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Nutrition advice: What personal trainers can and can’t do.

When it comes nutrition in general, personal trainers get asked a lot of questions from people seeking nutrition advice. Even more so, pressure is put on them to prescribe meals to people since nutrition can be a tricky thing to grasp if you’re a normal person with no certification in nutrition.

I mean the desire to prescribe meal plans makes sense. The demand is growing and doesn’t look like it’s going to stop and personal trainers are among the first, people will go to, to ask for nutrition advice.

However, there are definitely some boundaries on personal trainers in terms of what they can and can’t prescribe.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant as legal advice or counsel. We are simply trying to provide information regarding what we have found to be true, as practiced by the law. It is up to you to do the necessary research and to gain the appropriate levels of accreditation.

Can personal trainers prescribe meal plans?

No, a personal trainer whose qualifications lie in common personal training fitness and nutrition certification cannot prescribe meal plans. This is especially true if you are a personal trainer in the United States. And yes, this remains true, even with a Precision Nutrition certification. Unless you are a registered dietician, you cannot prescribe meal plans.

Can personal trainers prescribe supplements and specific dosages?

This is also a no. Unless you are a registered physician or dietician, you cannot prescribe a supplement to someone as a treatment an ailment and/or performance enhancer.

You can recommend supplements to clients based on your knowledge, however, you can’t prescribe specific instruction on the supplement to take, why to take it, and how much of it to take.

A prescription example

Take 100 milligrams of vitamin e everyday to relieve neuropathy.

A recommendation example

Yeah, I’ve heard vitamin e can help with neuropathy but I’m not completely sure. Try taking it up with your physician, you never know.

What nutrition advice can personal trainers give?

Okay, you can’t prescribe meal plans or supplements, so what can you do? You can give structured guidance around nutrition and supplements for your clients.

Based on your clients goals, you can give advice on what their daily meals should look like and examples of foods they can use for those meals. For example, you can tell them their meals should be “protein rich” or “carb dense”. You can even give them examples of what foods they should be cooking and supplements that will help improve their performance like a creatine supplement.

Your nutrition advice: educate clients on the basics and provide direction.

Here is where you can really distinguish your business from others. While giving a meal plan is more convenient, providing clients with education on nutrition is a longer term solution.

The reason being is because the meal plan doesn’t necessarily teach them much. While it may give them results, they won’t know why it’s giving them results.

Here are some things you can educate clients on in terms of nutrition:

  • Macros. What are they and what do they do for you.
  • Calories. What are calories and why are they important?
  • Nutrition myths. What are common myths about nutrition? Debunk them.
  • Diet types. What are different diet types? Think vegan, vegetarian, meat, pescatarian, etc…
  • How do our nutrition requirements change as our bodies change?
  • What really is metabolism? What about base metabolic rates?

These are just to get you started! There are tons you can go over with nutrition. The cool thing about this is it provides value to your clients but it also provides value to your business in distinguishing you as a thought leader that gets joy out of truly helping people.

Here’s how you can use the information to help your business:

  • Send it out in your newsletter.
  • Create a nutrition course.
  • Create free guides.
  • Write about nutrition regularly in a blog.
  • Post about it on social media.

So not only can you educate clients on nutrition, but you can also weave it into your business to help your business get good exposure and to demonstrate that you’re a subject matter expert. You could even recommend options for sticking to your suggestions based on clients’ lifestyles. For busy people, getting vegan meals delivered makes sense. For those with more time, providing in-depth recipes could fit better.

How to talk to clients about nutrition.

Essentially, this all comes down to how you talk about nutrition with clients. Here’s a quick list of how you can and can’t approach things:

How you can talk about nutrition

Let’s say you have a client that suffers from diabetes and is seeking personal training so that they can better their quality of life through fitness and nutrition.

Then you can present research to them that has been done on the impact of nutrition and diabetes. You can talk with them openly based on what you’ve read about nutrition and diabetes. And you can encourage them to consult with either a physician or even a dietician.

How you can’t talk about nutrition

Using the previous example, you cannot give your client a list of meal recipes or supplements that you claim will relieve symptoms of their diabetes.

That is where something goes from being a suggestion to being a prescription. If you give them something like a meal plan or list of meals and claim it can “treat”, “heal”, “cure”, etc… a medical ailment of theirs, that is technically speaking against the low.

Where you can go for the legal fine text

There are many resources available to you to find out what you need to do to be able to practice nutrition consulting as a medical professional.

If you are in the US, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) breaks down state by state legislation in regards to what you need to do to operate under the “Dietician” or “Nutritionist” title.

The map is actually quite helpful. Each state is color coded to signify one of four possibilities:

  • No Licensure of Practice or Title
  • Practice Exclusivity
  • Licensure of Title Only or Certification of RDNs
  • Title Protection Without Formal State Regulation

Here are the definitions of each (credit for the definitions goes to the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics):

  • “Practice Exclusivity” means a license is required to practice MNT (or dietetics), subject to any exemptions shown in popups, as explained below.
  • “Licensure of Title Only or Certification of RDNs” means the state only licenses the title “licensed dietitian” (or a similar title) or provides an optional certification that may facilitate reimbursement or employment in certain facilities. In these states, a board exists to implement the law, but no license is required to practice MNT or dietetics.
  • “Title Protection Without Formal State Regulation” means the state restricts the use of the title to certain credentialed professionals, but no Board exists, and no license is required to use the title.

Another place you can go to find information on this is the American Nutrition Association.

One thing you’ll notice is, this really focused hard on the state-by-state requirements. If your state doesn’t have any legal requirements in terms of registering as a dietician, that doesn’t mean you are in the clear to start handing out meal plans as a personal trainer.

There are still federal laws that apply to you. In order to start practicing as a dietician, you have to be registered as a dietician, federally.

Give the Commision on Dietetic registration a visit to learn more on this.

Consider partnering with a registered dietician.

A trend lately in the fitness and health industry has been dieticians and personal trainers partnering up in their businesses. Some people might not like this because depending on how you set up your business and handle clients, you may have to revenue share.

However, if you as the personal trainer can focus purely on fitness and the dietician can focus purely on nutrition, then you should be able to take on more clients. Additionally, since the service you will be providing will be more well rounded, then you should be able to charge more for your services.

Recap on nutrition advice personal trainers can give.

Nutrition is a touchy subject as a personal trainer. Primarily because you are very well versed in nutrition and a lot of people seem to assume that trainers can just hand out any nutrition advice.

While personal trainers can give out nutrition advice, they have to be careful about the nature in which they provide their advice.

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