Roundtable Interview with Layne Norton PhD, Eric Helms and Alan Aragon


Before I begin I just want to take a minute to thank (for the thousandth time) Layne, Eric and Alan for humbly doing this e-mail interview with me. For those of you who don’t know who these men are, you can skip to the end of the interview (for their website links below) and get educated. For the rest of you, introductions are not necessary. In short, I cannot thank them enough for taking the time to answer my questions. I specifically chose to ask the questions that I did because I noticed that every interview these guys do they pretty much answer the same damn questions over and over. To be quite honest, I find it a waste of their time, and mine, to hear the same responses repeated… and repeated… and repeated. Hopefully you will find today’s interview a little more substantive, meaningful, and fun.

In conclusion, each one of these gentlemen has had a profound impact on me and my life, in more ways than one, and without them I can honestly say that I would not have pursued a degree in nutrition nor would I have had the courage to ever start up Calories in Context; and for that, I can never thank them enough. So, before I get too carried away (because I could write an entire article on how these guys have impacted me), I hope you all enjoy what Layne, Eric and Alan had to say as much as I did. So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Me: What spurred your interest in nutrition/fitness and inevitably made you want to study it in college (be it undergraduate/graduate/doctoral)?

Alan: I think anyone in his right mind has an innate obsession with carbohydrate, protein, and fat :)…  Just kidding, sort of. I originally was a graphic design major in college. Back when I first got into training and nutrition in the late 80’s and early 90’s, personal training wasn’t considered a real job yet, so I was advised against pursuing a fitness-related degree. At a certain point I said, ‘Screw this, I need to go after what I’m genuinely interested in.’ I was torn between going into exercise science or nutrition, but since, at the time, my ambition was to be a trainer, I figured that my certifications would cover the exercise side, so I went for the nutrition degree. I ended up getting my graduate degree in nutrition as sort of an afterthought, but I ended up really enjoying the process of writing and teaching. The rest is bro-history.

Plenty of my colleagues tell me that I should get a doctorate, but I can’t be more satisfied with my current career trajectory, so fixing what ain’t broke isn’t really an option. There was a time that everyone encouraged me to become an RD [Registered Dietitian], but I didn’t feel the strong impetus to do so; same with getting a PhD. Thus far, it hasn’t been a career handicap in the slightest.

Eric: I fell in love, head over heels, absolutely obsessed with bodybuilding, lifting and getting stronger. I tend to get consumed by things I’m passionate about. So really it was hard to see anything else for me as a potential study topic as nothing else held my interest and intrigue in the same way.

Layne: For me it was pretty simple. I started lifting weights in high school to get more attention from girls and try to stop bullies from picking on me. Over time lifting transformed from something I did out of lack of self-esteem to something I did because I loved it. As I read more and more about training and nutrition I realized that there was a huge gap in the advice that every expert in a magazine recommended. I would read one article that said to do one thing, then read another contradicting it. So I decided to start researching for myself. That turned into a passion for research over time.

Me: What aspect(s) about yourself has/have made you as successful as you are today? In essence, what separates you from everyone else out there?

Alan: This is a tremendously tough question to answer. I’m not sure, so I’m just gonna’ ramble. I think part of my success is a result of being as real and honest as possible whenever I try to convey ideas. I’ve been told that I’m good at taking complex information and distilling it into concrete terms that most people can understand. That, plus I’m skeptical as hell, since most information pumped out in this industry is purely crap. I have an impressive list of clients, but a lot of other guys have that too. I guess none of those would separate me from everyone else. So, I really don’t know…

One thing I noticed that might separate me is that I know how to laugh at shit; too many people at the top of their fields are far too wrapped up in appearing polished or being politically correct. It stiffens them up, and their real colors and personality never show, and they end up unnoticed among the hordes of people trying to make names for themselves.  People also tend to be too wrapped up in preserving a god-like aura. We’re all just humans, so we shouldn’t take ourselves so damn seriously every minute we’re in the public eye. One thing I learned early on in the game is that it’s okay to be wrong about stuff, and that it’s actually a sign of diligence and integrity to adjust your position on any given topic depending on how the evidence evolves.

Eric: First of all, I really don’t think I’m separate from everyone else out there. Sure, I’m unique, I’m me. There is only one me, but there is only one everyone for that matter. But, I get what you are trying to ask: “why is it you are interviewing me, why isn’t someone else a relatively well-known name in this field?”

For me, I think it comes down to being genuine. I’m not trying to sell something, I’m not trying to push anything, and I don’t have an agenda. I just want to share my passion and help people. That, coinciding with a relatively extroverted personality and a very dedicated and focused approach to bodybuilding and powerlifting and the science related to it, has put me where I’m at. I also think having grown up immersed in online forums and the internet helped me transfer my information and “get myself out there” during the boom of social media with less of a struggle than some others who might have been less comfortable with this medium.

Layne: To be quite frank, I feel like I just want it more than many other people and worked my butt off over a long period of time.  Even before I was well known in the industry, I would spend tons of time each day answering 60-70 emails from people, asking for nothing in return.  I spent hours each day on bodybuilding forums answering questions and giving out free advice.  I would write articles for free for any website or magazine that would print them.  I was willing to do whatever I possibly could to get my philosophies out there.  On top of that I was taking full time classes, doing research, and of course lifting every day.  But I loved it, so it never felt like work.  But I have always said that I feel like success is a battle of attrition.  Everyone gets discouraged at various points and wants to quit, the difference is who can keep going and putting one foot in front of the other when those rough patches hit.  Anyone can be motivated when things are going well.  What separates people is who can stay motivated when everything is going to crap.

Me: Why do you think people enjoy the information that you put out? What makes it hit home for them? 

Alan: I kind of live a dual life in terms of the information I put out. On one side, I write for various lay publications, where getting all freaky and technical isn’t really gonna’ help anyone. On the other hand, in my monthly research review, I can really slam folks with jargon and complexity when the topic lends itself, knowing that the readership will be familiar with the terms and concepts. I think that it’s important to be sensitive and in-tune with the audience, and this audience varies in my case. I was just on a call today with one of the senior editors of Men’s Health who is putting a story together on various fitness/nutrition myths. I was asked whether or not people “need” a post-exercise shake, like it’s often pushed in the fitness and bodybuilding magazines. I proceeded to explain that there is a continuum of importance for these sorts of tactics, and the vast majority of Men’s Health readers will reap all the benefit they could possibly need by simply nailing their protein target for the day. The rest is just nitpicking toward what might hypothetically clinch that extremely narrow edge, which might be important for elite competitors, but not relevant to weekend warriors.

Eric: You know to be honest, I couldn’t say. I just do my thing. There are billions of people on the planet, and I figure that there are enough people out there that can relate to me that I really don’t have to “do” anything or be anyone besides myself.  I’ve always found that when you are honest, genuine and real, most people can relate to you. And if they have coinciding interests, they are open to what you have to say.

Layne: Probably because I don’t try to BS people with magic tricks.  Anyone who follows me on twitter knows I hate ‘guruism.’ (Term coined by Bret Contreras).  Guruism is when people make up outlandish BS to try to sell people that they have some magic secret that will give people the key to unlocking unbelievable results.  That’s complete crap.  80-90% of this stuff is hard work and dedication.  You can have a terrible approach, but if you work really hard over a really long period of time you will get results. However, this doesn’t mean that they are optimal.  I’m the first to tell people that there are no secrets.  Certainly there are small tweaks to be made to try to optimize things, but if you are looking for some magic ‘secret’, sorry, I don’t have it. 

Me: Where do you see the field of nutrition/exercise science heading in the next 10 years?

Alan: I see it all going to hell in a hand-basket… Hah! Seriously though, I’m excited for what’s to come as research marches on, bringing us closer and closer to understanding how to either simplify or modify training or dietary protocols for the better. The field itself has gradually gained legitimacy (I’m talking about training in particular), and organizations such as the NSCA & NASM have really put their necks out and made strong efforts to raise the barriers toward being considered worthy of being a practitioner in the field. An interesting thing I’ve noticed – but saw coming for quite some time – is the growing interest in solidifying a nutrition certification for those who aren’t interested in standard/traditional collegiate routes governed by the ADA (recently changed to the AND). I think that as much of an eyesore as they may be to the old guard of dietetics administration, newer organizations such as the ISSN are really going to make some deep inroads into the traditional model, as they continue to capture the interest (& preference) of fitness professionals seeking to bolster their credibility in nutritional knowledge.

In general, I see continued growth of the allied health and fitness fields. This is always going to be a double-edged sword, since the fitness field attracts nutcakes and quacks like bees to honey, but at least the nutjobs give me plenty to write about in the spirit of protecting the public from false information.  My hope is that the allied health and fitness professions place a continued emphasis on research-based guidelines, and also an emphasis on critical thinking. I’m not sure if the latter will ever happen to a satisfactory degree, but we can always hope.

Eric: I think the internet becoming more and more involved is a good thing in many ways. It adds speed, transparency and ease of collaboration. I can write a paper with someone I’ve never physically met. I can hook up with a professor at a university on the other side of the planet and discuss research. My thoughts and ideas are open to the criticism of everyone with an internet connection. So I think information will become higher quality slowly but surely through better collaboration and because there will be more people to check the t’s and dot the i’s.

Layne: I honestly am very excited about it.  For decades researchers were just viewed as lab junkies; people who were knowledgeable but had no clue how to apply it.  But right now I know dozens of competitive bodybuilders, lifters, and enthusiasts doing their PhDs or advanced degrees in a relevant field.  I think that the merging of research and practical application is going to provide a lot of the answers we have been searching for.

Me: Similarly, where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?

Alan: If all goes as planned, I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now. Perhaps the only change would be more volunteer outreaches to younger folks (high school and early college) where I can talk about what it takes to succeed, and how important it is to find out what it is that interests them so they can make a great life of it. It kills me to know that so many students think they have to fit into a conventional/socially expected career mold whether they hate it or not.

Eric: In ten years, I know one thing is for sure. I’ll be happy, pursuing my goals and making awesome human connections. That’s all I know 100% for sure. But, based on my current trajectory, I will have been a PhD for half a decade, and maybe have done some teaching at the university level, published some studies in the field, and possibly gotten bored and started to pursue a second PhD in sports psychology or something.

Also, I will be a veteran competing in the professional ranks in natural bodybuilding, becoming more competitive with each outing. Lastly, I hope to have gotten myself closer to the elite status in raw drug free powerlifting, and maybe I’ll even have put up a respectable total in Olympic weightlifting that I have just started to dabble in. Possibly I’ll be coaching some weightlifters too!

Layne: I guess that’s a weird question for me.  I don’t necessarily have a 10-year plan.  My approach has always been to keep my head down and keep working hard and the opportunities would take care of themselves.  So far, I have been right, so I plan to stick with the game-plan.  Overall in my life, I want to leave a legacy of someone who worked their tail off, treated people right, and did things with a lot of integrity.  That might sound silly, but integrity and character are things I take extremely seriously.

Me: If there is one piece of wisdom that every beginner weight-lifter out there should absolutely have, what should it be?

Alan: One piece of wisdom? That’s a toughie. If I could pick just one, it would be that achieving big goals takes time – plenty of time. Despite what the multitude of online rip-off ads promise (i.e., “shortcuts” or “secrets”), developing a high level of athletic skill or physique development is a matter of several years of mind-numbingly consistent, hard work. Remember there’s no such thing as a short path to greatness, so enjoy the long haul.  I’ve actually compiled a list of these types of tips, just Google “Wisdom & Wisecracks.”

Eric: Learn from everyone. A smart person who is dedicated to personal growth can find a gem of knowledge or wisdom from literally everyone. As soon as you write someone off, you’ve closed an avenue for growth. Humble yourself, and see everything as an opportunity for growth and learning. Also, patience is the most valuable attribute you can have. My success in lifting and bodybuilding has little to do with my next 3 months of thinking and planning and everything to do with setting myself up for long term goals. I envision where I will be years from now, and then ensure I get there by putting in the work. In less words: humility, openness, patience, hard work.

Layne: Patience.  This is not going to happen overnight.  Please see my comments about success being a battle of attrition.  Success in lifting/bodybuilding is no different. 

Me: Are there any mistakes that you’ve made in the past, specifically with regards to training and nutrition, that you look back on and say, “What the hell was I thinking?!” And if so, what steps did you take to correct those mistakes and learn from your errors?

Alan: Perhaps my biggest training mistake was, as a beginner, following the popular bodybuilding split where each body part is bludgeoned with a high volume once a week. This was straight from the magazines, so how could it be wrong, right? It was blasphemy to train any other way than my idols in the mags. But then I did more reading and experimenting, and although the bro-split worked to a certain degree, cutting volume in half and doubling frequency made a huge difference. I’ve tried increasing frequency further, but cannot maintain it for more than short periods without recovery suffering. Another training mistake I’ve made in more recent times is constantly striving to lift heavier, focusing on the ‘stats’ rather than the feel. That was a good recipe for injury, especially for someone who wasn’t specifically concerned with powerlifting.

Nutrition-wise, perhaps the biggest mistake I made, funny enough, was not having an awareness at all of what might optimize gains in terms of protein and total calories. I knew that nutrition was important, but I never realized just how important it was, and how far off I was missing optimal targets. I just pretty much winged it; figuring things would work themselves out as long as I trained hard. It made a huge difference when I hunkered down and applied research-based findings towards my goals. I’ve mentioned in past interviews that a big mistake I made was being unaware of timing benefits, but eventually came to figure out that the timing had mostly to do with getting the right amount of carbs, protein, and fat within a 24-hour period.

One more mistake I want to add has more to do with philosophy rather than nutrition or exercise per se. I didn’t question enough of the concepts I was taught, either in a formal or informal setting. I often took the words of highly decorated ‘authorities’ as a matter of fact. It turns out that they were not omniscient, and neither is anyone else. Everything is open to dispute, and everything should be questioned. There’s nothing wrong with getting to the origin of any given claim, and seeing if that basis is solid or just pulled out of someone’s hot rear end.

Eric: Oh god, so many. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t trying hard enough and you aren’t pushing the envelope enough and you aren’t stretching yourself outside of your comfort zone. But honestly, I wouldn’t go back and change anything. Because I’ve tried every workout program and nutritional concept out there and because I’ve done every exercise, program, and diet on the planet, intelligent and otherwise, I have a vast amount of experience to draw from.

Learning is not accomplished by hoarding information, it only starts there, and that is the tip of the ice berg. Going out and putting all the theories and concepts into play is how you truly learn. We are human adults, we learn by doing. Nearly a decade of reading things, trying things, teaching things to others and coaching others has taught me that action is the way you learn something completely (if there is such a thing) and embody knowledge.

Layne: Sure.  I did all the guru stuff like eating 8 times per day, taking 100g of dextrose after a training session, downing 30g of glutamine per day, doing fasted cardio, etc.  But I would not take it back; those experiences were still valuable.  Mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them.

Me: Who has made the biggest impact on you in terms of who you are today, and what about that person sets them apart from anyone else in your life?

Alan: Dude, these questions are intense! I’m used to being asked, “What’s the one carb to avoid in order to not get teh luv handelz

To answer your question, I would have to say that career-wise, there are two people. One of them was one of my graduate professors named Brian Koziol. He was big on picking apart research and digging into the methodological strengths and weaknesses of the various studies that shape our beliefs of what’s what in sports nutrition. He also genuinely seemed to care about whether or not students actually learned anything, in contrast to other professors who appeared to just go through the motions of a job that they weren’t necessarily passionate about.

The other person who heavily influenced my career is a guy named Lyle McDonald. He’s relatively unknown to the general Dr. Oz masses, but very well known to those in the nerdier recesses of the internet (especially Facebook). A debate I had with Lyle on his forum several years back exposed to me the fact that I didn’t know as much as I thought, and that I had grown complacent and casually reliant on my education level at the time. This led me to gather up my balls and get started on my monthly research review, which is a cornerstone of my career to the present day. Lyle is a one-of-a-kind person. More innate brilliance than he knows what to do with. Far too much going on in his mind than formal degrees can contain. I’m not too proud to point out when someone has talent, and as far as the nutrition and dieting stuff goes, Lyle is in a class by himself. His reach of influence has been vast – on not just me, but many others. He’s not the most warmly adored figure in the industry, but I gotta’ give credit where credit is due.

Eric: I wouldn’t be able to list just one person. But I have some members of my family and some close friends who have shown me truly what unconditional love is, what being genuine and authentic means, and I’ve watched people achieve balance and happiness in life through living life authentically and I have emulated this with great success.

I have learned that belief in one’s self is the key to all success. The only true barriers to success are self-imposed. We are the gatekeeper to our own success in life and when we can truly understand that and take control over our own self perceptions and beliefs we can achieve great things. Not that I have mastered this, that never happens! But, because of my family and some of my close friends I at least know what I am attempting to master! A short list would include my fellow coaches at 3DMuscleJourney, and some of my close family.

Layne: Obviously my parents probably had the biggest impact on me.  They taught me a lot of what I know about hard work, how to treat people, and integrity.  Outside of them, definitely my grandfather.  He was my personal hero and the greatest man I have ever met.  If I ended up being half the man he was, I would consider myself an enormous success.

Me: What is your greatest accomplishment to-date, and what makes it so special that it surpasses everything else in your life?

Alan: Oh man, more deep questions… My greatest accomplishment to-date is finding the right girl and marrying her. This was just dumb luck, or extreme fortune, depending on how you look at it. And no, I didn’t just say this so I can show it to her this interview and enjoy the reaction to follow.

Aside from that, I’ve been extremely thrilled to influence the career paths of various individuals. For example, Daniel Yeh and John McMahan of Citadel Nutrition have personally thanked me for helping them make the decision to pour their vital resources into their supplement company. Essentially, they put everything on the line to chase what they believed in (and were passionate about), and now they’re seeing the fruits of their courage and diligence. It’s hugely gratifying to know I played a part in that. Will Citadel Nutrition exist in 10 years? 5 years? Another year? Nothing is certain, especially in the cut-throat industry that sports supplements is. However, my hunch is that they’ll continue to do well, and knowing that I contributed to their sense of integrity is priceless.

Other standout accomplishments were being invited to speak at various conferences including the Fitness Summit and NSCA Personal Trainer’s Summit. The thing about these engagements was that I was invited to speak. I didn’t have to apply to get these opportunities. The fact that they approached me, as opposed to me approaching them, tells me that I’ve reached a certain level of value in the industry that even the big boys notice. Along these lines, one of the most profound events in my career was getting invited onto the staff at Men’s Health magazine as their go-to nutrition guy. Plenty of opportunities flourished as a result of top guys in the publishing industry like Adam Bornstein and Adam Campbell being fans of my work. Men’s Health is the largest magazine of its kind in the world, many times over. For them to recognize me as someone who could fulfill their position of authority in their targeted market (post-college bros and struggling dads) was just tremendous for me.  Being invited to serve on Fitocracy’s advisory board by the founders Dick Talens and Brian Wang was a biggie as well, no pun intended.

Another big milestone for me was getting invited onto the peer review board of the ISSN by the founder himself, Dr. Jose Antonio. If there is any formal “stamp” that I am as nerdy as some folks think I am about criticizing research, then this is definitely it. This also lets me know that the time and effort I’ve spent in fulfilling my interest in the objective study of training and nutrition has not gone unnoticed by the academics in the ivory tower.  Along these lines, I’m collaborating with Eric Helms and Peter Fitschen on a bodybuilding-related article that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s almost finished; they’re just waiting on me, hahahaha! It will be a kick to finally make it into “The Pubmedz” – especially with an article that isn’t the run of the mill in biomedical circles.

Last but not least, my own accomplishments tend to pale in comparison to what my clients have accomplished – permanent improvements in their habits, and the life-long implementation of sound principles that they were open-minded enough to incorporate into their lifestyles.  To think that I’ve influenced real people’s everyday lives is mind-blowing to me. I know you asked for a single accomplishment, but I couldn’t help but take a trip down memory lane and recall the roses among the thorns in my path.

Eric: I can’t compare apples to oranges in my life, and I’ve done a few things that I’m proud of and happy about up to this point in my life, so I won’t be able to list one thing. I also know that I will continue to do more things that I see as great accomplishments, that’s the purpose of my life in many ways.

But, I would say marrying my wife Barbara is huge, that has brought me so much happiness, enjoyment, fulfillment and a partnership that makes my life amazing. I would also say that I am very proud of finding my way into my graduate work at the Auckland University of Technology. Once I decided I wanted to get my PhD I managed to find a way despite there not being any programs locally that I was qualified for, that sparked my interest or that I could get funding for. I kept hunting, I kept looking, and when an opportunity presented itself I grabbed it and wouldn’t let go. I don’t know how the studies are going to go overseas, but honestly just getting out there and doing it is a huge accomplishment.

Also, getting my natural pro card is a huge accomplishment for me. That has been a goal since I first started lifting, and I think the biggest barrier to achieving it was the self-doubt that I’ve overcome in the process. Convincing myself that I COULD achieve this goal at all was probably the biggest factor in acquiring it. I learned through this process that I could be successful at anything in life even if it required some hard work over a long time period against significant odds.

Layne: Marrying my wife Isabel and staying married.  I see so many phony relationships and people who don’t truly understand what it means to be on the ‘same team.’  My wife and I may fight, but at the end of the day we know that we have each other’s back and we love each other very much.  One of my life long goals is to NEVER be divorced. I met Isabel, fell in love with her, and love her even more today.  But we worked very hard at our relationship, just like everything else, to try to become more in tune with each other and compromise more.  We aren’t perfect by a long shot, but we are always trying.  So having a successful relationship with the love of my life is my greatest accomplishment.  If I do a good job raising kids in the future, then my family will become my greatest accomplishment I think.  As for personal stuff, completing my PhD is what I am most proud of, as it was the ONLY thing in my life I ever wanted to quit at one point. 

Me: We all know that the best ergogenic aid is some kick-ass music. Are there any bands that you just can’t lift without? 

Alan: I actually can’t stand the idea of dealing with any musical delivery implements on me while training. I just get in there and mentally block out whatever music is playing. However, driving to the gym, I have personalized playlists that include the Devin Townsend Project, Strapping Young Lad, Meshuggah, Lamb of God, Pantera, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage, Animals as Leaders, Skyharbor, Solution 45, Timfy James, Hacktivist, and others slipping my mind at the moment. On an amusing note, I occasionally watch Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gate before driving out to the gym.

Eric: What I listen to when I lift it very much depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s play time for me, and while I play hard (very hard), it’s not the same as when I am feeling aggressive in terms of my mood. I like more upbeat, funky music when I’m in this mood. For example, I found myself singing off key really loudly to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in the middle of a set a week ago, lots of fun.

Other times I go in there andI am hyped up and r eady to kill shit. I get pretty focused sometimes and I definitely relieve tension through training, and something aggressive like Disturbed, Rage Against the Machine, Eminem, Tech n9ne or really anything hard and heavy, rock or hip hop can be appropriate for me.

Lastly, sometimes I like silence when I’m training in a more introspective state; it can almost be a little more of a daily ritual, or practice. In times like these I prefer to train alone, do my thing and I enjoy just the sound of the iron and the plates.

Layne: Absolutely.  Disturbed, Chimaira, 30 Seconds to Mars, Sevendust, Skillet, Papa Roach, Filter, Hatebreed, and Shinedown are some of my favorites. 

Me: What is your favorite nutrition and or exercise-related topic to discuss/debate/write about?  

Alan: I really don’t have a favorite. The more challenging and controversial, the better, because it’s more stimulating.  I have a particular fondness for the macronutrients, since each one of them has its own ongoing war of beliefs in terms of optimal amount, type, timing, and distribution for a number of goals.  As far as training goes, I’m currently interested in the mechanisms of hypertrophy, and thankfully, I have guys like Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras to bounce ideas off of in that department, since they’re deep in the thick, greasy trenches of that line of research. It’s intriguing to think that counter-intuitive aspects like metabolic fatigue could, in concurrence with hormonal factors, contribute to muscle growth (& strength) beyond merely a focus on progressive mechanical/tension-related factors alone. I always anticipate the victory of simplicity (e.g., more weight on the bar = more inches on the gunz), but the odd/esoteric findings can often grab me since they force me to re-think whatever paradigm that’s currently holding me captive.

Eric: My favorite topic changes so often to be honest. I really enjoy the kinesological aspects of movement, why people move certain ways in certain movements, how we can optimize it for specific goals, and how we can improve or correct faulty movement patterns. I also really enjoy the topic of nutritional approaches for both muscle gain and fat loss. Lastly, I’d say I really enjoy the discussion of weight training programming. Periodization, peaking, programming and customizing this to the individual lifter is very fun to talk about.

Layne: Definitely protein.  Did my PhD on protein metabolism and obviously it holds a special place in my heart haha. 

Me: What is one nutritional, physiological, or exercise -based topic that you wished you knew more about? Have you done anything to help expand your knowledge about it?

Alan: Everything…. Seriously, nothing stands out. Well, hold on. I think that I can stand to brush up on biostatistics. It’s not something that excites me (yet), but that’s a sign that I’m behind on it and need to firm up my grip. Time to contact James Krieger and Aaron Fanning (James might see this interview, but Aaron might not).

Eric: There is a whole lot more than just one topic I wish I knew more about! And I continually focus on these things to round out my knowledge. When not studying protein intake in strength athletes (my thesis topic), in my spare time I have been studying substrate utilization, metabolism, exercise endocrinology, in-depth muscle physiology and digestion.

Layne: Definitely would love to learn more about physiological and psychological responses to resistance training and periodization.  I’ve done a ton of reading, but I still feel like the programming aspect of periodization may be where I need more improvement. 

Me: What is your favorite non-exercise/nutrition-related book? What makes it such an excellent read?

Alan: I rarely read anything that isn’t related to nutrition & training. There’s just not enough time in the day. However, I recently got done reading – of all things – a fictional book called The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth Gorge Speare. What makes it an excellent read? Just everything about it kicked my ass. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Eric: I have to name just one book, seriously? Well, let me start by saying that I’m an avid science fiction and fantasy geek and I play role playing games (and I mean real table top RPGs, not ones on computers) and I probably read a couple books per month that are totally unrelated to fitness. I also have gone through periods where I really enjoyed philosophy, spirituality, and other weird topics. So asking me for one book that stands out is impossible!

Among the books in the philosophy/spirituality/personal-growth realm, I’d say the following books really helped me to grow and to change my perspective: The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Although there are a lot of other books too that stand out.

Among the books in the science fiction/fantasy realm, I’d say the following books really were my favorites and really sucked me in: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, The Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin, The Prince of Nothing Trilogy by R Scott Bakker (and the follow up series), The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, The Ender books by Orson Scott Card, The Dune books by Frank Herbert,  and the Ringworld books by Larry Niven. To be honest though, there are a lot more that stand out; it’s not a comprehensive list.

Layne: Well, it’s a tie.  I loved Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover, not so much because I needed a lot of help saving money but because it was motivating to read about how powerful sacrifice can be and it reinforced what my parents taught me about money and success.  I also really enjoyed Tim Tebow’s book Through My Eyes because I love the guy’s work ethic and how he has proved people wrong every step of the way. 

Me: Can we (the readers) expect anything exciting (events, publications, travels, etc.) from you in the upcoming weeks/months/years?

Alan: AARR being posted on the projected date each month (although the universe might actually implode if that happens).  Other than that, I’ll be speaking in at least one of the NSCA conferences in 2013, and of course the Fitness Summit that I’ve been doing each year since 2008.

Eric: I am working on a lit review paper on evidence based approaches to natural bodybuilding with Alan Aragon and Peter Fitschen at the moment that we are just about ready to submit for publication that should be very cool. I’m also going to be involved with a number of projects during my graduate school work over the next 4 years at AUT that will involve a lot of topics, but will mainly involve protein intake in strength athletes during hypocaloric periods. My thesis is looking at this specifically, and I will be attempting to get my findings published and I’ll probably be taking part in publishing a bunch of other sports-science related papers over the course of the of my grad studies.

Also, in November I will be speaking in New Zealand at the Sports Performance Research Institute SPRINZ) conference on protein intake for athletes, and also at the FITex personal training conference on protein supplementation. These conferences are kind of like the equivalent of the NSCA CSCS and CPT conferences here in the states.

Layne: Oh yea, lots of stuff.  I just re-launched my website with a totally new design, more content and way more interaction so I’m updating that several times per week.  I also recently was selected as Dan Soloman’s replacement as the announcer for the Mr. Olympia contest so I’m excited to do that.  I could have never imagined watching the Olympia at home on my TV 11 years ago, that someday I would be calling the play by play… it’s insane.

Me: Where can we (the readers) learn more about what you do, the services you offer, and the information that you put out?



Layne: Definitely through my website as well as Facebook:, Twitter:, and

Me: Thank you all again! It is greatly appreciated.

Alan: Thanks so much for the exceptionally challenging and fun interview, Dylan. I really enjoyed this, and am very thankful that there are folks like yourself to help me carry the torch.

Eric: My pleasure. Thanks, Dylan!

Layne: My pleasure, thanks for the opportunity.

And thank you, the readers, for making this all worthwhile! Look out for a new article in the coming days! Until then…


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16 Responses to Roundtable Interview with Layne Norton PhD, Eric Helms and Alan Aragon

  1. Michael Miller says:

    Alan wasn’t telling the truth about what makes him successful. Yeah he can distill information and he’s a technically excellent teacher, but its the HOW that sets him apart. He has a charisma that comes from making connections with people through genuine warmth and understanding. He disagrees on the facts and makes you feel good while you’re losing a debate with him, and he does this with a liberal sprinkling of humor. Only obstinate tools and the willfully ignorant need fear his rapier wit.

  2. Jeremy says:

    FANTASTIC interview! It’s definitely refreshing to hear about things other than, “What’s your workout routine?” I’ve been following Dr. Norton for a while, came across Eric Helms recently, and now it’s time to read Alan Aragon’s stuff.

    I learned a lot, thanks for the interview.

  3. Jeff Jones says:

    I would like to thank myself for introducing Skyharbor to Alan’s playlist. 😉

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  5. Joy Renold says:

    Really GREAT GREAT interview, thanks so much for this!!!

  6. S.P. says:

    Just another complimentary comment expressing thanks for getting these three great guys to offer insight into their worlds!

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  9. Deena says:

    Howdy! I realize this is somewhat off-topic but I had to ask.

    Does running a well-established blog like yours take a large amount of work?
    I’m brand new to running a blog however I do write in my diary daily. I’d like to start a blog so I can easily
    share my personal experience and thoughts online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of ideas or tips
    for brand new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!

    • decline104 says:

      Hi Deena,

      A blog is only as much work as you make it out to be. For me, I spend a fair amount of time reading, researching, writing, editing, and re-writing that it does take me a good couple of days (sometimes even longer) to have an article I’m pleased with. However, the more frequently you do it, the easier it becomes. Just find something you are truly interested in and passionate about; that’s my biggest piece of advice.

      The best of luck!

  10. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across
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