I recently saw Alwyn speak at a personal trainer’s seminar, and Alwyn showed study after study supporting his fat loss programs. Today he will focus on the nutrition and the psychology of weight loss.
Alwyn Cosgrove is a superstar in the world of physique transformation for men and women. He’s trained champions in multiple sports and winners of multiple 12-week body transformation contests. Alwyn owns and operates a training facility in Santa Clarita, California.
Craig Ballantyne: Where do people go wrong with meal frequency when trying to lose fat?
Alwyn Cosgrove: Two primary mistakes. One – Is trying to eat very little all day in a bid to keep calories low (and then blowing it every single night when they get home). Two – Is actually the opposite — putting too much faith in the “6-8 meals per day” theory.
As usual the truth is somewhere in between. For a 200lb male eating 2400 cals per day – 6 meals is 400 calories per meal. If a couple of these meals are 200 calorie shakes – he can actually eat some decent size portions. But for a 135lb female trying to drop a little more fat, who is eating closer to 1350 calories per day – 6 meals per day ends up being 250 cals each. It’s hard to get in decent sized meals. They’d do better on 4 meals per day. So it’s a sliding scale.
Almost every new client that walks into our facility usually skips breakfast, maybe has a coffee mid-morning, eats lunch, eats nothing all afternoon and eats a big dinner. They ARE only eating two meals per day. By switching their macronutrients around a wee bit, cleaning up their diet and getting them on 4-5 feedings per day – we really do notice a difference.
Craig Ballantyne: You have an impressive list of low-carb studies cited in your arguments. What’s the take home message about this issue?
Alwyn Cosgrove: At this point – a reduced carb, higher protein diet is superior for fat loss. Period! And probably superior for health. There are several studies comparing the SAME caloric intake of higher and lower carb diets – a) the low carb groups lost more fat and more importantly b) there was a significantly greater client compliance with the low carb groups. Greater client compliance is HUGE. This is real world value again.
I don’t know the threshold that a diet becomes “low carb” at, and I’m not convinced that a diet that was 70% carbohydrate with all carbohydrate sources coming from vegetables would hurt fat loss at all. Adam Campbell of Men’s Health shared a study with me that showed individuals on low carbohydrate diets tended to eat more vegetables than prior to beginning their program. I guess a very low REFINED carbohydrate diet is what I recommend.
Craig Ballantyne: In my opinion, the role of hormones in fat loss has been ignored. Do you do anything to manipulate hormone levels to get greater fat loss in your clients?
Alwyn Cosgrove: Insulin is the only hormone we really have control over. The main thing is keeping insulin in check. Here’s how I explain it to beginners – insulin is a fat storing hormone – if we can keep our insulin levels reduced around the clock (reduced carb diet) then we can effectively increase total fat oxidation. Obviously that’s an oversimplification and elevating insulin is useful around workouts – but that’s the only thing I’ve been concerned about.
Craig Ballantyne: In addition to the “three keys to fat loss” that you covered in your presentation, how important are motivation and social support to success? How do you address these attributes with your clients?
Alwyn Cosgrove: Yeah – the three keys I presented are all physiological. But psychology trumps physiology every single time. There’s a reason why Weight Watchers and Curves are making more money than the majority of personal trainers: Social support. And social support drives motivation. In our center we tend to get motivated people anyway – so that’s less of an issue – but one of the things we always ask is “does your family/significant other support you on this journey?”
It makes a huge difference. That’s the difference between a successful trainer and an unsuccessful one. But I’ll tell you one thing without going into too much detail – switching to semi-private training increased results across the board. Probably because of group dynamics and social support.
Craig Ballantyne: Most relatively good trainers can handle the physical components of fat loss, but how does a trainer succeed at the mental game? Any resources you can recommend? And is the “mental component/mental drive” something you can immediately tell that a client has or is missing?
Alwyn Cosgrove: Well I’d question that most trainers can handle the physical components of fat loss but I won’t get into that right now. As far as the mental component goes – my resources came from being exposed to a great coach at a young age. We all remember the coach in our youth, who left us on the bench, or had us running laps in the rain. We also remember the coach who inspired us, picked us up and made our young lives a little better. Which type of coach are you? That’s the secret.
I instill in my clients that we are a team. I work for them. I deliver the best service I can in the position of their fitness coach. Once they put their faith in you – never betray that. But their results will increase when they realize this is a coaching relationship – not just a trainer – client. Some very general psychological tricks: most females will only respond to positive reinforcement and don’t respond at all being compared to others or to ‘norms’. Occasionally they want comparisons but generally they respond better to comparisons to themselves.
Males in general will respond better to having to “prove” themselves and always need to know “what’s good? Is this a good number for me to be lifting?” etc. Girls just don’t want to be intimidated. Guys just want to be “one of the guys”. A poor coach uses the same personality when working with all his or her clients. A good coach recognizes that his or her personality only works with certain clients. A great coach can change his or her personality TO the client.
Craig Ballantyne: Bottom line: How do you help someone be more disciplined – especially with their eating and their habits outside the gym?
Alwyn Cosgrove: It’s an understanding of the entire picture. It’s not the workout. It’s not the diet. It’s not the intervals – it’s the synergy between all of these things. At any one time a client is either getting fatter or leaner. If they get fatter this week – they haven’t failed – they have just found and executed the perfect system for increasing fat! All we have to do is to change that system (which we know doesn’t work now) and we can’t fail.
Clients have to make the mindshift that it’s not about “will this piece of cake really hurt me that much?” to “is what I’m doing getting me closer to my goals or not?” Just a little shift in thinking can reap huge rewards. Yeah it’s true – if you dieted and trained all week, a glass of beer and a few chicken wings won’t hurt you that much – but it damn sure isn’t getting you closer to six pack abs. One thing I really liked was John Berardi’s compliance grid – where we see overall compliance to the plan, as opposed to details. It helps clients see the big picture. A 90% goal is what we shoot for.
So let’s say the plan is 5 meals per day, and 3 workouts with post-workout nutrition per week. So we’re looking at 38 meal opportunities. If a client misses a meal, or doesn’t eat a meal that’s part of the program, then they lose a “point”. Our goal is a minimum of 34-35. It lets a client see that if they eat perfectly on Sun-Fri, but miss a couple meals on Sat, and eat a couple of cheat meals that day – in their head they were “on” the whole time.
But when we do the compliance grid we see that Sat alone cost them 5 points. So despite what they think or perceive to be happening – they are NOT compliant – just an important distinction to teach them.
Craig Ballantyne: And finally, can you leave us with some of your best results or case studies?
Alwyn Cosgrove: I prefer to talk about average results – we all have star clients and testimonials that we can talk about. Generally across the board with a client who is doing everything right we see a consistent loss of 24 to 32 lbs of fat in our initial 16 week program. Some people out perform that, or lose more over a longer period of time. Some do less than that – but that’s a fair average that I don’t mind quoting.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one girl who I worked with. This girl’s brother paid for her training sessions before being shipped to Iraq. Unfortunately he never made it back. But he’d be proud of his wee sister. She trained her ass off, gained a ton of muscle, cut 20lbs of fat in about 12 weeks and now holds the record for kills as a freshman in D1 Volleyball at Idaho. Haley Larson – an amazing athlete – watch for her name.
Craig Ballantyne: Alwyn, Thanks so much for your expertise and motivation. Join Alwyn’s FB fanpage here: www.Facebook.com/AlwynCosgroveFanpage.com
Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Author, Turbulence Training