Getting into “peak” shape at a specific time is much harder than you might think.
Whether you’re preparing for a bodybuilding contest, a photo shoot, or just a personal goal, there are a lot of ways to mess up your diet and training before the big day.
In this podcast, you’ll learn the most common mistakes people make when trying to reach their peak level of leanness, and how to avoid them. You’ll also learn…
- How to deal with the psychological and emotional challenges of getting lean.
- How to properly time your carbohydrate intake to look leaner
- How to set and adjust your calorie intake during a “cut.”
- The truth behind water and salt manipulation.
- Layne Norton’s best tip to stay lean over the long-term.
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**Armi Legge:** It’s hard to get lean but it’s even harder to stay that way. The biggest challenge is getting lean while maintaining your muscle mass, not losing your sanity or destroying your social life, and not rebounding to a much higher weight after you are as lean as you want to be.
In this podcast, we’re going to talk about what bodybuilders call “peaking,” getting to your leanest possible body composition. Layne Norton, a physique coach, professional bodybuilder, and academic researcher comes on the show to teach you how to get as lean as you possibly can without going crazy in the process. We focus mostly on nutrition in this interview, but we also talk about the mental and emotional challenges that come with getting lean and how to deal with them. Frankly, that is the part that I found the most interesting.
Some of his best advice is at the end so stick around and enjoy the interview.
My name is Armi Legge and you are listening to Impruvism Radio, the podcast that gives you simple, science-based tips to improve your health, fitness, and productivity. If you like what you hear in today’s show, this is how to get more like it. Go to www.impruvism.com, enter your email address in the box on the right side of the page, and hit the button below. After you do, you will get free updates from the Impruvism blog delivered to your email inbox when they’re published.
Now, let’s talk about how to get ridiculously lean while staying sane from Layne Norton.
Layne, thank you so much for coming on the show. Would you tell our listeners who you are and what you do?
**Layne Norton:** It’s always a difficult question for me to answer because I have such a unique job. I guess the best way I could describe myself would be a physique consultant or a physique coach. I work with a lot of people who obviously are getting ready for bodybuilding shows or want to improve their body composition– I would say about 95% of the people I work with are competitors or are working toward competitors or some kind of stage goal, or are models who do photo shoots frequently, that sort of thing.
I guess what makes me a little different is I really try to work toward optimizing their body composition but also keeping in mind their health long-term, kinda metabolic health, and also trying to provide a different level of coaching service than is out there. I like to think of myself kinda like the . . . you can go buy a Toyota and it will get you the same place a Mercedes Benz will get you but I try to be the Mercedes Benz. I try to be the much smoother ride. If that makes sense.
**Armi Legge:** Yes, absolutely. I like how you describe yourself as a “physique architect” on your website, too. That’s an awesome term. One of the reasons I like your approach and why our listeners will like your approach is you also focus on staying sane throughout the process and not resorting to a lot of dubious and stressful tactics to get there. Bodybuilding and modeling and all these things are sports where that can become a pretty big problem. How did you get interested in bodybuilding specifically? It’s a crazy sport, so what got you into it?
**Layne Norton:** I kind of picked up lifting weights when I was around 14, 15 years old because I got picked on a lot. I was very insecure. I didn’t have very noble intentions when I started lifting weights. It was to stop getting bullied and to get attention from girls, essentially. Ironically, neither of those things came about because of weight lifting. I still got picked on and still didn’t get much attention from girls in high school, but it did help me with self-esteem. I kind of did it on and off until was about 17 years old and then I really got serious with it.
I played baseball through high school and that was my competitive outlet. Then when I was done, I wanted something to keep me driving towards goals and so one part of that was academics, but the other part was that I decided to start competing in bodybuilding, and that kinda became my outlet for my competitive nature.
**Armi Legge:** Cool. So the main thing we are going to talk about today is peaking for a bodybuilding show or a photo shoot or somebody who just wants to look good on a certain date. So what is peaking from a bodybuilding perspective?
**Layne Norton:** I’ll give you what people think it is and then what I think it is. I think it’s not messing somebody up. I think it’s taking somebody who is in really good shape and kind of massaging a few variables to make sure that, at the very least, they’re going to be at 95% – 98% of their absolute best and, at the very best, you’ll be at 100%. Most people think it means that you can take yourself from 100% to 150% and become some kind of a superhuman compared to how you looked a week out from that event. I will tell everybody that I am not arrogant enough to think that I can make that big of a difference.
We have tens of thousands of metabolic processes going on in our body, only a few of which we can really directly influence through nutrition and various manipulations, so I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can make all those things be perfect at the same time.
My goal is to get consistency from my clients and if we can get them a few extra percent better, that’s what I’m going for. But I always say I’m not going to sacrifice 20% trying to get 2%. I’m going to try to be very consistent with people but I see a lot of people out there making huge changes in the final weeks before a show, before a photo shoot, and then being baffled when they look worse. It’s like, “well you had gotten yourself used to a certain way of dieting, of training, and then you completely changed that a week before a show or a photo shoot and really, you’re baffled you didn’t look as good?”
It’s kind of bizarre that it’s come to be this way. I honestly blame my profession for that. As a coach, if I say, “Hey, there’s no magic. We really just need to get you lean enough and then we just need to not screw you up at the end,” people would go, “why the hell should I pay you?” I have been able to make a good living because I don’t fib to people. I don’t lie to people. I don’t overexaggerate my work. I think people still appreciate, like I said . . . people always ask me, “why should I hire a coach?” You don’t need a coach. Nobody needs a coach. Again, if you have a good one, it can make your journey a lot smoother. It can take a lot of pressure off you in terms of the emotional ups and downs you go through getting ready.
Again, it’s like if I have extra spending money and I want a Mercedes Benz and I say that’s a nicer ride than a Toyota, is it OK for me to go spend that money? Sure. If I’m broke and I can’t pay my bills, should I go out and buy that Mercedes Benz? Absolutely not. I look at that like it’s a pure luxury thing.
But a lot of coaches, in an attempt to overinflate their sense of worth or convince people that they have some sort of magic solution to acquire more clients, will tell people, “Yeah, if we do this, this, this, and this, and do this, this, this, and this, we can totally change how you look in the final week.” It has a dual-marketing effect. One, people always want the magic solution. You know this. You wrote that great article on clean eating. “What’s the magic food?” “What’s this one thing I’ve got to do?”
Just to give you an example of how deeply it goes with coaches, I was in Australia and an extremely well known and worldwide followed coach had just been over there. He had a girl convinced that the reason she was not losing body fat was that her makeup was not organic. I mean come on! It’s great, right? People hear that and go, “Oh! That’s it!” It’s that one little thing because it makes them feel better because it’s like, “OK, it’s not me. It’s nothing something with my metabolism. It’s not something intrinsic. It’s an outside influencer that I can easily cut out and change things.” So, I think that’s kind of how it’s gotten.
And the other function it makes is when people don’t look as good on stage, the coach, because they’ve changed a billion variables at the very end, they can go back and look at some minute thing that the person did. They can always pick out something. “Oh, you stood on your feet too long.” “Oh, your flight was the day before.” “Oh, you ate this kind of rice cake instead of this kind of rice cake. You should have asked me.” They can always pick out something. What the person says is, “Wow, this is so complex. There is no way I can do this on my own. I definitely need a coach.” It serves a dual function.
Apparently, I’m very bad at marketing but I’m very good at what I do, fortunately, so I still get clients.
**Armi Legge:** I think you’re pretty good, man. You tell people exactly what they get and you give it to them. It’s good marketing from my perspective. So what are some of the main mistakes that people make when peaking for a photo shoot? If you could classify them into several main categories, either in training or diet or whatever, what are some of the big slip ups that people make?
**Layne Norton:** I think the biggest ones are deviating so much from what their body is used to. Think about even if you did something right with your training– let’s talk just training for a second. I’m a big fan of daily undulating periodization, the higher volume programming. Something like a Smolov squat routine which, for people who don’t know, is an absolutely brutal squat routine. You do it four times a week. It’s heavy, but by God it works. Being in the high 585, 590 squat range, I put 30 pounds on my squat in three weeks doing it. But when I went from training a certain way to that, it completely blew up my life. I felt terrible the first week. I was bloated from inflammation. I looked like I had been stung by a bee because my quads were so inflamed and my hamstrings were so inflamed.
The ultimate outcome of that was that I performed better. I got stronger. But because I changed so much, it was a shock to the system that first week. It goes to show you that even if you’re doing things that might not necessarily be bad, if you’re just shocking yourself so much, physique-wise, it can cause you problems.
Obviously, I think the biggest problems that people make are cutting sodium, cutting water. I’ve tried to develop ideas behind why this has evolved to be a good thing, because if you completely take out the dogma of cutting water, cutting sodium, it absolutely makes zero sense. Your muscle is 70% water. If you talk to a person about “should I drink water?” and I’m not talking competition, “Drink water, it helps your muscle fullness. You’ll feel better. You’ll be healthier.” All this kind of stuff. Then the day before the show, “Don’t drink any water! Don’t drink any water!” They have this idea that people are perpetually holding water. I get that all the time. I get the person who’s 20% body fat telling me how much water they hold.
I was at a show one time and I saw a guy who was probably about 12% body fat carbing up on Honey Nut Cheerios and cutting his water. He got done and he said, “Man, I really mistimed my carb load.” I didn’t want to say anything bad, but I was thinking, “You mistimed it by about 12 weeks.”
The other thing is cutting sodium. Just think about it from this perspective. If you were pretty lean, you go out and you have something salty like a cheat meal or something like that. Have a burrito or a piece of pizza and something like that. “Oh my God! I look crazy vascular and hard and I’m so filled out.” If your normal sodium intake is 3000mg a day and you have a day you bump up to 6000, the next day, you will look more watery. But if you maintain that 6000mg for a few days, your body will adjust to that and you will excrete more sodium to compensate and you will end up looking the same. Unless you have some sort of kidney problem where you don’t excrete sodium very well.
But during the day where you’re kinda doing a little bit more sodium loading, you’ll notice you look harder and more vascular. People ask me what they can do for vascularity before they work out. Eat some sodium. Eat something that’s salty. Sodium is a nice solute that pulls water with it. If you’ve got sodium in your blood vessels, you’re going to pull water into your blood vessels and you’re going to look vascular and hard.
It’s kind of like when science get bastardized. “Oh! Well if you look at the sodium potassium pumps on cells, sodium is pumped out and potassium is pumped in. That must mean potassium is inside the cell ion and sodium is the outside of the cell ion. If we just load a bunch of potassium and cut out sodium, we’ll have more inside the cell, less outside the cell.” If you’re somebody who doesn’t really understand fluid dynamics, you might think, “Oh, OK. That actually makes sense.” If you actually put it to the flame of science, it doesn’t hold up.
In fact, if you get your potassium to sodium ratio too high, it will actually cause you to retain water. You reabsorb water in the distal tubule in the kidney. Probably the best example of the ineffectiveness of cutting sodium was a study that was done at Harvard in 1991. I think it was for the Army. They wanted to look at how electrolyte depletion affected people. They took men and put them on as low a sodium diet as they possibly could. They had them do that for six days. That looked at their blood levels of sodium, their urinary sodium, and their aldosterone. Aldosterone is a hormone that causes you to retain water. If your aldosterone is higher, you will be retaining water. It will cause you to reabsorb water.
What is funny is most people start cutting sodium and water two days before a show. They showed that two days after you start to cut sodium, your aldosterone had doubled. You’re doubling the concentrations of the hormone that will actually make you retain water by cutting sodium. Further, they didn’t change their blood levels of sodium. What happens is your kidneys get so efficient at reabsorbing sodium back into the bloodstream that you completely stop excreting sodium in order to maintain your blood sodium levels.
Well, when you reabsorb that sodium, you have to reabsorb it with water since it’s a solitaire, only now, since you’ve been cutting sodium, you don’t have the same level of blood pressure in your blood vessels and you can’t hold the reabsorbed fluid there and leads into your interstitial fluid. And so congratulations! By cutting sodium and cutting water, you have actually managed to put water exactly where you don’t want it, which in your interstitial layer.
I always say, “What’s the definition of insanity?” It’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right? Well, how many times do we see bodybuilders or bikini athletes or figure athletes or whoever you want to say, and they’ll say, “Man, I looked good a week out!” or “I looked so good the day before a show” and then “I looked terrible on show day. What happened?” And after they go after the show, they’ll eat a cheat meal and they’ll looking great after the cheat meal and they’ll post a bunch of pictures and people go, “Oh! Why didn’t they look like this on stage?” And then they’ll say, “You know what it was? I just mistimed my carb load. I just need to load more carbs.” But if you look at their carb load, they were eating like 500g – 1000g of carbs per day.
They didn’t miss their carb load. What they did was went out, ate some sodium, drank some water, and they finally filled out, but they’re so brainwashed to think that sodium and water bad, carbs good in terms of peak week that they think it’s just the carbs.
It’s difficult doing that but what’s funny is I had a client one time. My clients look bad the day after their show. If we do it right, they look bad the next day. They’re holding water the next day. This person just won their natural pro card. They emailed me and they said, “I’m really freaked out!” “Why is that?” It’s Sunday, after a show. “I look really bad.” “OK, why is that a problem?” “Everyone from the show is posting pictures saying how awesome they look today.” I said, “Well, let me ask you a question. Did you look good on stage?” “Yeah.” “Did you look better on stage than you look today?” “Yes.” “So you’re saying you would like to trade those two?” “Oh…. ”
It’s funny how that kinda works out. Because of the dogma, people almost expect to look better the day after the show than they do on show day. That’s how bad it has gotten.
**Armi Legge:** Interesting. It sounds like the idea of cutting sodium and cutting water a lot before a show or trying to get really lean is not very well supported and not a very good idea. What are your recommendations to use water and sodium when they’re getting ready for peaking?
**Layne Norton:** It is a little bit complicated and it will vary from person to person. For example, I look at what the person has been doing sodium/fluid-wise their entire prep. About two or three weeks before the show, I’ll start having them start start to track sodium and water intake. Let’s say somebody has been taking in a gallon of fluid a day and 3,000mg of sodium. I will typically keep them pretty close to that.
It’s so individual that it’s tough to talk about it, but in general terms, as people peak, as they load or deplete carbohydrates– and when I say load and deplete, I’m talking about still within the range of what is normal for their bodies. For example, if their low carb day is 150g of carbs, if I’m “depleting” them, I may take them down to 100g. It’s still somewhat reasonable for their range of their body. If they’re high carb day is 300g, I might take them up to 400g as a “load.” I’m not going to take somebody who’s highest carb day during prep is 300 and say, “OK, here is 800g of carbs.” I think that is completely ridiculous.
As carbs go up, I will reduce sodium slightly for the simple fact that I’m trying to keep solute load consistent on the kidneys. It keeps water excretion consistent. It’s just easier to predict that way. As carbs go down, I will take sodium slightly up.
Typically, for people who don’t know, I typically am a fan of front loading carbs in peak week. Instead of loading them the day before and or two days before a show, I will actually load them earlier in the week. The reason for that is it gives you wiggle room so that if you miss in terms of you load too much and let’s say you make a person spill, you have days to fix it. If you load them Monday, Tuesday, and they’re looking way spilled over Wednesday, Thursday, we have time to fix it. It’s not a huge deal. Or if they’re too flat, again, you have time to fix it. You can add in more. But if you load somebody two days before, now you’re trying to fix it on show day. You have hours to fix it
Earlier in the week, as carbs come up, I will take sodium slightly down. When I talk about “slight,” I mean I might adjust it 20% – 30%. It’s never going to be a complete depletion. It’s always within the realm of what their body sees as normal. If somebody is taking in 3,000mg of sodium per day, the lowest I’ll probably take it is 2,700 or 2,500 and the highest I’ll probably take it is 3,500mg to 4,000mg. It’s never a shock to the body. Like I said, it’s more kinda massaging those variables.
It’s kind of like when I talk about with dieting down in terms of whenever you plateau. You try to make as small adjustment as possible to restart fat loss. If you make too big of an adjustment, you actually start kinda forcing your body into these metabolic adaptations. Obviously, we’re talking about two different things but there’s a quote up there by Scott Abel, who don’t agree on everything, but I do agree with him on this. I may butcher the quote, but he said something to the effect of, “If you force your body, it will react. If you coax your body, it will respond.” It’s about making subtle adjustments, not just completely making huge fluctuations.
**Armi Legge:** Good answer. So let’s talk a little bit more about the dieting side of things in the weeks leading up, not just the week before peak. How do you usually decide on somebody’s calorie intake and how do you adjust that 8 – 12 weeks out?
**Layne Norton:** That’s an excellent question. I was in the UK doing a day seminar for Physique Elite. I was basically kinda training trainers or coaches on this stuff. I’ve found that I really enjoy coaching coaches now because I feel like that’s how I can make the biggest difference in this industry, is to help make better coaches.
What I’ll tell them is, because people will ask me, “What about this formula to calculate basal metabolic rate? What about this formula? What about getting metabolic cart done?” And I’ve used all those. I’ve used every formula you can imagine. I’ve used metabolic cart. I’ve had people go in and get their theoretical metabolic rate done and I have just found that the best way to get somebody’s starting calorie, macronutrient intake is have them log their food for a week.
Tell them there is no right or wrong answer for this. I used to get people who would try to “eat clean”the entire week and impress me, and I said, “No, I want you to give me a completely accurate representation of what your macronutrient intake is currently. If it’s 600g of carbs and 300g of fat, so be it. That’s totally fine.” In fact, that’s probably better for starting a diet because your metabolic rate is going to be pretty high. And then try to get an idea of, over the last month, what their weight has done. Has it gone up? Is it going down slightly? What rate? Is it remaining the same?
A lot of times it will be, “OK, your calorie intake is 3,200 per day and you gained a pound or two over the last month.” That means this is a slight caloric excess for them. I’ll say this is probably 200 – 300 calories over their maintenance. I will look at how much fat we have to lose and how much time we have to lose it and that will give me kinda how much fat we have to lose per week. Then I’ll extrapolate that to what kind of deficit we need to start with. If we need to lose the gold standard of 1 pound per week, we’re going to aim for somewhere around a 00 calorie deficit.
Sometimes when I start talking about these metabolic issues, people try to tell me that I’m not a scientist and I don’t do math because I’m talking about “violating the laws of thermal dynamics” and I say, “No, no, no. You can’t violate the laws of thermodynamics. What I’m trying to say to you is that metabolism is such a complex and inefficient or efficient process.” Your body has an amazing out of flux. It can adjust to be efficient or inefficient such that math doesn’t always work the way we predict it to.
I’ll give you a perfect example of that. When people plateau. If I get somebody and I start them at a 500 calorie deficit, they may lose 3 pounds the first week. Does that mean they violated the laws of thermodynamics because they were only supposed to lose 1 pound? No. There is a lot of other stuff going on. Weight can fluctuate depending on fluid dynamics, all these sorts of things.
I keep data on my clients. Typically, most people will plateau in fat loss every 3 – 6 weeks, at least in my experience. Some people more frequently, some people less. If we’re going to by thermodynamics, the traditional view of math, if they’ve plateaued, that means that’s the new maintenance, right? Because they’re not gaining or losing weight. So that means if we want to restart fat loss, wound to get another 500 calorie deficit in there. You could easily have somebody who starts out at 2,000 calories a day and boom to 1,500 and boom to 1,000.
What we find is that even if you adjust even like 80 to 120 calories or 150 calories off, you will pretty much restart that fat loss. I mean I’ll typically take somebody– let’s say their carb intake is somewhere around 200g per day and their fat intake is somewhere more around 60g per day, if they plateau on fat loss, I may say, “OK, let’s draw 15g of carbs and 3g of fat, and on your high carb days, let’s drop 20g of carbs and 3g of fat and then let’s add another interval to your HITT sessions and let’s see if that restarts fat loss.” I would say with almost an 80% – 90% success rate, that picks up the fat loss again.
Again, are they somehow violating the laws of thermodynamics? No. The difference is our bodies are not bomb calorimeters. It’s not a closed system. There are a lot of other variables at play. I think people forget that.
Don’t get me wrong, I think math is fine and it’s OK to talk about math, but I saw somebody who was talking about how, “Well, you can’t possibly do an hour of cardio and eat 1,000 calories a day and not lose weight.” Well, unless there are thousands of people who are directly lying to me, I beg to differ. And I know some of these people who are competitors and I know them and these people would literally eat nothing if they thought it would get them leaner.
They say, “Well, look at the treadmill output. It says you’re burning 700 calories in that hour and you’re only eating 1,000 calories a day and your basal metabolic rate is at least 800.” Something like that. Well, you’re assuming that calorie tracker on that treadmill is accurate and the fact of the matter is, when you diet down, your body gets much more efficient at producing ATP during exercise. Your adoptive thermogenesis takes over. You have reduced proton leak in the mitochondrial membrane. You don’t give off nearly the same amount of thermogenesis.
Again, I think math is fine as kind of a starting point, but I think it’s also important to pay attention to what actually happens in terms of what actually causes fat loss.
**Armi Legge:** That does seem like it’s an interesting disconnect where a lot of physique coaches do feel that the numbers often don’t add up the same way you would expect it to based on these estimations study where they look at different formulas. It’s an interesting observation.
**Layne Norton:** And I will tell people like, look, I had a very long article out there on contest prep where I use all these calculations. I’ll tell people that I think it’s a distribution almost. For 60% – 70% of people, that will probably work, but there is a certain number of the population that will be outliers. They will not fall into the average. A lot of times, they’re competitors because you’re dealing with people who are outside the norm because they’re competitors. Or they’re competitors because they’re outside the norm. However you want to look at it, the chicken or the egg.
I think if I was just slave to mathematics, I would still be doing things much more ineffectively than I am now. I tell people I completely believe in the scientific process, but what people don’t understand is, and when I make this comparison, I am in no way comparing myself to Isaac Newton. I am sure people will take it like that because people love to get on me, but when Newton saw the apple fall from the tree, was he able to run to Pub Med and cite an abstract and say, “Hey, look! Gravity caused that.” No.
Part of the scientific process is you make an anecdotal observation and then you form a hypothesis to explain that observation, and then you test it. Then you look at your data and you say, “OK, does my data support my hypothesis?” You either reject the hypothesis or you perform more tests until you get to the point where you accept the hypothesis. So kinda where I’m at in terms of what I have seen with people, what the data says around that, is I kinda form the hypothesis of what I think is happening and I would love to see it get tested.
I’ve been talking with various professors like Dr. Abbie Smith-Ryan at the University of North Carolina. I actually prepped her for a figure show. She’s a nutrition and exercise professor. She got to the point where she was eating around 1,000 calories a day. I told her. I was like, “Abbie, I don’t want to take you any lower than this. You’re a professor. You’ve got to have brain function.”
Well, she had run for year. She’s kind of the prototypical of what I talk about. She was used to three hours of cardio a day. She was doing like 4 or 5 HITT. I mean, she was absolutely the maximum of what I feel like going in terms of how low on calories and she was stuck. Couldn’t lose any more weight. So she actually experienced this kind of disconnect where you look at the math on paper and it doesn’t work out. She’s actually been reverse dieting now. She’s within a few pounds of her contest weight and I think she said her carbs are up to like 300g. Again, she should be violating the laws of thermodynamics if she’s adding calories like that and she has her carbs up to 300g per day but she hasn’t gained much body fat.
Some people say that’s a violation of thermodynamics. Not when you consider the way the body can adapt to become more efficient or more inefficient in terms of ATP production. What I always tell people is, “OK, is she lying to me? Is this professor lying to me about what’s going on?” I’m sure some of the people will say, “Yes! She has to be lying.”
Anyway, we would love to set up some research to look at that, but whenever you’ve got a new concept out there, it’s very difficult to get funding for it. I would love to see some of these ideas get tested.
**Armi Legge:** It sounds like for setting a calorie deficit, as you said, it’s best to start out with tracking your food intake for a week or two, maybe working with a coach like yourself to really dig into it and make sure it’s accurate.
**Layne Norton:** I tell people, too, that you want to be able to lose weight slow enough that you don’t create an enormous energy gap that I talk about in some of my videos. When you create a big energy gap, your body is going to push back at you by making metabolic adaptations, by lowering your metabolic rate.
Now don’t get me wrong. Even if you diet perfectly, you do everything to what I would consider a very, very good diet, your metabolism is still going to slow down. That’s just part of dieting. But what you want to do in minimize that metabolic slowing. You want to minimize those metabolic adaptations. When you’re dieting, I think you should basically use the smallest deficit possible to get a maximum benefit. I think there’s kind of a sweet spot for that.
I tell people I prefer them not to have to lose more than 1% of their body weight per week. I think if you go over that, you’re getting too aggressive. And by the time your body adapts and catches back up to you, you’re going to plateau very, very hard.
For example, people say, “You’re saying you can’t lose weight on 1,000 calories a day?” That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is somebody who is– let’s say it’s their first diet. If they go to 1,000 calories per day, yes, they will lose a lot of body fat. They will eventually plateau. Adoptive thermogenesis will catch up with them. When they plateau, now they have set their threshold so low for calorie intake, what do they do now to continue to lose? You know, lots of cardio essentially.
Again, I have this idea of kind of your metabolic tank. Keep that tank as full as you can so that when you do plateau, you have enough room to make adjustments, and make as small of an adjustment as possible to continue fat loss.
**Armi Legge:** So after somebody has estimated their calorie intake and say they have plateaued 3 – 6 weeks later, they’re getting a little stressed out, then make a few small adjustments in their calorie intake.
**Layne Norton:** Exactly. And kind of keep track of how you respond to those adjustments. You could also make adjustments that are too small. If you just make a really small adjustment, you may not get any response. It’s about finding kind of that sweet spot. I typically tell people, at minimum, take out 5% to reduce carbs and fats by 5% and add a little bit of cardio. Now that’s just a general guideline, but I would say more typical people probably have to adjust somewhere around 10% of carbs and fats down. But again, I’ve seen anybody make results anywhere between those two.
Again, I wish I had a magical– people say, “Why don’t you just write a book with the formulas in it?” I say trust me, if I had something that worked for everyone, I would. Then I could just retire and live off the royalties.
**Armi Legge:** That would be nice.
**Layne Norton:** Exactly.
**Armi Legge:** If you could give our listeners one tip for optimizing their nutrition in a sane way that doesn’t drive them nuts throughout 12 weeks out, leading up to their competition or photo shoot or whatever it is, what would that tip be?
**Layne Norton:** Whooh… one tip?
**Armi Legge:** It can be as simple or complex as you want.
**Layne Norton:** I will give you one simple and one more complex. I would say go as slow as you possibly can within the time frame that you have. Now, if you’ve got to lose 20 pounds in 12 weeks to get yourself photo shoot ready, obviously you can’t go too slow. But I would say don’t try to lose 40 pounds in 12 weeks. That is not going to end well. Even if you get lean enough, you’re going to rebound very badly. That’s what the data says. The faster you lose it, the more you rebound.
But also make it something maintainable. I don’t know you in terms of what emails you get, but I’m sure you got a lot of negative feedback from your “Clean Eating is a Myth” article. I’m sure you got a lot of hateful messages. It’s almost like you insult somebody’s religion. But I tell you, people will say, “You have a real problem with clean eating. Why is it a problem?” It’s not that it’s unhealthy to “eat clean” or anything like that.
My problem Israel– we’re speaking in theoreticals. People say, “Well, you can’t tell me a Poptart is better for me than a sweet potato.” That’s not what I’m arguing. What I’m arguing is you cannot maintain that kind of a diet throughout your entire life. You’re going to have anniversaries come up. You’re going to have different things come up that require you almost in the social aspect– if you’re not going to be a hermit, if you’re not going to be an asshole, to partake in.
The best diet is not always the diet that is theoretically best, but the one that you can stick to. I tell people I would rather have you 90% on 100% of the time as opposed to 100% on 70% of the time and the 30% of the time you’re not on, you’re binging, which is what I see from a lot of people. A lot of people! I just see they put so much pressure on themselves to eat only good foods, which by the way is called orthorexia nervosa, look it up.
I love the definition called “righteous eating,” which I believe is completely factual. It always annoys me when people feel they’re ethically and morally superior for eating a certain way. But I’m digressing here.
So what is the solution? Well, the solution, in my opinion, is you utilize a system of dieting that is maintainable, that you can eat a slice of pizza and you don’t have such terrible guilt that you become an emotional wreck and you eat the entire thing because you say, “Oh, this is a ‘bad food.’ I have already ruined my entire diet because I’m not eating clean. I might as well eat the whole damn thing.”
Invariably, 90% of people I see follow this practice of eating, they’ll be bragging about eating clean, and then the next post I see on Instagram is “Epic Cheat Meal Day!” and it’s doughnuts and cakes and pizza and all this stuff, and then the next post is them bitching about putting on 10 pounds. It’s like, “You don’t see the association between the two??” What if you could eat all those foods that you want to eat and not feel guilty about it and still make progress? What would be wrong with that?
I guess that’s my long-witted answer. It’s to find something you make maintainable. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve worked with. I’ll give you an example. Dianna Dahlgren. She’s a pro bikini competitor. When she came to me, she literally said, “I don’t give a shit about competing anymore. I just want to feel normal.” At this point, she told me she had a full blown eating disorder. She was binging. In her previous prep, she had been restricted to 600 calories a day and 3 hours of cardio per day. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
So what we did was I said, “OK, well, the first thing we’re going to do is normalize your calorie intake and we’re going to teach you this way of tracking your macronutrients so that if you want something, you can have it and not have it just completely warp your mind.” And within a month, she had completely stopped having binges. Three are four months later, she basically said, “I have a total normal with food now. I don’t feel guilty when I eat something ‘bad.’ I can eat one cookie and stop and fit it into my macros. Food isn’t dominating my life.”
I know so many people whose lives are dominated by food. When they’re eating clean, they’re focused on that, but they’re always thinking about their next cheat meal. And then when they’re eating that cheat meal, and they’re thinking about eating clean again. It’s kind of this never ending, vicious cycle.
Now I think we’ve been working together 6, 7, 8 months and she’s been dropping no problem. She’s been dropping body fat steadily and she’s eating more than she ever has because she’s gotten out of this cycle where you super restrict yourself, you lower your metabolic rate, and then you intersperse that with short, enormous calorie intakes that put on a lot of body fat and don’t have the function of improving your metabolic rate long term.
Again, if you want to have a theoretical discussion of what the absolute best diet may be, sure. We can have that discussion and it may be that it’s “clean foods” that are more protein, more fiber, this and that. But the fact of the matter is, for most people, that is not a reasonable recommendation– even for competitors. People say, “What about high level competitors? They have to be a little crazy.”
OK, let’s explore that for a second. Let’s assume somebody eats clean and they get very, very lean, etc., etc., but then afterward, because they’ve not got this mindset and they start eating normal foods again, they blow up. I see this all the time. People are 30, 40 pounds above stage weight within weeks of their show. Now you’ve got to strip all that off again for your next show. It makes dieting harder and harder again over time.
Well what if you allowed yourself a few small treats here and there during contest prep? Let me tell you what. People say, “All they do is eat Poptarts and ice cream and all that stuff.” You cannot eat a body composition friendly macronutrient breakdown with enough fiber if you’re only eating junk, so stop it. And what if you allowed yourself a few treats so that when you got done with contest prep, you got really lean and you didn’t go off the deep end and maybe you only put on 15 or 20 pounds in the off season and now you’ve got much less body fat to lose, dieting has gotten easier, and you can get leaner and leaner over time?
I look at this from a long term, sustainability standpoint, which I guess makes me different from other coaches in terms of most coaches only look at one prep as “this is it” and I look at it as, “OK, I want this prep to go well but I also want to know how it’s going to impact preps down the road, the person’s health down the road, all those sorts of things.”
**Armi Legge:** Good answer.
**Layne Norton:** There was your enormously long-winded and complex answer.
**Armi Legge:** No, that’s good. It was simple and it was long and I think it will help people. So, good.
**Layne Norton:** Again, I talk about all this stuff because I’ve done everything. I’ve cut sodium and water at shows. I’ve done the thing where I never ate bad foods. I only ate clean. By the way, I would binge whenever I would have a cheat meal. I’ll raise my hand up. Whenever I’m giving speeches, I will tell everybody in that seminar, “I talk about all this stuff because I have made all these mistakes.” Every single one. Every single ineffective technique I talk about, I’ve done it at one point.
People don’t realize that part of this stuff is science, but people often want to paint me up as a guy who’s just a geek in a lab coat. Guys, let’s pretend like I’ve never gotten lean myself or never picked up anything heavy, OK?
It’s funny. Especially women. I think society pressures women to look at women a certain way. I’ll have their calorie intake up. I am working with a pro bikini competitor right now. When she came to me, she was on 160g of carbs per day, like 45g of fat, so not terrible. But we’ve been reverse dieting her and she actually lost 8 pounds. She’s a hyper responder. Her carb intake is now 350g and her fat intake is 75g. This was over 6 months, so very slow, but definitely a hyper responder to reverse dieting.
It’s very interesting how the psyche changes, because when she started, she was like, “I hate the way I look.” Because she was 20 or 30 pounds over stage weight. “I hate the way I look. I just want to get lean.” As we added calories, she started focusing on positive things like, “I love the way I feel. I’m so strong during training.” All these sorts of things. People try to separate psychological and physiological and I don’t try to separate them because I think they’re all intertwined.
**Armi Legge:** That’s a great point. With some of the research on anorexia, I don’t know if this is readily applicable to other people, but I know that in anorexic people, cutting calories and severe restriction definitely accelerates the progression of depression and other psychological problems. So that makes sense.
**Layne Norton:** I’ll tell people that low calories will make you crazy. It will make you crazy. Or it will be associated with crazy. Whichever one. I have a lady I work with. A very nice lady, but she was very hard on herself all the time. The breaking point for her . . . she was so negative about herself. This is a person, mind you, even at her fattest, is leaner than 99.9% of the population. I hear this from competitors all the time. It drives me nuts.
One of the reason I’m such a huge fan of Brooke Erickson, who’s IFBB figure pro, is because Brooke is completely transparent. She went through eating disorders. She went through all kinds of stuff. She put her story right out there, unashamed for the world. One of the things she always says is, “You have to be enough. You are enough.” I tell this to a lot of my clients. If your self worth is completely tied to what you see in the mirror or what you see on the scale, you will be an unhappy person regardless of how good you ever look. I promise you that.
So this lady looked great, even at her absolute fattest but she was so negative about herself. What finally stopped her and got her to change her mindset was her 5-year old daughter was standing in front of the mirror and she goes, “I can’t believe how fat I look. I need to diet.” You want to talk about giving a kid a complex. For you mothers out there, for you fathers out there who are competitors, who do these sorts of things, if you’re always talking negatively about your physique, don’t you think that your kids don’t see that? They absolutely see that. That’s when this woman said, “Wow. I realize I have a poor relationship with food, but I’m going to give my daughter a poor relationship with food.”
Like I said, low calories . . . it will mess with your head over time. What I find is with people who reverse diet, again, even when they’re over where they want to be when they first start, they’re not where they want to be body fat-wise, when their first updates come in, it’s, “I hate the way I look. I want to lose body fat.” And as we lose calories, even if they’re not dropping body fat, they’ll start focusing more on positive things. “I love the way I look” or “I’m not happy with how I look, but I love the strength. I love the energy I feel. I feel mentally refreshed.” Those sorts of things. So they just become kinda more positive focused over time.
Out of competitors, I would say almost 50% of more have had an abnormal relationship with food. I don’t know if I want to call it an eating disorder.
**Armi Legge:** That’s a good, diplomatic way of putting it. I’m glad you mentioned that, too. I’m working on a small booklet on body image disorders right now and there is a good bit of research showing that parental influences on children are probably more significant than just about anything else, including the media. So that’s an excellent point.
**Layne Norton:** Absolutely. It’s not enough to tell your kids. You have to lead by example. I look at how I grew up and what my parents did. I was very fortunate. I had great parents, awesome parents. A lot of people say, “Where do you get your work ethic from? Where do you get your mindset from?” My parents never told me a lot of the stuff, but I saw it. We weren’t poor in the sense that I had to worry about clothing or having my basic needs met in terms of food, shelter, and those sorts of things, but we didn’t have a lot of money for much else. We were lower-middle class. My parents had a business and they lost the business. It became insolvent basically.
They paid off every single person they owed. They didn’t file bankruptcy. They paid off their creditors. So I saw that. I saw them act in an ethical way. I also saw they never blamed anybody for it. It was never, “Oh, these big companies came in and they just wanted to squash the little guy” or “Oh, rich people did this to us” or, “The government should come help us.” Sorry, I’m not trying to get into politics.
But I saw that and I saw them pull themselves out of that situation. Now they make a very, very good living. So I was able to see at a young age, OK, you can be at one place but you can go to another place if you work hard. So I follow that example. Same thing with negative stuff, though. If you are insecure and you are always beating up your yourselves, what do you think your kids are going to do? They will follow the example you set for them. I try to tell that to people all the time.
**Armi Legge:** That’s great advice. Obviously, we’ve used a lot of your time. Would you tell our listeners where they can find more of your work and where they can learn more about peaking?
**Layne Norton:** Yeah, sure. The best place to find anything to do with me is my website biolayne.com. Specifically for peaking, there is a great 6-part series I did on bodybuilding.com. If you just go to bodybuilding.com and search “Layne Norton peak week” or “peak week guide,” it should come up. Then, of course, I have a facebook fan page. Facebook.com/laynenorton. My twitter handle is @biolayne. My Instagram handle is @biolayne. My youtube channel is www.youtube.com/biolayne, which, again, I try to have almost monthly lessons on nutrition or training or philosophy I guess, if you want to call it that. You can get a lot of information from those as well.
**Armi Legge:** You have some DVDs, too, don’t you?
**Layne Norton:** I have two DVDs. They’re available on my website biolayne.com or bodybuilding.com sells Reloaded, which is the most recent one. And on Amazon.com, you can find both of them. I have “Unleashed” and “Reloaded.” “Unleashed” is shorter and it’s more philosophy in terms of my training and nutrition philosophies. It’s the older one. And then “Reloaded” is more inspirational, motivation. It’s tracking my journey to stage. It’s my favorite one in terms of, to be honest with you, it’s a better DVD. They’re both good. They both have good reviews. It’s longer. It still had plenty of information in it. So yeah. Those are my kind of my two things I’ve got going out there.
**Armi Legge:** Great, great. Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge today and I’m sure our listeners will learn a lot more when they check out those other links, which will be in show notes for this episode.
As you just heard in the podcast, I am releasing a new booklet on body image disorders. The book will teach you what causes body image disorders, the most common myths and misconceptions about body image disorders, and the best available treatment options. As with every article you’ve read on impruvism.com, the book is thoroughly referenced with the latest scientific research. Even if you don’t think you have a body image disorder, the book will still help you learn how to help others who do have a body image disorder.
So if you’re a personal trainer or a physique coach like Layne Norton or you just have a lot of friends who are concerned about their body image, and that’s very possible because it’s a common disorder, then you’ll get something out of the book. The book is going to have available in the next few weeks as a bundle package with many other top authors in the fitness industry like Alan Aragon and several others. So if you want to be notified before anybody else about when the book is available, then go to impruvism.com/email-updates, enter your email address in the box in the middle of the page, and then click the button to confirm. After you do, you’ll be the first to know about the new book on body image disorders.
In the meantime, you’ll get free updates from the Impruvism blog. If you’re already signed up for the email list, then you can always leave a review for this podcast on iTunes. Thank you for listening and I will speak to you next week.