It was while listening to the podcast series “The Lifestyle Chase” that I first became aware that the guy I was listening to on the radio each day on my drive home from work was a fitness fanatic. Listening to him, I had no idea that the man behind the voice had so much knowledge about health and fitness and I knew I had to hear his story about how he got into radio and where his passion for healthy living came from.
Layne Mitchell grew up in Calgary. He was an overweight kid which seems to be common for most adults who become interested in a healthier lifestyle as they get older. Not great at sports growing up, he didn’t really have much interest in staying active and enjoyed eating the rich, decadent foods that his parents enjoyed making for him.
Rather than hitting the basketball court or lifting weights, Layne loved music. In high school he played in a number of bands not because of his love for playing music, but rather for the production aspect. Creating the music and recording it was where his passion lay, and he spent hours learning the craft in hopes of one day making it big and recording his own music.
“I got into radio by accident,” he says. “I played in bands throughout high school. Not necessary because I loved music but because electric guitars are a great way to hide a big fat gut. I had a strong passion for audio production.”
He moved to Saskatoon with his mother to help her find a place to live and that’s where fate struck and led him on his current career path. A family friend told him about a radio and TV school in Saskatoon at Western Academy. It was an 8-month program and he thought a career with studio access might be a great opportunity to record with his band after hours.
Just three months into the program he was offered an internship and eventually a job. Soon he was too busy for music and having too much fun on-air to worry about recording or playing anymore. Early on in his career, he realized the value of working on his craft and constantly invested his time in developing his skills in the music industry. His passion for music never changed and whether it was MC’ing shows, meeting people at events, or improving his production skills, he knew that spending all that time on his career when he was young would pay off as he got older. More than 20 years later and he’s still at it.
Even though Layne loves to cook, once he got into radio, the early days afforded him little more than Kraft Dinner, hot-dogs and whatever treats sponsors or clients happened to bring by the station.
“I was twenty-two years old and hosting a morning show when a co-worker coaxed me into going to the gym. I was around 270 pounds,” he says.
His goal wasn’t to lose weight, but rather hoping that exercise would help his pants fit a little bit better. So, he lifted weights seven days a week and started doing light cardio to help with the muscle soreness and passed the time reading whatever fitness magazines happened to be lying around. He learned to dial in his diet and ditched the Kraft Dinner in favour of a strict 3,000 calorie diet (40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fat) dropping eighty pounds in three months.
It was around this time, when he was focussed on his career and living a healthy lifestyle, that he started to experience health problems. Friends and family suspected it had to do with his drastic weight loss, and he hoped they were right. He certainly didn’t want to be “fit” at the expense of being healthy. He resumed his previous diet but started feeling even worse. Doctors soon confirmed that Layne was suffering from organ failure caused by a still undiagnosed autoimmune condition.
“I remember going from working 14-16 hours a day and enjoying life to sleeping 14-16 hours a day and never getting better,” says Layne. “They ruled out all the bad stuff, but I still had the same symptoms and it was tough because they couldn’t tell me what was wrong.”
Layne has visited the Mayo Clinic in the US, investing five-figures trying to determine what his medical problem are so he could reclaim his health but to no avail. He’s since had a football sized cyst removed from his abdomen and the long list of vague and strange symptoms continue to plague his health today including muscle spasms, pain and constant tiredness.
“I found that heavy exercise and a clean diet are the only things that seem to give me any relief,” he says. “People might look at me and assume I’m a gym rat and while I do spend my fair share of time exercising, nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m fit entirely by circumstance.”
He’s had challenges with his health and a clean diet and active lifestyle seem to be the only thing that has helped. In a typical day, Layne consumes well over 5000 calories. A breakfast complete with eggs, granola and 2% milk start the day. Then he’s off to the gym where he downs about 3-4 L of water mixed with dextrin powder which has many health benefits including weight control, maintaining cholesterol and being rich in fiber which aids in digestion and nutrient absorption. He follows his work out up with BCAA’s and whey protein before heading off to work where he is already on to his next meal of the day before hitting the air. 1 L of oatmeal and peanut butter, a can of tuna and fruit and nuts keep him going before “lunch” 2 hours later where he will typically have a piece of beef or pork with a couple cups of grains. He follows this up after another 2 hours with chicken, tons of vegetables and more grains.
“Half of what I eat is veggies,” he says. “I believe it’s important to load your calories around the most active part of the day. When you eat 5000 calories before 5pm, you’re less likely to snack on something unhealthy later in the day.”
Diet is very personal and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Exercise on the other hand is universal and if you truly want to be healthy, a mix of both is required. Layne is a firm believer of the saying that a fit body is made in the kitchen and his commitment to clean living has helped him not only achieve a fit body, but also ward off some of the symptoms caused by his disease.
“I work out two hours a day, four days a week,” he says. “I lift for about ninety minutes and then finish off with thirty minutes of either sprints, jogging or biking. My lifting regimen is a mix of powerlifting, bodybuilding and CrossFit. I train a different body part each day but focus on complex movements like squats, deadlifts, bench-press, chin-ups, and handstand push-ups.”
He’s a huge fan of the fitness culture in Edmonton where everyone is willing to share tips and advice to help each other reach their goals. Whether it’s someone posting their tips online or offering their advice or support when you’re struggling to find motivation, it seems Edmonton is a community like no other.
Terwilliger Rec Center is Layne’s “dojo”. The track is great for sprints. The trainers are approachable and supportive. The programs offer him the variety that he enjoys.
“I regularly do drop-in classes for Flex Mobility or even seniors’ yoga. After a 2-hour workout, I usually feel like I’m 75 years old anyway LOL! When weather permits, I jog in the River Valley. Although, my joints take a pounding from the sprints so I’m not afraid to opt for the lower-impact treadmill equivalent if my body asks for it.”
He knows the importance of flexibility for warding of injury and aiding in overall fitness and tries to squeeze in a yoga session when he can to stretch out the muscle fibres he’s shortening with all the lifting.
“My main fitness goal is simply to avoid injury. Exercise is a big part of my symptom management program and being a single dad, getting hurt is not an option.”
As a single dad, Layne recognizes the importance of being a good role model for his young daughter. Whether it’s encouraging her to make healthy food choices or by being supportive of her fitness activities, Layne puts his daughter high on his priority list.
“I’m not super strict about what she eats,” he says. “She will meal prep with me which I find is a great way as a single parent to manage your time and make sure your family is eating healthy. But she’ll munch on some vegetables and follow it up with a dozen M&M’s.”
Not an athlete by any means, he goes swimming every week with his daughter and takes her for gymnastics as well. He’s not sure where these sports will lead to and hopes that his lack of skill in any sport doesn’t get passed on to his daughter but realizes that having her active at a young age will pay off with her health and lifestyle choices as she gets older.
Layne shares time raising his daughter with his ex-wife and they are both on the same page when it comes to keeping her active and healthy.
“Divorce is one of the toughest things I’ve been through,” he says. “Having a little one helped me keep it together. I might not be where I am now without the accountability I have to my daughter.”
His biggest goal in life is to be a good parent. He stays fit. He eats well. And he parents. He doesn’t have a lot of time for anything else. That’s his focus and he is perfectly happy with that.
Photos by Jeffrey Paul Kelly