in: Fitness, Health & Fitness, Podcast

• Last updated: March 13, 2023

Podcast #878: The Fitness Supplements That Actually Work

In your journey towards becoming stronger, fitter, and healthier, there often comes a point where you wonder if taking some supplements will help your progress along. But what fitness supplements are actually effective and worth investing in?

Here to answer that question is Layne Norton, a powerlifter and doctor of nutritional science who has a passion for debunking health-related myths and promoting evidence-based recommendations. He’s also, full disclosure, the owner of a supplement company himself. But I don’t have any financial connection to Layne’s company and we keep this conversation neutral and high-level. In our conversation, Layne argues that there are three top-tier research-backed supplements to consider — whey protein, creatine, and caffeine — and we unpack how to use each of them for optimal results. We discuss whether plant proteins are sufficient for building muscle, whether it’s true that creatine causes bloating, acne, and hair loss, how to best time your caffeine intake to energize your workouts, and much more. At the end of our conversation, Layne shares some additional supplements that seem promising for enhancing your health and fitness.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. In your journey towards becoming stronger, fitter, and healthier, there often comes a point where you wonder if taking some supplements will help your progress along. But what fitness supplements are actually effective and worth investing in? Here to answer that question is Layne Norton, a powerlifter and doctor of nutritional science who has a passion for debunking health-related myths and promoting evidence-based recommendations. He’s also, full disclosure, the owner of a supplement company himself. But I don’t have any financial connection to Layne’s company, and we keep this conversation neutral and high-level. In our conversation, Layne argues that there are three top-tier research-backed supplements to consider: Whey protein, creatine, and caffeine. And we unpack how to use each of them for optimal results. We discuss whether plant proteins are sufficient for building muscle, whether it’s true that creatine causes bloating, acne, and hair loss, how to best time your caffeine intake to energize your workouts, and much more. At the end of our conversation, Layne shares some additional supplements that seem promising for enhancing your health and fitness. After the show’s over, check it at our show notes at

All right, Layne Norton, welcome back to the show.

Dr. Layne Norton: Thanks Brett. I appreciate you having me on.

Brett McKay: So we had you on a few years ago to talk about the signs of fat loss and that is episode number 475 for those who wanna check that out. I brought you back because I wanted to talk about supplements. This is something that you talk a lot about on your Instagram page, you do a lot of great content making the scientific research about supplements accessible and understandable for the layperson. And the reason why I wanna talk about supplements, ’cause I think I’ve noticed this particularly with younger men. I know I did this when I was like, I wanna get strong, I want to get in shape. One of the first things I would do, I would kind of glance over, okay, here’s what I need to eat, here’s what I need to do. But I’m like, what supplements do I need to take? But when do you think people should actually consider incorporating supplements into any lifestyle changes they’re making for health or fitness?

Dr. Layne Norton: Well, to be quite frank, anybody who’s listening to this is probably not gonna pay attention to my advice in terms of what I recommend, which is there are supplements that can be helpful. There’s no question about that. And I myself own a supplement company. However, what supplements can do, so just even the phrase, what supplements do I need? By definition, there are no needed supplements. They are on top of whatever you’re already doing. And yes, even things like for example, creatine, which is probably the most tested and proven supplement there is, it has a significant effect, but the effect is relatively small when you consider just what you can get from consistent training and nutrition. Now, that being said, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take creatine, especially if you’re somebody who’s looking to maximize muscle mass and strength. But this idea that there’s supplements out there that you can take that are just gonna give you these drug-like pharmaceutical effects, they just do not exist, period.

It doesn’t matter what anybody says. You could have argued for a time that there were some that would give drug-like effects, but that’s because they were actually drugs. So pro-hormones, pro-steroids, and even like basically designer steroids were able to be brought to market by companies basically because there’s thousands of supplement companies out there and the idea that the FDA can just monitor all this stuff at all times is ridiculous. They can’t. And so there were companies basically bringing out actual steroids and selling them as supplements. And so yeah, of course, that could give you pharmaceutical-like effects. The problem was those steroids tend to be less effective with more side effects than what you would get pharmaceutically. So when it comes to the actual truly legal supplements, even the most effective ones, you’re looking at relatively small benefits. But again, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use them or that doesn’t make sense. It just means that if you’re somebody who’s taking piles of supplements but you don’t even understand how to train hard, you aren’t even consistent with your training and you don’t really pay attention to your nutrition, I mean you’re basically stepping over dollars to pick up pennies essentially.

Brett McKay: Right. Yeah, they’re supplements. That’s the thing. They’re called supplements for a reason. So it sounds like…

Dr. Layne Norton: Correct.

Brett McKay: If you focus on your nutrition first, your exercise, your rest and recovery, and that’s something I think a lot of people underplay, is the value of sleep. Stress management…

Dr. Layne Norton: For sure.

Brett McKay: That’s gonna get you… You’re gonna be great. You’re gonna be in great shape. Now, if you’re looking for a little bit added, supplements can come in handy there.

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, and I think a lot of people… It’s just our hack culture, our biohack culture, which is how can I hack my way around really hard work over a really long period of time? And I will tell you to anybody listening, if people took the amount of time, effort, and money that they spent trying to hack their way around hard work and just applied that to hard work, they would get so far, in fact, that is actually the hack, just to do the work. And most people unfortunately don’t wanna hear that. And I think a lot of it is just how society is set up now for instant gratification. And you can pop on your cell phone order food, order anything you need off the internet. You could communicate with anybody instantly. But guess what? Your genetics and your body are the summation of billions of years of cells going through natural selection to reach where we are now, and this idea that you’re just gonna rapidly change things, I mean it’s just a fool’s errand. And so I think if people could just embrace this idea of hard work and consistency, they would get so much further. But that’s a pretty big ask in today’s society, I think.

Brett McKay: Yeah, for sure. Okay, so there are a lot of supplements out there, they don’t work. It’s basically snake oil. But there are a few supplements that do work, and they’re well vetted by research and the ones that you recommend. And the top tier of these are Whey protein, creatine, and caffeine. And we’re gonna talk about each of these, but before we start talking about Whey protein specifically, let’s just talk about protein in general. How much protein do people actually need for health and strength?

Dr. Layne Norton: I’m glad you put that caveat at the end, ’cause most people use the term need inappropriately. So the protein you need is just to not have a deficiency, which is about 0.8g/kg. But if the goal is to maximize muscle mass or to build muscle, you probably at least want to get 1.6g/kg of body weight. And if you’re really concerned with maxing out, I’d probably look at up to 2.5g/kg of body weight.

Brett McKay: What would that be in freedom units?

Dr. Layne Norton: Around 1g per pound.

Brett McKay: One gram per pound.

Dr. Layne Norton: By the way, for those listening this is something that’s just annoying to me. [laughter] Just divide by 2.2, and also just learn the metric system, it’s way better. [laughter]

Brett McKay: I’ll tell you when measuring macros, I’ve recently just shifted all the metric, grams. That’s it. It’s so much easier, more exact.

Dr. Layne Norton: Well, if you think about the… I don’t wanna get in too much of a rant, but metric makes sense because it’s all in units of 10.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Dr. Layne Norton: Everything is moving in units of 10. Whereas, like if you’re trying to do the English standard system, a mile is what? 5280 feet and then a foot is 12 inches. And then it’s like all these units all over the place whereas metric makes sense because it’s based off of increments of 10. But I understand that the US audiences is always gonna struggle with that. But yeah, if you’re worried about it, it’s about 1g per pound of body weight.

Brett McKay: So that’s just if you’re looking for strength for overall health, it’d be even less… It’d be less than that, right?

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, you’d probably be fine with 0.7g per pound. I do think having enough protein is a benefit, because even if your goal is fat loss, protein increases energy expenditure and it helps to retain lean body mass when dieting. So that can help because people who lose more lean mass when they diet are more likely to regain the fat they lost. So I do think protein has some benefit and protein has better satiety, gram per gram than carbohydrate or fat in general. So I do think protein has some added benefits that people could get beyond the muscle building effects.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. And would you recommend people try to get most of their protein from food sources as opposed to a Whey protein supplement?

Dr. Layne Norton: I don’t think it really matters. If you’re somebody who just doesn’t like protein containing foods, I think that using a Whey protein or a protein powder or whatever it is, I think those are totally fine. I don’t think that’s necessarily worse for you or anything like that. But in general, if you can get it from food, then it’s… I thought better, I don’t wanna say it’s better. But you don’t have to use a protein supplement. You can just get it from food and it’ll be perfectly fine. The one caveat to that is if you are vegan or plant-based, that plant-based sources of protein, especially the intact plant. So if you’re having… Instead of having soy isolate, if you’re having soy beans in those cases, the protein or the amino acids are bound up in the fibrous material of the plant, and are less bioavailable. So I would say in those cases, a supplement could be superior, but if you’re consuming an omnivorous diet, you don’t need to consume a protein supplement as long as you’re getting enough total protein.

Brett McKay: Okay. So if you do take a protein supplement, why is Whey protein a great supplemental source of protein?

Dr. Layne Norton: Whey protein is great for a lot of reasons. The first one is, it’s very bioavailable, so the bioavailability is nearly 100%. The second is, it has a great amino acid profile, very high in essential amino acids, very high in branched-chain amino acids, very high in leucine. And leucine is the branched-chain amino acid that I did my PhD research on, and is responsible for increasing or triggering muscle protein synthesis. So instead of basically the body evolving to sense all the amino acids for triggering muscle protein synthesis, the body evolved to just sense one, which is leucine. And that’s probably because leucine is not really metabolized by the gut or liver. So it reaches the bloodstream in quantitative values similar to what you see in diet, and it has passive transport across the cell.

So basically what your muscles are seeing in terms of leucine reflects what you’re consuming in your diet. And high leucine sources of food are almost always high in all the essential amino acids. And so it makes sense that the body would’ve evolved to sense leucine as opposed to any other amino acid, at least in terms of initiating muscle protein synthesis. So that’s another reason that Whey protein is great. Like for example, most animal-based sources of protein are around 8%, 9% leucine, in terms of grams of leucine per 100g of protein. Whey protein is 11 or 12. And then if you look at plant-based sources, which are like 6% to 8% leucine, you get almost double in Whey protein. And then Whey protein is typically just by its nature, pretty easy to flavor, because even unflavored Whey protein does not have an objectionable flavor.

It’s like I wouldn’t say it’s sweet, but it’s not a bad taste. Whereas if you’ve ever tasted casein by itself or soy by itself or wheat by itself or egg protein by itself, it’s pretty gnarly when it’s unflavored. So those are some of the reasons that Whey protein… And it’s very competitive price-wise with other proteins. For a long time it was very, very inexpensive and now just, I think COVID increased the price of darn near everything. But Whey protein certainly went up quite a bit.

Brett McKay: Is there a difference between isolate and concentrate? And is one better than the other?

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, so concentrate… So when a milk comes out of a cow, it’s obviously whole milk. So you centrifuge it, which is basically you spin it really, really fast and that separates out some of the gunk, especially the fat from the protein. You take off the fat, you take that and now you add acid to it and that will cause the… If you add basically what’s called an isoelectric point, the casein in the milk protein… So milk protein is about 80% Whey and 20% casein. If you add the appropriate amount of acid to that mixture, it will cause the casein to precipitate out, which means it basically becomes a solid. And so then you can take the supernatant, which is the liquid, which contains the whey. You pour that off and then you basically dry that. So it’s a liquid, but you dry it, remove the acid, and now you have whey protein concentrate. There’s a few other steps in there I’m glossing over, but that’s essentially the process. Now whey protein concentrate is usually about 70% to 80% protein and it is still a high quality protein source.

Whey protein concentrate does have a little bit more fat, a little bit more lactose. And so some people don’t tolerate it real well just because of the lactose. For those people going to an isolate can be really, really helpful because it basically, doing an isolate adds an extra filtration process to it, which essentially removes almost all the lactose and all the fat. And so what you’re left with is a very, very, almost protein exclusive, especially based on weight, like whey protein concentrate it’s 70% to 80% protein based on weight. Whey protein isolate is over 90% typically. So you’re just getting a very “clean source of protein” without calories from carbs or fats really. And you’re removing most of the lactose. So most people tolerate a whey isolate really well, whereas a decent proportion of the population doesn’t tolerate a concentrate well. But if you can tolerate a concentrate, it’s just as good for muscle building.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about… People hear a lot about the best times to take whey protein. Is there a best time or is any time a great time to take whey protein?

Dr. Layne Norton: It’s just any time you need a high quality source of protein. People will say, “You need to take it right after your workout, ’cause it’s a fast digesting protein.” So that’s another myth. Whey is not really a fast digesting protein. It’s pretty normal based on most proteins. It’s that casein, which is the other component of whey. Casein is kind of an oddball. Casein is a very, very slow digesting protein and that is because it basically kind of congeals in the stomach, which slows down the emptying of… That we call material that’s moving through digestion, we call it chyme. So it slows down the emptying of that chyme from the pyloric sphincter into the duodenum, which the duodenum is where a lot of digestion and absorption takes place, in terms of enzymatic digestion that is. And so you get kind of this slow trickle of those amino acids into the duodenum when using something like casein. But casein kind of stands alone like that. There’s not really many other proteins that behave that way. So the idea that whey is a fast protein is not really supported by data in my opinion. It’s just that casein is slow.

Brett McKay: What’s the point of if you took casein, why would people take casein over whey?

Dr. Layne Norton: Well, the idea behind casein is, well if you’re gonna go a long time without having whey protein or without having any protein, you take casein, it can take up to six to eight hours to fully be absorbed. And so you’re getting this “slow drip of amino acids.” I would argue that based on some data that we had in our lab on what’s called the muscle full effect and some other data, I don’t think that it really makes a difference at all. But some people prefer to have casein before bed since they’re gonna be fasting for eight hours, those sorts of things. That’s fine. It’s certainly not gonna hurt anything, but I don’t really think it’s gonna make a big difference either.

Brett McKay: So you mentioned some other protein supplement products. There’s like eggs, soy, other plant-based. Can you get the same muscle building benefits of whey protein with those things?

Dr. Layne Norton: You know. It’s so hard to pick this stuff apart. If you look at the muscle protein synthesis response, whey tends to be a little bit better than either of those proteins, but when you look at the studies on actual muscle building, it’s less clear. The issue with some of those studies is a lot of them are 8, 10, 12, 16 weeks, muscle mass is built very, very slowly. And so could it there be a difference over the course of a year or years? There could be, but there’s never gonna be enough money to run a randomized control trial that long of a period of time. So we don’t know. My wager would be that egg would be very similar to whey, if not absolutely no difference. Soy, there may be a small difference over time, in terms of whey is probably a little bit better, but you’re not gonna get a clear cut answer reading the research data.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. What about like pea proteins?

Dr. Layne Norton: Pea protein, probably similar to soy in terms of muscle building properties. The downside to pea protein is, I believe it is almost frank deficient in methionine, I think. So soy protein has the benefit of it is a complete protein. It has a good amino acid store. There’s a decent amount of essential amino acids in it. Pea protein is devoid in some amino acids. So not that it doesn’t contain them, but they’re in such low amounts that you would become deficient if that was all you consumed. So if you’re gonna do a pea protein, it’s usually good to combine it with another plant-based protein that kind of fills in those gaps.

Like you could combine it with like wheat protein for example, like wheat protein isolate, and you would kind of cover your bases because wheat is deficient in lysine, but I don’t believe pea is deficient in lysine. So you could combine those two and get the benefits. Now a lot of people are opposed to using soy because, oh, it’s gonna take my testosterone, it’s gonna cause me to be feminine. There was a recent meta-analysis done looking at this and it found that at least like if you’re talking like one or two servings of soy a day, soy protein had no effects on testosterone, estrogen, none of that. So I think those concerns are very, very much overblown.

Brett McKay: All right, so I guess take whey protein, get one gram per pound of body weight if you’re looking to get strong. You don’t necessarily need to take a protein supplement if you’re getting it from food sources and if you are whey isolate, it’s probably gonna be your, it’s easy on the stomach, it tastes good and most bang for your buck.

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, I mean if you tolerate a concentrate, okay, you can save a little bit of money using a concentrate.

Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for you words, more sponsors.

And now back to the show. Let’s talk about another supplement that has a lot of research behind it and that you recommend and that’s creatine. So what is creatine and what are the benefits of it?

Dr. Layne Norton: So creatine is a combination of different amino acids and it’s produced naturally by the body and it’s found in some meat sources. So some people will say, “well, just eat meat.” But because cooking can reduce the bioavailability of creatine in meat, if you were eating raw meat, you’d need about three pounds of raw meat a day. And if you were cooking it, you’d need probably closer to six or seven. So pretty difficult to get in enough creatine to maximize muscle phosphocreatine stores. So that’s… I wanna point that out that usually you have to supplement with it if you wanna max out your muscle phosphocreatine stores. And so when I say phosphocreatine, phosphocreatine is the active form of creatine. So if you take creatine, it goes into your digestion, your bloodstream, your muscle can pick it up and then it adds a phosphate group to it.

And now that creatine is a high energy phosphate donor, so many of you may have heard, the term ATP Adenosine Triphosphate, which is your body’s energy currency. That’s what your body uses to literally generate energy and get unfavorable reactions to happen. Because it’s such a high energy phosphate, it can power those reactions. Well, when you use ATP in a reaction, it forms ADP. So you get a free phosphate and Adenosine Diphosphate molecule. Phosphocreatine can donate its phosphate to ADP to reform ATP. So that’s why we see, or at least while we think we see some performance benefits when using creatine because you’re helping reform that energy substrate. Now the other thing with creatine is it does increase lean mass. And the way it does this is a little bit less known, but we do know very conclusively that creatine increases lean mass and strength. And part of that may be through increasing cellular volume. So increasing water inside the cell.

And people have said, “Well, creatine causes water retention.” Not the kind of water retention that looks bad, okay? [chuckle] Creatine puts water inside muscle cells. That is a positive, that is a good thing. A hydrated cell is typically an anabolic cell. And this idea that creatine is gonna cause water retention, it’s causing water retention exactly where you want water. Now, people who have said things like, “well, I take creatine, I get bloated.” That is not the same thing as water retention. What you were experiencing is GI discomfort because creatine is a gut irritant for some folks. So and especially if you’re taking it with caffeine, ’cause because caffeine is also a gut irritant. So if you’re taking them together, you can really have like quite a bit of gut irritation. Now what I would say with Creatine is in order to get the benefits from creatine, you want to saturate the muscle cell 100% with phosphocreatine.

If you supplement with five grams of creatine mono-hydrate per day, within two or three weeks, you will likely saturate the muscle cells, if not four weeks. You can also load it, which where you take 15-25 grams per day and you’ll saturate it within a week. So you’ll get some results faster. The downside is most people experience some kind of GI discomfort using a loading phase. So if you’re somebody who doesn’t want to feel bloated or feel like you’re “retaining water” quote-unquote, then I would recommend not loading and just taking a maintenance dose.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. So I guess the benefits of creatine can help increase lean muscle mass and can help with strength performance as well.

Dr. Layne Norton: And it improves performance in terms of it might improve fatigue resistance, and there’s some more recent literature demonstrating that creatine may actually have cognitive benefits as well.

Brett McKay: Okay. And so and again the dosage on that, you can do five. Is it five grams a day?

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, five grams a day. If you’re somebody who has GI discomfort with that, then I would recommend splitting up two, two and a half gram doses per day and then that should help with the GI discomfort.

Brett McKay: Is there a best time to take creatine? After a workout, do you have to take… I’ve heard things like you gotta take it with a quick carb to help absorption. Isn’t anything to that now?

Dr. Layne Norton: No. I would say that whatever time of the day that you’ll take it, it doesn’t matter because it’s not like you take creatine and all of a sudden you get the benefits. You have to saturate the muscle cell. So it takes time. So it doesn’t matter when you take it. What matters is you take it consistently.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. Let’s talk about some of the myths of creatine. So you mentioned the bloating one. I remember when creatine first got a lot of… I guess well I don’t think it was… This was like ’98, ’99 when the Steroid Era Home Run race was going on.

Dr. Layne Norton: Right.

Brett McKay: And it was mentioned Mark McGuire took creatine. I wanted to take creatine for football and my parents are like, “I don’t know, this is like steroids.” Are there any myths around creatine? Is it toxic to liver? Can it cause… I’ve heard it could cause hair loss, acne, anything to that?

Dr. Layne Norton: Tons of myths. Tons of myths. There’s no evidence it causes acne. It certainly doesn’t damage the liver we would’ve seen that, doesn’t damage a healthy kidney. The one that has seemed to stuck is the hair loss thing. So I’m happy to address this. This comes from a single study in 2009 that has never been replicated and they did not show that it caused hair loss. What they showed was that people who took creatine had greater levels of DHT, which is a hormone that is associated with decreased hair length and I think hair loss as well. But showing an increase in a hormone that’s associated with hair loss is not the same thing as showing hair loss. This is something that gets screwed up by people all the time in terms of them jumping to conclusions. There are all kinds of things that you can show as markers or mechanisms increase in response to something else.

And then when they go to measure… So a great example of this for example is high protein diets in calcium excretion. So if you eat a high protein diet, they have shown it will increase your calcium excretion. And so people have said see it causes bone loss when they measure bone density, high protein diets do not cause bone loss. So you can’t just say, “Well, A equals B and B equals C, so therefore A equals C.” That’s not how things work in physiology. So that’s one aspect of it. The other aspect is they didn’t see… So DHT is a metabolite of testosterone actually. They didn’t see their other hormones change in response to creatine supplementation. So where is this increase in DHT coming from? Those things, coupled with the fact that the study 15 years later has still not been replicated, I would say you don’t have to worry about hair loss on creatine based on the current data.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. I’m curious that maybe there’s parents listening to this, their kids are getting into late middle school, early high school where they’re starting to take their physical training a little bit more serious. Is there any… Is there like an age limit when kids starts supplementing with creatine?

Dr. Layne Norton: Not… First off I have to do a disclaimer. If you’re under 18 years old, make sure you talk to your mom and dad and make sure you talk to a doctor. That being said, I’m aware of no research data showing that creatine supplementation is contraindicated at a certain age. I’ve yet to see any research data demonstrating that it’s a bad thing for kids.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. It sounds like could creatine be something that even just regular people who aren’t focused on getting… On performance in the gym, is it a good supplement just to take for overall health and wellbeing?

Dr. Layne Norton: I think so. Given it can increase lean mass, and maybe some cognitive benefits and it’s pretty darn cheap. I think it’s like… You can get plain old creatine mono-hydrate for 20, 30 cents a serving.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Dr. Layne Norton: It’s pretty cheap.

Brett McKay: It’s pretty cheap. Alright. So we talked about whey protein, talked about creatine the other supplement.

Dr. Layne Norton: Which is also, I wanna go ahead and touch this as well.

Brett McKay: Sure.

Dr. Layne Norton: In terms of creatine myths, there’s people try to reinvent the creatine wheel. They come out with creatine ethyl ester and buffered creatine and creates a hydrochloride. I will be very clear. Creatine mono-hydrate saturates the muscle cell 100% with phosphocreatine. You cannot get better than 100%. Every other form of creatine is either not as good as creatine mono-hydrate in research studies, or is as good, but it costs more. I don’t see any point to using anything other than creatine mono-hydrate, creatine ethyl ester has been shown to convert to creatinine the waste product at a greater rate than creatine mono-hydrate. So creatine ethyl ester is an absolute waste of money. It’s also two or three times more expensive than mono-hydrate and then buffered creatine seems to be as good as creatine mono-hydrate maybe a touch less, but it costs two to three times as much.

Creatine is stable in stomach acid. You don’t need to buffer it. So this idea that you need these special forms of creatine that is for one reason and one reason only. Creatine mono-hydrate is so ubiquitous that the companies are in such competition with each other price-wise. What happens when a bunch of companies compete with each other? They sell things really really cheap because they’re trying to slim their margins so that they can sell in bulk and they can get a bigger market share. So in an effort to convince the public that they should spend more money because they can make a lot more money, they’ve made these new forms of creatine that either aren’t as good or they are as good and way more expensive. So I will say, do not waste your money on any form of creatine other than Creatine mono-hydrate.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the third supplement you recommend, that’s caffeine. What are the health and performance benefits of caffeine?

Dr. Layne Norton: So caffeine has been shown to block the adenosine receptor, which can improve wakefulness and alertness. It’s also been shown to decrease fatigue and even some studies showing it modestly increases maximal strength, but you have to get the dose pretty high for that. So for increasing strength, it’s like closer to 0.6 grams per kilogram. So for me as a 95 kilogram person I’m gonna need to be close to five or 600 milligrams of caffeine at a dose in order to get those benefits. The performance benefits on fatigue are slightly lower. They’re 200, 300 milligrams and then you can get the benefits of like becoming less sleepier or more alert at a hundred plus milligrams of caffeine.

Brett McKay: Okay. So if you want the strength performer, you have to take a lot. That’s a lot. 500 is that just in one time. Like before you.

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, one time. That’s a, it’s a pretty big dose.

Brett McKay: So are you doing that before a competition? Like before a big lift. Or how are you doing that?

Dr. Layne Norton: I’m kind, I like caffeine quite a bit, so I usually have like 300 to 600 before lifting sessions. It depends on the session. If it’s just like a kind of an upper body session, I might only do 200 or 300. But if it’s a lower body squat, deadlift where I’m gonna go to a pretty high RPE, I’ll do, 400 to 600 milligrams of caffeine.

Brett McKay: That’s a lot. So what about if someone is just like regular person who’s like not really doing what you’re doing, how much caffeine are they? What’s…

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, I mean it just depends on what they wanna get out of it. If they’re just looking to feel focused and oh by the way, caffeine also been shown to have cognitive benefits as well if they’re just, and caffeine is something that, unlike creatine caffeine will work the first time you take it. So I would say for the average person, 150 to 300 milligrams of caffeine depending on their tolerance. And it just depends on what they wanna get out of it, the more you take up to a certain point, the more of the benefits you’re going to get. But you’re also have to balance that. Some people don’t like the jittery feeling. They don’t like feeling overstimulated and so they just need to balance that in terms of the not enjoying the feeling but then also wanting to get the benefits from it.

Brett McKay: Does it matter if you get your caffeine from coffee or a pre-workout or anything… Maybe just a caffeine pill?

Dr. Layne Norton: Probably not. I will say coffee is relatively not low in caffeine, but it’s not as high as some people think, if you have like a pretty tall cup of coffee, you might have a 100 to 150 milligrams of caffeine that just compare that to the same size of some of these energy drinks that have 300 or pre-workouts that have 300. So again, you can get it from caffeine or from coffee. The other issue with coffee is there’s other phenolic compounds in there that are also gut irritants. So a lot of you may have noticed that when you take a pre-workout or have a lot of coffee, you end up in the bathroom and have to go number two. That is because of the gut irritation from not just caffeine but those other compounds.

Brett McKay: So say you were gonna take caffeine to improve performance in the gym. So let’s say you’re taking 258 up to 500 like you are, how early before workout should you, how should you time the caffeine consumption? So you get the benefit during your workout session.

Dr. Layne Norton: You probably want it about 45 minutes before your training. And the reason is it takes about that long for caffeine to peak in the system and then the half-life is six hours. So meaning even at six hours post caffeine ingestion, there’s still half of it available in your system. So or on average half of it available in your system. So these people getting to the gym, whipping up their pre-workout off their gym bag and dry scooping, this is not the way you would do it to maximize optimal performance.

Brett McKay: Do you recommend cycling on and off caffeine to avoid tolerance or do you not have to worry about that?

Dr. Layne Norton: So there’s no evidence that you need to cycle and in fact they have shown that even over time you still get the performance benefits of caffeine even if you’ve been using it habitually. So I would say you don’t have to cycle off of it. I tend to cycle off of it before a big meat just ’cause I like to, if I haven’t taken it for a while, I do get like a pretty, it may be a placebo effect, but I feel it a lot more now. Does that actually lead to more better outcomes? Who knows, but I personally for the most part do not cycle off of it.

Brett McKay: Gotcha, Speaking of pre-workouts, there’s lot of ’em out there on the market. Anything people should avoid if you’re looking at a label and you see that has x ingredient, is that like a deal breaker for you when it comes to a pre-workout?

Dr. Layne Norton: Not particularly. I mean there’s a lot of ingredients that I would be like, okay, this doesn’t work. But the thing I really look for is,” does it say proprietary blend or does it list the absolute amounts on the label?” Because if it says proprietary blend, then it’s probably worthless. So what is a proprietary blend? So the idea of a proprietary blend was that you didn’t need to disclose exactly how much of each ingredient was in your product because what if companies have a secret sauce, the reality is everyone has access to the same studies. We know what an effective dose is. There is no secret sauce. The reason people or companies use a proprietary blend is so that they can say, for example… Let’s say citrulline malate, let’s show you citrulline malate as an example, because we have citrulline malate in our pre-workout, we have 6 grams. 6 grams of citrulline malate is the minimum dose that’s been shown to be effective in research studies. And at 6 grams of citrulline malate it is 40% of the cost of our pre-workout.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Dr. Layne Norton: Now imagine you are somebody who wants, if you’re a company and you wanna improve your margins, you can simply say it as citrulline malate in it, put 500 milligrams in and now you’ve saved yourself 20, 30% cost and you can still claim that citrulline malate is in it even though it’s not nearly enough to actually get the benefits that you want. So if something says proprietary blend, I typically tell people to run the other way.

Brett McKay: Got you. You wanna see the transparency in the label, how much it has of everything in there.

Dr. Layne Norton: Exactly.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. So there’s whey protein, creatine, caffeine. Are there any other supplements you think might have some benefit beyond those?

Dr. Layne Norton: Oh, absolutely. So… Again, you have to look at Creatine, caffeine, whey protein. They’re like the first tier of supplements. But then you have things like betaine, which is also called trimethyl-glycine, and that’s been shown to, in some studies to increase lean mass power output and some other benefits. And then you have things like carnitine, especially carnitine L-tartrate, which which has been shown to improve recovery from lifting and increase androgen receptor density in muscle cells. Now, whether or not that actually leads to more muscle mass, that’s never been shown. And then you have things like other recovery products like tart cherry extract, which has been shown to decrease the late onset muscle soreness and improve time to recovery for strength.

Ashwagandha is a supplement that I’m pretty bullish on. There’s quite a bit of research data showing that it’s kind of an adaptogen in terms of it reduces stress, may improve sleep, and has been shown to modestly increase testosterone. And there are studies showing it to increase lean mass and strength. So again, that’s another one. I wanna see more research on it because the research on, it’s pretty fresh, but I’m pretty based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m pretty bullish on it. And then in terms of pre-workout stuff, we talked about citrulline malate some other things I really like getting into the new tropics, which is basically cognitive enhancers or things that enhance focus Rhodiola rosea extract that’s been shown to decrease fatigue and the perception of fatigue.

And there’s some evidence that also I believe it also increases the cognitive function, like when looking at like time tasks and then L-DOPA, which basically can become dopamine. It’s a great addition to a pre-workout because the best way to describe it at least in my experience is you just feel good and confident. And so those are obviously some things we include in ours. I realize I’m talking about ingredients that are our supplements, but of course I’m gonna include the ingredients that I think are really helpful. And then another thing I’ve been getting bigger and bigger on is sleep. There’s a lot of research out there showing that if you get enough sleep it’s beneficial for not just lean mass but also reducing fat mass.

And there’s a lot of research on melatonin and in fact there’s a research study, a randomized control trial showing that melatonin actually increased lean mass in a study of resistance trainers. So that’s very, very encouraging and obviously melatonin can help with sleep, but interestingly the increase in lean mass appears to be beyond what you get from just improving sleep. So it may be that melatonin actually has some kind of direct anabolic effect as well, and then things like theanine, which is, it helps with sleep, but it’s actually more of like an anti-stress and reduces anxiety, but it does reduce the time to fall asleep and has been shown to reduce insomnia. And so those are some things I think are worthwhile because a lot of people could do with better sleep.

But then you’ve actually gotta go through the process of not being on your phone screen right up before you go to bed and making sure that you’re having good sleep hygiene overall. You can’t just take a supplement and expect just to actually fix everything. And by the way if you have to wake up at 6:00 and you’re getting in bed at midnight, none of this stuff is gonna help. So I am pretty bullish on the sleep supplements, especially for improving performance and lean mass. But most people don’t do the front end work that they need in order for those supplements to be really effective.

Brett McKay: And also we wanna reiterate these supplements you listed, that’s like the second, if you could do, first off, if you just take care of nutrition, sleep, exercise, just focus on that first. After that, consider bringing in a whey protein if you need to. Creatine would be great. Caffeine has performance enhancing, it can help enhance performance has other benefits and these other ones you listed, these are kind like nice to have. Like you don’t necessarily.

Dr. Layne Norton: Those are like second tier stuff. Yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah, you don’t need to do that. So Layne, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

Dr. Layne Norton: Yeah, so if you go to, I think Instagram is my best business card just go to Instagram and my screen name is Biolayne and you can find me as Biolayne on most social media, B-I-O-L-A-Y-N-E, and my website And you can find all the stuff that we do there. And then if you’re interested specifically in our supplements, Outwork Nutrition is our supplement company and you can go to and find all our products.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well Layne Norton, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Dr. Layne Norton: Thank you Brett. I appreciate the time.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Dr. Layne Norton. You can find more information about his work at his website, Also check out our show notes at Where you can find links to resources. We can delve deeper into this topic.

Well that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at Where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. While you’re there, make sure to sign up for our newsletter there is a weekly or daily option. They’re both free. And if you’d like to enjoy ad free episodes for the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to Sign up use code manly set checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS and you start enjoying ad free episodes of the AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate you take one minute to view on Apple podcast or Spotify. Helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support until next time. This is Brett McKay. You might not have listened though podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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