Supplements and the Law

The sight of a deep and hefty profit column can make even the most intense bodybuilder want to jump for joy. A potentially fantastic vehicle that can help to drive that profit column even further in a positive direction is the sale of vitamins or sports supplements at your facility. I say potentially fantastic because by failing to follow certain guidelines, selling vitamin supplements can become dangerous business.

According to federal law, if an individual who is not a medical doctor insinuates that a vitamin supplement can be used to treat or cure a medical condition, that would be considered practicing medicine without a license and they could be subject to legal ramifications. If someone on your staff makes specific medical claims about the benefits of the supplements that you sell, that also can be considered making false claims and be subject to legal ramifications.


When recommending vitamins and sports supplements to your members, make sure that your staff does just that: recommend. Frequently, I'll overhear personal trainers crossing that precarious line and prescribing supplements as if they were physicians. For the purpose of this article, the difference between recommending and prescribing is that the former is information given based on third-party research, while the latter is information given as the definitive source. To recommend properly and avoid prescribing, be sure to have your staff members quote a credible third-party source, for example, a book, article or seminar, when making any claims or stating any benefits of specific supplements. I would even goes as far as to have your staff members specifically use the word recommend. In addition, be sure that your staff members are simply suggesting that supplements will assist with normal metabolic functions, and not that any supplement can treat or cure a medical condition.


You must be careful when recommending any thermogenic fat burner or product that stimulates the adrenal glands. These types of supplements have serious pharmacological effects on the body as well as other potential contraindications. When recommending these two types of supplements or when dealing with members who have been diagnosed with a medical condition, be sure to insist that they seek physician approval prior to taking supplements. You may even want have members sign a release form at the point of their initial supplement purchase. General vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, protein powders, MRPs, carb drinks, creatine and non-stimulant fat burners are more benign, but highly effective, supplements that your supplement shop should be filled with.

As with any other profit center, the key to success is staff education. Make it clear to your staff, especially the go-getters, that the most important aspect of selling supplements within a health club is to not overstate the effects and benefits of nutrients. Don't use the words treat, cure, therapy or diagnose. Don't tell the members that the supplement is the answer to all of their prayers. With a bit of guidance for the staff and monitoring by management, the sale of supplements can impact member retention, enhance a facility's credibility, add value to membership, and bring in some greenbacks.

Todd Brown, CCN, CSCS, is the director of personal training and nutrition for the NJ Work Out World! He can be reached at or 732-390-7390, ext. 19.

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