Fitness and nutrition go hand-in-hand when it comes to health, so it makes sense that many personal training clients may have questions about food choices, meal plans, and supplements that can complement their training.
But tread carefully. Even though you may have loads of personal experience with different nutrition choices—and hours of research to back up your insights—there are limits as to what you, as a personal trainer, can discuss when it comes to nutrition.
Here’s what you need to know if you want to start giving nutritional advice in addition to your fitness strategies:
State Laws & Guidelines
Specific rules can vary by state, especially when it comes to who can dispense nutrition advice that is geared toward providing treatment in some way.
For example, in Minnesota, it's legal for professionals in a wide array of professions—including chiropractors, fitness trainers, acupuncturists, and herbalists—to give nutrition advice. The state does caution that there may be limitations on insurance reimbursement eligibility when seeing these types of professionals for nutrition plans. But in North Carolina, the state is stricter in regulating which professionals can offer nutrition advice.
Before you begin practicing and taking on clients, be sure to review the latest rules in your state, since they can change without much public notice. If your state has strict rules, communicate that to clients as soon as the subject of nutrition rolls around, and be clear about what you can advise and what you can’t.
If you’re in a state where you’re restricted, consider having on hand the names of several nutritional professionals who can address client questions—you might even want to team up with them to offer a “package deal,” if you’re not thinking of expanding your nutrition education yourself.
Maybe you’re a huge fan of Paleo or keto because it worked for you. That’s great, but personal success doesn’t always translate into professional advice. In fact, without knowing about topics like metabolism, blood sugar regulation, age-based calorie intake, and many others, your recommendations could harm clients instead of helping them.
Nutritionists and other nutrition professionals use an evidence-based approach, instead of a personal one, to tailor meal plans and strategies for each client. If you’re truly passionate about expanding your realm of expertise into nutrition, consider getting more education through a certification program that can fill in your knowledge gaps—and make you legally able to dispense nutrition advice.
Research the best certification program for you. For example, you may want one that fits in well with your personal training, such as a Sports Nutrition program. Although it takes time and effort to go through a program like this, you can definitely increase your income by broadening your services.
Offer Advice Instead of Treatment
Even with a certification, you need to know the rules when it comes to health claims. For example, you might offer a "heart-healthy diet" meal plan, but you can't tell a client that you're treating her heart disease directly through nutrition. It can be a subtle distinction, but an important one. You're offering recommendations for nutritional changes, but not treatment for medical conditions.
In general, it’s best to stick to giving nutritional advice that can be beneficial, rather than emphasizing any specific outcomes. For instance, you can advise a client to add more vegetables and lean proteins to a meal plan, and even suggest fish oil or probiotics, but be cautious when you say that these can help reduce inflammation, solve joint pain, or improve chronic digestive issues.
To learn more about AFPA’s certification programs, visit our programs site.