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Looking for some nutrition advice? Look no further. Here's what our friend from across the pond, Dr Layne Norton had to say when we asked him his nutrition advice for beginners. Layne is a pro bodybuilder, powerlifter and godfather of nutritional science (ps. seriously, if you want to know how to lift, you have to check this guy out!)
When it comes to nutrition, Layne is all about the hardcore FACTS.
Within the article Layne advocates tracking your calories and macros. While there are many benefits to this, and Layne lays out within this article, tracking is not for everyone. In some cases, it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. We encourage you to please be mindful and do what is best for YOU and your personal goals, as your health is the most important thing.
Without further ado, we'll hand you over to Dr. Layne Norton.
The Five Pillars of Nutrition
Good morning class, please take your seats. I’m your professor, Dr. Layne Norton, but you can just call me Layne.
I’ll be taking you through your introductory class on nutrition for looking awesome. Now, this is an extremely broad topic, and I could spend an entire year attempting to teach you just the basics. However, that might not be too thrilling for you all. So, I’m going to attempt to simplify things for you in order to get you jump-started on your quest to get leaner and more jacked.
One thing I want you to understand before we get started is that you are in a VERY delicate place right now.
Many people will try to take advantage of you by promising you quick fixes, magic tricks, biohacks, and other such buffoonery. Please understand that building a great physique takes TIME, more than anything.
There is no magic program. There are no magic foods. There is no magic macronutrient ratio. PERIOD.
Take it from a dude who did a PhD and research for the better part of 10 years attempting to find some magic hack or trick to make myself more jacked because I compete in bodybuilding and powerlifting and trust me when I say; you’ve never met someone more competitive than me. I want to WIN. Actually, I HATE losing to be more specific. So I honestly didn’t go to graduate school with the notion that I wanted to do some awesome deed for mankind and cure some disease. I wanted to learn how to get as jacked and lean as possible, drug-free, using nutrition.
Did I find some cool information? Sure, and I’ll share some of it with you.
What I really found out though, was that 99% of what you read is bullsh*t. That’s right. Pure, unadulterated, horse manure. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because IT IS A LIE.
Changing your body takes discipline, hard work, proper guidance, and TIME… a crapload of it.
Let me hit you with an example. I started competing when I was 19 years old. At the time my legs were a big weakpoint for me. They were weak in strength and in size. I dedicated myself to making them grow. A year went by, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years and they were still not very good. When I tell you I busted my ass, I mean I BUSTED MY ASS.
It wasn’t until almost 10 YEARS LATER that they become what I would call ‘pretty good.’ 15 years after I started that journey to make my legs not suck I hit a world record squat of 668 lbs (303 kg) at 201.5 lbs body weight at the 2015 IPF world championships. So when we talk about building muscle and getting stronger, some people win the genetic lottery, and it happens pretty fast, but for most of you it will mean toiling away for weeks, months, years… decades!
Commit yourself to the process.
Fall in LOVE with the process, and in time the outcome will be yours.
But make no mistake, this is going to take time.
Hell, just go to the supermarket and look at 2 lbs of beef… that is A LOT of tissue! You think synthesizing that happens fast? HELL NO! With that said, here are my 5 nutrition pillars you MUST do as a beginner.
Pillar 1: Make it a Lifestyle
If there’s one thing my research in nutrition has taught me, it’s that 95% of people never stick to any nutrition program for very long, mostly because people don’t make it a lifestyle.
They get caught up in trying ‘tricks’ that are completely unsustainable. Juice fasts, quick fat loss schemes, gimmick programs, and magic diet hacks don’t work.
Why? Because they are impossible to make into a lifestyle.
This is why the vast majority of people who lose fat will put it ALL back on and then some! Whatever strategy you pick for nutrition, make sure that it’s something that you can see yourself doing for YEARS. You want to go on a keto diet? Cool, so long as you can see yourself never having a carb again. Gonna try a juice fasting diet? Ok, have fun with that for the 1 week you are able to adhere to it. Adherence is BY FAR the biggest determining factor in how effective a diet strategy is, far more important than your strategy of low carb, low fat, high protein, etc.
Pillar 2: Track Your Food Intake and Know Your ‘Maintenance Calories’
This is something everyone should do at some point and honestly, it’s pretty easy now with all the apps that are available online.
Why should you track your food intake? The same reason that smart financial people track their income. How are you supposed to budget if you don’t even know how much is coming in? It’s like trying to hit a target blindfolded.
Regardless of what your goal is, knowing how many calories, protein, carbs, and fats you are consuming per day is critical to your success. If you want to gain muscle, then you will want to eat more calories than you burn (expend) and if you want to lose fat you will want to consume fewer calories than you expend. How can you do that if you don’t even know what you are taking in?
If you want to gain muscle and you are eating plenty of protein but still not gaining then you aren’t eating enough calories, so while protein is important, so are total calories. How can we know how many calories to consume? Easy, we find our ‘maintenance calories.’ This refers to the calorie level that you maintain your body weight at (don’t lose weight or gain weight).
How do we do this?
In my opinion, the best way to do this is to track your intake and see what your weight does. If you track your intake consistently for a month and see how your weight responds, you can determine your approximate calorie maintenance level. I recommend weighing every day and taking the average each week so you can get a true, accurate reflection of if your weight is changing. That means weighing in each morning after using the bathroom to get a truly accurate weight; otherwise you could be subject to seeing a wide range of fluctuations. If you track for a month and find that your weight really doesn’t change, congrats you found your maintenance calorie level.
What if it does change, however? How can you figure out what you would maintain at?
Well, it’s complicated and depends on a LOT of factors, but in general, you can equate every kilogram or 1000g of weight to approximately 6000 calories.
So, if you were eating 2400 calories based on your tracking and on average gained 0.3 kg in a month, that would be 0.3kg 6000 = 1800 kcals over maintenance per week. Divide that by 7, and you get approximately 257 calories over your maintenance per day. So, therefore, your maintenance would be equal to 2400 - 257 = 2146 calories (approximately, as things are never this precise in the real world). So if your goal was to keep gaining you could stay here, or you could adjust your intake up or down depending upon the speed you wanted to gain.
If you wanted to lose fat you could adjust your intake accordingly since you now know what your baseline level is.
What if you didn’t want to deal with all tracking? Is there a quick and dirty method?
Sure is, you can use a few equations to approximate your maintenance. Keep in mind however that these are not exact determinations as they will likely only get you in the general vicinity of your maintenance. There are many equations in existence, but my favourite is the Muller equation as it has been shown to be the most accurate for western society.
Muller is BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) = (13.587 x LBM) + (9.613 x FM) + (198 x Sex) – (3.351 x age) + 674
LBM = lean body mass
FM = Fat Mass
Sex = 1 (Male) or 2 (Female)
Age = Years old
You will need to take your body fat to determine your LBM and FM. LBM = total weight - fat mass. Fat Mass = total body weight x body weight x body fat %. So, if you're a 20 year old male weighing 80kg and 10% body fat: FM = 80kg X 0.10 = 8kg FM. LBM then = 80kg - 8kg FM = 72kg.
Thus BMR = (13.587 x 72 ) + (9.613 x 8) + (198 x 1) - (3.351 x 20) + 674
BMR = 1860 calories.
Now we need to multiply by an activity factor based on your lifestyle.
1.2 = Sedentary (little to no exercise and sedentary job)
1.375 = Light Activity (light exercise or moderately active job)
1.55 = Moderate Activity (some exercise or a moderately active job)
1.7 = Active (regular exercise and an active lifestyle)
1.9 Very active (regular intense exercise or a hard labour job or both)
So if our example male regularly exercised but worked a desk job or sat in class all day, we would probably mark him as moderately active.
So we would multiply his BMR of 1860 x 1.55 = 2883 approximate maintenance.
I realise this is still a decent amount of math. So if you want something very quick and dirty then just multiply your weight in kilograms by 35 if you are a male and 30 if you are a female and you will get relatively close. Keep in mind, however, this will be far less accurate as it does not take lean body mass, weight, or age.
Pillar 3: Get Enough Protein and Fibre
If you’ve been into fitness for more than 5 minutes, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of protein and with good reason. High protein diets have been shown to increase lean body mass, improve body composition, recovery, and satiation (meaning it’s more satisfying).
Protein is great, but that doesn’t mean you need to consume it by the boatload. Always keep in mind, more isn’t necessarily better, better is better.
So how much do you ‘need’? Well need isn’t really the right word. You really only need about 0.8g/kg per day to prevent a deficiency (hence the ‘need’) but if you want to optimise body composition and muscle building, something closer to 1.8-2.4g/kg is going to be more optimal.
Moreover, high protein diets have been demonstrated to increase lean body mass, improve recovery from exercise, and improve fat loss relative to calorie-matched, lower protein diets.
Pillar 4: Choose a breakdown of carbohydrates and fats that you enjoy and can adhere to
Currently, in nutrition there is an eternal battle between low carb high-fat proponents and low-fat high carb proponents and everything in between.
Both sides use hand waving arguments to make seemingly compelling points. However, the research data is pretty unconvincing. To date, there have been 32 studies examining carbohydrate vs fats when calories and protein are equated between diets (this is important to control), and most of the studies show virtually no difference in fat loss. If there is any edge at all, there may be a VERY slight advantage to low-fat diets. I discuss this very in depth in my new ebook ‘Fat Loss Forever’ (almost 400 pages of BS busting, science bomb dropping, badassness) That said, the difference is tiny and not likely to make a physiological difference. Thus when constructing your nutrition strategy, I recommend setting it up in the following way.
2. Choose protein intake (1.8-2.4g/kg)
3. Subtract protein calories from total calories
4. Distribute remaining calories to carbs and fats as you prefer
Pillar 5: Don’t sweat the small stuff
Zealots and charlatans will attempt to get you to part with your hard earned money by using enough scientific terms and big words to make you focus on small stuff so they can sell you fad diets, or supplements.
The reality is the 4 principles I just outlined will get you 95% of the way there. Anything else is tiny icing on a very big cake.
FOCUS on the important stuff.
I find 95% of people spend most of their time focusing on the last 5% rather than focusing on what really matters: consistency, adherence, hard work, sustainability, and tenacity. Don’t let your self get suckered. Always remember when someone makes any claim ask yourself 3 things:
Compared to what?
At what cost?
What is the HARD EVIDENCE?
When in doubt, be a skeptic.
Follow Layne on social media @biolayne
Visit Dr. Layne Norton's website here.