When it comes to losing weight, food can be just as important, if not more so, than exercise. But as a personal trainer, what nutritional advice should you give to clients, or should you even give any at all?
This question is being asked more often for two main reasons. First, nutritional advice is everywhere, and it’s getting more complex as nutritional science advances. Plus, traditional ideas of what is considered ‘healthy’ are being challenged more often.
The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) states “Personal trainers should not provide prescriptive nutritional advice or develop bespoke individualised nutrition plans for clients.” This means personal trainers should only provide general advice on healthy eating, rather than give specific, prescriptive advice to individuals.
If personal trainers give nutritional advice to alleviate real or suspected medical conditions, then they are operating outside of their professional boundaries. They may find themselves in trouble if problems with clients occur as a result.
For example, if your nutritional advice was to lead to legal dispute, your insurance may not cover you as you have over-stepped your professional boundaries and you could end up being seriously out of pocket. In the UK, only ‘Dieticians’ who have completed a four-year degree programme can legally give this type of advice. This job title is legally protected (unlike the job title ‘personal trainer’) and is regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Evidence-based healthy eating
Personal trainers can encourage their clients to change their dietary habits to encompass recognised and evidence-based healthy eating guidelines. However, the advice is they should not make personalised diet plans for them. Neither should personal trainers advise clients against eating entire food groups as part of their diet.
Fad and celebrity diets as part of nutritional advice
As a personal trainer, you should not encourage your clients to follow fads, trends and celebrity diets. At best these diets are not the most appetising; at worst they may cause serious health issues. Fad and celebrity diets are rarely backed up with sound scientific evidence and thus should be avoided.
A word from a PT:
Katie Scott, freelance writer and personal trainer states she gives clients advice based on government healthy eating guidelines:
“When studying to be a PT, you learn about macronutrients, how your body uses them and roughly what percentages you should be consuming from your daily calorie allowance.”
“When working with clients, the first thing I do is ask them to fill out a seven-day food diary. I can then use the healthy eating guidelines to see whether they are having sufficient portions of each food group, or having too much or too little. The food diary will also show me the times they are eating and their mood when eating, and this can all help when offering advice, for example if a client is eating out of boredom rather than hunger.”
“Obviously, we can only give information within the realms of our qualification, so PT’s can’t advise on supplements for example.”
If you are in breach of the REPs guidelines then your personal trainer insurance may not cover you in the case of a related claim.