t fall into this category of iteration and inductive reasoning. The arguments for and against religious belief, the existence of God, etc are the same as they were 1000 years ago. Anything new is simply a rehashing of an old idea. In that regard, look for the person who presents and addresses arguments the most soundly.

    Somewhat irrelevant aside, but again, great interview as usual.

  5. That was a great podcast – thank you. Just a quick question around 2hrs:18mins in, Layne talks about HFCS and that he doesn’t believe it to be any worse than other nutrients but rather it is extremely energy dense. So as long as you balance your energy intake vs. expenditure then it’s fine (paraphrasing). Forgive me if I’ve mistaken but that sounds like the paradigm ‘a calorie is a calorie’ concept that most are navigating away from. Can you help clarify what Layne meant in that part of the podcast especially with respect to the talk with Dr. Robert Lustig where he goes into the biochemistry of the dangers of fructose and HFCS consumption is particularly heinous to our metabolism. Thank you and much appreciated.

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