Filling Bellies and Bankrolls

Nutrition programs can raise members' energy levels and your profits.

Remember the early days in elementary school? Oh, that daily trip to the cafeteria for a deliciously prepared, nutritionally balanced lunch based on that cute little triangle with lots of colorful pictures of food! Afterwards, the students went back to class, their teacher handed out brochures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the class began talking about eating healthy meals from the food guide. Then most students took the brochures home and promptly forgot about them!

Some of those students grew up to be your members. What do you think they have been eating since their early childhood days? Have they scrapped the spinach for sweet rolls? Have carrots been replaced with candy? Or maybe their dairy intake is limited to the cream in their cappuccino and summer ice cream cones!

It's time for them to pay for their pleasure!

Everybody has to eat. Food is the fuel by which our bodies grow. And as our bodies develop and change, the kind of food we eat becomes even more critical to our health-to our life.

If you follow the food guide pyramid and the USDA's Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for consuming proteins, vitamins and minerals in your diet, you're healthy, energized and fit. If you eat right, congratulate yourself. But what about your members' nutrition?

So, you may ask, what does nutrition have to do with members? Health!

As the club industry gravitates from promoting an athletic lifestyle to becoming a consortium of wellness services, nutrition becomes the basis for health and fitness. Members probably know very little about the food guide and RDAs, including just what is the accurate weight and size of a "serving" of an item from the food group.

So where do you begin in terms of offering nutrition education?

The best place to start any program is by selling it to yourself. Familiarize yourself with the food guide pyramid at the USDA's Web site at (see Food Pyramids on the Web for other options). The pyramid has five major food groups and one miscellaneous group. It differs from the old plan by splitting fruits and vegetables into two separate groups and adding a sixth group containing fats, oils and sweets.

Learn about your diet by assessing your nutritional intake. Experts agree that by writing down what you eat and how often you eat, you can have a good gauge on where you need to begin to change your eating habits.

Compare your list of foods eaten with the food guide pyramid. Use the food serving-size reference to gauge your dietary intake. The RDAs are listed on most food product containers. Compare their recommendations to what you are eating.

You can download and print a copy of the USDA's Dietary Guidelines in a portable document format (PDF) from the USDA Web site. Also, the Interactive Healthy Eating Index (IHEI) from the USDA is an online dietary assessment tool at After providing a day's worth of dietary information, you will receive a score on the overall quality of your diet for that day. This score looks at the types and amounts of food you have eaten as compared to those recommended by the food guide pyramid. It also tells you how much total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium you have in your diet. An IHEI score over several days gives a better picture of your eating habits over time.

So you've decided to take the bold step to evaluate your diet and your nutrition IQ. Great! Now you have to sell it to your staff. And it's advisable to add a nutrition expert. "Everybody in the world eats and everybody thinks they're a nutrition expert," says Dorene Robinson, R.D., C.N., the director of Nutrition and Health Education for Beyond Fitness in Bellevue, Wash. "Credibility is a problem."

A good place to start is by talking with a registered dietitian (R.D.) and/or a certified nutritionist (C.N.). The American Dietetic Association's (ADA) Web site offers consumers and health professionals the opportunity to find a dietitian at

What are registered dietitians and certified nutritionists? According to the ADA, an R.D. has completed both academic and related experience to meet the requirements established by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the certifying agency for the ADA. R.D.s must pass a national exam and complete continuing professional courses and training. A C.N. has a degree from an accredited institution in nutrition.

R.D.s and C.N.s know their food guide. They know nutrients, eating habits, vitamins, minerals, calories, body fat indexes, and how to start a nutritional education program. If you are considering starting a program, experts recommend you get the facts and build a plan to integrate it into your existing weight-management and fitness programs.

If you bring in a nutrition expert, however, be prepared to deal with some resentment. "Clubs who want to do this may find a barrier of staff resistance," Robinson warns. She recommends addressing staff concerns, which may revolve around everything from questioning the need for a nutritionist to feeling threatened by a consultant's presence. Staff may just be wary of someone "upsetting the apple cart" on programs already established by personal trainers and other staff members.

Credibility and staff resistance aren't the only barriers a club manager may face in establishing a nutrition program. Members may build some barriers of their own. Use credible, documented reports to make them see the benefits of a nutrition program. For example, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) points out that a diet of foods recommended in current dietary guidelines can significantly increase women's life-spans. The report, from a study at Queens College of the City University of New York in Flushing of some 42,000 women, claims that a diet stressing fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meat and poultry (e.g., the USDA food pyramid) adds longevity to a woman's life.

Not only should you let members know that your nutrition program can improve their health, you should inform them that the proper diet will allow them to get the most from their workouts. What we eat maximizes our physical performance, reminds Sheila L. Volpe, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor of nutrition and director of the Center for Nutrition in Sport and Human Performance (CNSHP) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A privately funded center, the CNSHP continuously studies different aspects of nutrition and exercise.

Studies like those conducted at the CNSHP are exactly what your staff should share with members, who may argue that they can get all their nutritional information from the latest diet best sellers. As Volpe points out, diet and nutrition information needs to come from a reliable source, and you probably won't find one at "Diet books," she says, "never reference publications or studies. You aren't seeing the whole story."

Although some people prefer the latest diet craze, many others enjoy nutritional benefits by following the food pyramid. In fact, Volpe notes that people may well be following the food pyramid more than they think. That's why people need to look closely at the guidelines to determine their nutrition intake-to see where they are succeeding and where they need improvement.

Chances are they want to improve. The ADA's recent public opinion survey found that 84 percent of Americans rank exercise and physical activity as important to them. And 79 percent agree with the statement, "Physical activity is as important to overall health as a nutritious diet." Still, most people don't exercise and eat right. As a club operator, you can help them with the former, and if you remember what your elementary school teacher taught you (eat right and follow the food pyramid), you can also help with the latter. Pass that on to your staff and members, and you can profit from a sound nutrition education program at your club.

Food Pyramids on the Web

Looking for a food pyramid that you can download or other dietary information you can share with staff and members? The Internet offers several options. From the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Campbell's Soup to Vanderbilt University and the University of Minnesota, here are a list of food pyramids and food guides on the Web. Pick your favorites and refer your clients.

Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children

Food Guide Pyramid From USDA

Beverage Guide Pyramid From the Processed Apple Institute

Food Group Links From the National Health Magazine

Food Guide Pyramid From Children With Diabetes

Food Guide Pyramid From Alaska Cooperative Extension

Food Guide Pyramid From the Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Food Guide Pyramid From the University of Minnesota

Food Guide Pyramid From Campbell's Soup

Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid from VegSource

Actual Consumption Pyramid

Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults

Supplementing Profits

On any given day, one nutritional supplement or another is touted as being a "hot" sales item. But before you stock the shelves with the latest nutritional craze, here are some points to ponder. The debate over the advantages and disadvantages about nutritional supplements and their benefits continues to swell. Most nutritional experts hold fast to the theory that people should derive their daily dosages of vitamins, minerals and proteins from the food they eat. However, some people may need to supplement their daily nutrition-especially those whose medical conditions either deplete their daily supply of nutrients, or whose diets are limited and may not include all nutritional requirements.

According to Dorene Robinson, R.D., C.N., the director of Nutrition and Health Education for Beyond Fitness in Bellevue, Wash., "More and more informed nutritionists recommend supplements." Robinson submits that a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) cited 43 different meal plans that were developed according to the USDA dietary guidelines. Not one of these meal plans provided 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) set by the Institute of Medicine, a private, nonprofit organization that advises the federal government, and a part of the National Academy of Sciences, which has set the nation's RDAs for nutrients since 1941.

Robinson concludes from her evaluation of the study's findings that supplements may be needed for a complete healthy diet. And letting the public in on an R.D.'s secret, Robinson says the RDAs may be implicated as rock-hard facts, but they are simply a scientific theory.

Still, not all experts agree that dietary supplements are always needed. Ronda Gates is a registered pharmacist and the author of several books on nutrition. She maintains that the nutritional guidelines are the core of a healthy diet. "Good nutrition guides say there is no magic in a pill," she claims.

Gates agrees that some supplements may be needed by people whose diets may be restricted, but she warns users that she sees the supplement industry as being fraught with "quackery" and misleading information.

Gates' pharmacology background has enabled her to develop guidelines for those seeking help in determining their choices in supplements. "It's tough," she says, adding, "Most of the time [a supplement's claim] is built around the nutritional supplement's sales." She advises consumers to look for these signs on the products for clues to misleading information:

* Claims that provide solutions that sound "magical" or that present enticingly simple (and logical-sounding) answers to complex problems.

* Distrust of the current methods of medicine or suspicion of the regular food supply, with "alternatives" for sale (providing a profit to the seller) under the guise that people should have freedom of choice. Beware of anyone claiming to be persecuted by the medical establishment; it means an amateur is making your diagnosis. They often try to convince you that physicians want to keep you ill so that you will continue to pay for office visits, according to Gates.

* Evidence in the form of testimonials, case histories, and other nonscientific support for their claims. These are carefully selected and may even use the name of a person who doesn't exist. Also, everyone is passionate about something. And remember famous personalities are usually paid big bucks for their support.

* Evidence from "unpublished studies." Valid scientific studies are published in reputable scientific journals.

* Evidence that is purported to be valid because the person has a M.D. or Ph.D. or has studied at a reputable institution. (People can take audit classes at almost any institution, and a job as a lab assistant does not mean the individual has done research.)

So, how can one tell if a supplement is safe to use? Who determines what supplements are safe, which amount should be taken, and if the compound is standardized? As of this printing, the final decision is up to the buyer. Knowing the integrity and reputation of the supplier and verifying the manufacturer's claims is the consumer's responsibility.

The bottom line on nutritional supplements is this: If you want to sell them as part of a profit center, experts advise that you keep it simple and safe. Get a certified nutrition expert's advice. As Gates says, "There is no way any health club people can keep up with this [growing debate]."

- C.H.

Suggested Articles:

Flywheel Sports Inc. is liquidating the company in a Chapter 7 filing, closing its 42 studios and laying off 1,200 employees.

In total, 12 fitness franchise brands made the 2020 Top Growth Franchises list, which is based on steady growth over a three-year period.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and former Pittsburgh Steelers player Troy Polamalu filmed a commercial at Genesis Health Clubs.