Dr. Norton: Great question. I was always interested in the sciences and I originally went to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg to pursue an undergrad degree in Marine Science. The summer before I left for school I got very into bodybuilding and the science behind the human body and it fascinated me. I decided my first semester to change my major to biochemistry so I could learn more about the human body and metabolism. The following summer I dieted for my first show and used a local prep coach to help me get ready for the show, Dr. Joe Klemczewski. Dr. Joe had a PhD in nutrition and when I first met him I loved the idea that he was a pro natural bodybuilder but was also well educated and was able to make a living off of his passion. I told him the first day that I met him that I wanted to have his job and I think he thought I was probably full of it. Corresponding with him and seeing his success inspired me to take my academics seriously. As I neared graduation from undergrad school, I still felt like I just did not know that much. In fact I felt that doing an undergrad in biochemistry showed me more so how much I DIDN’T know as opposed to how much I did know. So I decided that I wanted to further my knowledge and I wanted to pursue a PhD in nutritional sciences. I was fortunate enough to meet with and be accepted by Dr. Don Layman’s lab at the University of Illinois. Dr. Layman is one of the foremost experts in protein metabolism in the world and spending 6 years working under him was an invaluable experience and taught me more than I could have ever possibly imagined.
SNI: What are the 3 biggest myths that you have come across regarding supplements or sports nutrition?
Dr. Norton: Oh wow, only 3? There are so many that it is hard to choose. Since I’m a ‘protein guy’ I’d say some protein myths spring to mind. In particular, “you can only absorb X grams of protein at a meal.” This is completely bogus! Absorption refers to the amount of a certain substance that makes it into circulation (bloodstream) from the digestive tract. The body will absorb a good portion of the protein you eat regardless of the amount of protein in the meal. In fact, if you didn’t ‘absorb’ over a certain amount of protein, whenever you surpassed this amount you would have massive diarrhea! The human body is extremely effective at absorbing nutrients and protein is no exception. In most cases you will absorb darn near all the protein you consume.
Another one that comes to mind is people who say “protein and creatine are hard on the kidneys.” This is complete rubbish. There is absolutely zero scientific evidence that suggest creatine or protein negatively affects a healthy kidney. In fact, there is some research that suggests consuming a low protein diet may accelerate kidney failure in people who have kidney problems. While consuming more protein and creatine may elevate levels of creatinine and BUN many health professionals mistake these elevated levels as being diagnostic for kidney failure. The reality is you can have elevated creatinine and BUN and still have a healthy kidney, but if you have kidney problems those will definitely be elevated. They are indicators… not diagnostic measures.
This last myth is one I hear all the time. “Make sure you eat more small meals per day because this will cause your metabolism to stay elevated and you will burn more calories.” This is completely incorrect. Research has actually compared few meals per day (as little as 1-2) vs many meals per day (up to 9) and found absolutely no difference in terms of metabolic output and thermogenesis. Now I tend to believe eating a few more meals per day may be beneficial in terms of keeping protein synthesis elevated, but I also think consuming meals too frequently is detrimental as well. Personally I typically recommend a minimum of 4 but no more than 6 meals per day.
SNI: What are your top 3 supplements that you’d recommend for those wishing to gain LBM?
Dr. Norton: Whey Protein – Great way to get in a high quality tasty protein source that elicits a big time protein synthesis response
Creatine – Tried and true way to increase strength, LBM, and intracellular volume
BCAA – taken post workout to enhance recovery and I recommend taking them in between meals to optimize the meal protein synthesis response
SNI: What nutrition strategies do you use that may have a sound theoretical basis but is not supported by hard science?
Dr. Norton: One thing I have noticed with the competitors I have worked with that I can’t necessarily explain with science would be non-linear fat loss. For example, if I work with someone and they hit a plateau for fat loss, often all I will have to do is drop their carbohydrates by 10-20g or their fat by 5-10g or a combination of both and all the sudden they will rapidly start to lose fat again, quite often a pound or two will come off very quickly. Thermodynamically this doesn’t make sense because you are only cutting around 50-150 calories per day and to lose a lb in a week would require over a 500 kcal difference! So it seems as if there are thresholds with regards to fat loss whereby a person can teeter on the threshold of a weight loss plateau, and then just making a small adjustment will push them over the edge and cause them to start dropping fat again. I have also noticed that most people do not lose fat steadily. I’ve come across very few people who if you put them on a calculated 500kcal/day deficit will linearly drop body fat and weight for say 6 weeks straight. Typically they will drop a few lbs during the first few weeks really fast, and then hit a plateau. After an adjustment they will then drop again rather quickly and after a few weeks/months hit another plateau. This is something I have noticed over and over and can’t necessarily explain it through science, but I know it occurs and confirms to me that there are definite thresholds with regards to fat loss while dieting.
SNI: What is your opinion regarding the use of dietary supplements by teenage athletes? That is, would you recommend that high school football players take supplements such as creatine or beta-alanine?
Dr. Norton: Obviously it depends on the supplement in question. Prohormones and ‘legal’ steroids are considered ‘supplements’ but I obviously would not recommend them to ANY high school athlete. But as for things like creatine, amino acids, beta-alanine, protein powders, I think they are probably fine. There certainly isn’t any evidence that they are harmful. Creatine has been around over 20 years now and we’ve seen ZERO evidence that it is harmful to teenagers. Same with protein powders (assuming they are high quality and not contaminated). I think the biggest danger with supplements for athletes of that age is just the improper mentality it may create in that they may feel this supplement is going to do the work FOR them. If they choose to use supplements they need to be educated about them and understand that in the grand scheme they do very little when compared to proper training and nutrition, but if used properly in conjunction with proper training and nutrition, they may help give a small boost.
Check out this video: Layne Norton Unleashed (DVD Trailer)
His DVD – Layne Norton Unleashed is available through www.biolayne.com and he also offers nutrition and training consultations through biolayne.com