Should you provide nutritional advice to your clients? The answer to this question is yes. And no.
It's well known that exercise alone will not allow people to achieve most weight-loss objectives. Nutrition also plays a part. It’s also well known that losing weight is the No. 1 objective of most clients. Therefore, if the trainer can assist the client in both exercise and nutrition, the results will be far better than simply offering personal training.
Better results mean greater client satisfaction, continued training, retention, word-of-mouth referrals and all the good things that come from happy customers.
But just as with personal training, nutritional guidance must come from a knowledgeable person, trained in the science of nutrition. This almost always means a certification or degree, and when trainers have one, it is a major differentiator.
The flip side is, no, you can't offer nutritional advice without training in the field, lest you leave yourself wide open to legal liability if something goes wrong (e.g., allergic reaction to a food, not knowing/asking/understanding the meds a client might be taking). And giving supplement advice is even worse.
It’s one thing to recommend that your client eat healthy. Sure, we all know about fruits and vegetables, not overdoing any single food group, drinking plenty of water, etc. But what we probably don’t know are the physical, biological and medical issues that a client may have and how interactions with foods might affect their health. Diabetics, for example, cannot be handled the same way as people without diabetes. Same goes for hypertensives and other types of individuals with medical conditions.
Professional dietitians spend years studying and becoming licensed in this field, sitting somewhere between exercise and medicine on the wellness spectrum. Some trainer certifying agencies provide nutritional certifications, and most of the major certification organizations also have sub-certifications in nutrition.
Typically, a client engages a trainer to be trained in a fitness regimen, meaning exercise. Yet clients often assume that because you’re a trainer or because you have a lean body, that you know all about nutrition, too. It may be that you do know about nutrition for yourself, but everybody’s chemical makeup and tolerances are different. There’s no guarantee that what works for you will work for somebody else.
When the client asks – and they will ask – politely tell them that your expertise is in exercise science only and that, in the interest of their safety and good health, you don’t provide nutritional advice beyond, “eat healthy.”
Sticking with your proven expertise is the safest and smartest thing to do. If and when that includes nutritional counseling – great. Until then, caution is the best advice.
(Editors' Note: For more on this topic, attend this session, "Trainer Tips: Nutrition for Weight Loss and Injury Prevention," at the 2017 Club Industry Show Oct. 4-6 at the Hilton Chicago.)
Chuck Leve is a 40-year veteran of the fitness industry and proven successful developer of fitness industry associations. Currently, he serves as the executive vice president of business development for the Association of Fitness Studios (AFS). He's been involved in the creation and development of some of the most successful trade associations in the history of the fitness industry. For more information on AFS, visit afsfitness.com.