Give it a few sessions and clients will inevitably ask questions pertaining to nutrition. And rightfully so, as nutrition is an important factor for fat loss, muscle building, and general health. As a certified personal trainer, you are seen as the expert source for questions such as…
- Have you heard of the Keto diet? Is it any good?
- I’ve heard that I shouldn’t eat past 7pm. Is that true?
- What should I eat to lower inflammation?
Some personal trainers are ready and prepared to offer nutrition advice, whereas others find the subject frightening. Trainers focused exclusively on exercise, look to defer these questions to a nutrition coach, dietician, or someone specializing in nutrition counseling.
By reading this article, you’ve most likely reached the point where you’re ready to offer nutritional advice to your personal training clients. While every fitness professional should have a baseline understanding of creating healthy eating habits, first, you need to know what you can or cannot say.
It is important that you have an answer to the question: what nutrition advice can a personal trainer give?
Let’s find out.
What a Personal Trainer Should or Shouldn’t Say about Nutrition
Nutrition is a controversial subject that can be as polarized as politics. Worse, it is a subject that almost everyone has an opinion on. There is an unlimited amount of so-called experts with no expertise. These “researchers” use social media as their primary data source giving them insights into the field of nutrition.
For these reasons, governing bodies and personal training organizations have differing rules on what type of dietary advice a personal trainer can provide to their clients.
But we can’t just pretend it doesn’t matter. Since proper nutrition is a critical factor in the success of our clients, we want to offer as much help as permitted. Otherwise, we leave the client to fend for themselves, which can have a disastrous impact on our efforts to get them into shape.
How Nutrition Counseling Differs From Personal Training
Unlike industries such as real estate, at this point there are no official required state certifications for personal trainers. Gyms or personal training studios must establish their own requirements to determine what type of credentials they want their trainers to have.
Generally, it is the same for offering fitness nutrition services. But because of the implications and risks associated with offering nutrition advice, some states have stepped in and created restrictions about what and how nutrition professionals can help individuals.
Adhering to State Laws
Each state has its own set of laws about what type of nutrition information a fitness trainer or health coach can provide. Some of these states limit the work only to a registered dietician who has a license specific to the subject of nutrition.
You can learn more about your state on the American Nutrition Advocate website, which provides a map and categorization of red, yellow, and green states. However, this is just a starting point and you should contact your state, county, and city to understand the legal details of what services you can offer.
How to Approach Nutrition Questions
Unlike the social media gurus that make bold claims without research to back it up, a personal trainer can take a different path. There is more scientific research available to use than ever before. While research is never absolute, the best way to provide nutrition advice is by referencing what researchers have reported.
This requires more work than suggesting what worked for you or based on your experience with other clients. But this work is worth the effort. Suggesting published research defers the liability away from the trainers and on to those who performed independent studies on the subject.
A fitness instructor can leverage the published works and organize them in a way that provides guidance to clients without directly making the recommendation themselves.
Creating Meal Plans For Your Clients
The role and responsibility of creating a meal plan for trainees occurs when you have moved from personal trainer to fitness coach. While a personal trainer may offer a basic meal program, the coach builds it based on their specific goal.
If your state allows it, providing customized meal plans gives you an advantage over the competition, adds value to the client, and better ensures success of their fitness goal.
You still can ensure your clients are following a healthy diet even if your state restricts your ability to offer this service. Here, your role switches from offering nutrition coaching to being an accountability partner.
There are many online resources where a fitness coach can partner with a nutrition organization that uses calculations and inexpensive coaching to offer personalized meal plans. With your help to make sure they stick to the plan.
Nutrition Advice a Personal Trainer Should Never Give
While you may want the absolute best for your clients, there is some advice that only a medical practitioner should give. In any state, claims made to prevent or treat a disease can land you in big trouble.
Playing doctor is not worth the risk. Whether or not warranted, offering prescription nutritional advice can open you up to potential lawsuits from people who follow your advice and have adverse or undesired effects.
We should only have any conversations about topics such as cancer in a way that passes along the information for their own learning and understanding. There is no harm in suggesting specific articles or books on a subject, but provide the information with no mention of benefit by following your recommendation.
A personal trainer’s job is to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Assisting the client with weight management through exercise and fitness nutrition helps in a multitude of ways.
Giving Nutrition Advice for Weight Loss
Most of the questions you will receive are about the subject of weight loss. This makes sense since 77.3% of Americans are overweight. The questions about fat loss are the ones requiring the most consideration before recommendation.
In the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Dr. Stephen Covey references the quote “between stimulus and response, there is a space.” Essentially, he means that in this space is where we can make the right choice.
Why this quote is important is because while as the fitness pro, you might have an immediate response, it is better to consider your response first. Nutrition is not the same for every person and what works for one may not work for the other.
A good weight loss coach will often answer a question with a question. Gathering more details before offering the nutrition knowledge that they have.
Giving Nutrition Advice for Building Muscle
The “right advice“ for building muscle is pretty simple.
- Eat enough calories to support strength increases.
- Consume enough protein to encourage muscle recovery.
- Drink enough fluids to hydrate the muscle cells.
Unfortunately, those looking to build muscle will ask more complicated questions, hoping to see faster results. These questions will go into details that almost nobody is ready for or can follow.
With muscle building nutrition advice, it is easy to major in minor things. A personal trainer should be careful not to make recommendations that help the client build muscle, but do so at the risk of reducing their overall health.
Providing Nutrition Advice For Health Benefits
Again, it is important to remember to tread carefully with nutrition guidance specific to a health condition, unless you are a registered dietician. Making unsupported claims isn’t a good idea for any nutritionist, but it is especially true for those who have not academically studied and earned a degree in this subject.
Offering specific recommendations for health is considered prescriptive nutritional advice. If you want to enlighten your clients with the knowledge you have about a specific health benefit, let the research lead the way.
Provide clients with references where they can learn how studies show particular nutritional strategies to improve a specific area of health.
If you are not comfortable with this approach, help your clients understand the benefits of basic but good nutrition principles. Stick to the information that is supported by many studies and understood as good for one’s health.
Offering Nutrition Advice To Athletes
Providing nutrition advice for athletes is a more complicated subject. The demands placed upon a young or mature athlete differ by sport, position, and current body composition. The requirements for essential nutrients are higher and the calculation for error is greater.
Before offering advice, a fitness professional should have vast experience and will benefit by completing a course specific to sports nutrition.
Since colleges thrive in part because of athletic departments, you will find an exhaustive amount of research available. It makes sense that they would allocate funding to an area that drives significant revenues for the university.
Offering Advice About Supplements
A personal trainer can expect supplement questions, whether it is for weight loss, muscle building, performance or general health. People will always want an advantage or faster results.
Many personal training organizations restrict what a trainer can say about supplements, as they feel it is a risky subject. Nutritional supplements can be helpful, but because false claims and ineffective dosages flood the supplement industry, it is hard to know which to choose.
This is where published research can be helpful. There are thousands of studies about supplements such as creatine, whey protein, and fish oil. Your recommendation can be as simple as “a study showed that 5 grams of creatine taken daily resulted in significant strength increases.”
The right supplements can help your clients and you can point them in the right direction if you will do the research.
The Takeaway Message
Do your research before offering nutritional advice to your clients. Find out what your state and local governing bodies allow a personal trainer to say about the subject. Then ensure you are fully prepared to help how you can by studying the research or taking a reputable course about nutrition.