If you’ve made contact with a personal trainer, coach, or fitness instructor, you may have heard some familiar phrases such as:
“You need this supplement to help with your joint pain,”
“You need to cut out carbs to burn fat,” or
“Follow this diet plan to manage a healthy lifestyle.”
But did you know your trainer is NOT LEGALLY allowed to give you this nutrition advice?
Clients are often misinformed and don’t realize that their trainer is not a qualified, licensed nutrition professional—- and unfortunately, gym-goers typically utilize trainers as their primary source of nutrition information. Furthermore, personal trainers may unintentionally give clients information that could be harmful.
For example, a friend of mine has a history of an eating disorder and went to a trainer. On their first day, the trainer instructed her to lose 1 pound of body fat. This may seem like a small task, but for someone who previously dealt with an unhealthy view of food and body weight, this is very dangerous. The trainer failed to ask the client about eating disorders, disordered exercise patterns, or body image issues.
Furthermore, he instructed her to take a multitude of supplements, including things like fish oil. Did he check if she was on medications that could present potentially dangerous interactions with the supplements? You guessed it, no.
You have to be a nutrition expert in order to act as an expert on nutrition. You wouldn’t have someone fill a cavity who wasn’t a dental professional. You shouldn’t accept nutrition advice, supplements, or diet prescriptions from anyone who is not a RD.
There is only ONE professional who is licensed to legally and safely provide medical nutrition therapy: a registered dietitian (RD). Some RDs may also be personal trainers, but not all personal trainers are RDs. Fitness instructors, coaches, personal trainers, and non-RD professionals are (supposed to be) very limited in what they can say about nutrition, and some cross the line. RDs complete a 4-year degree program that includes classes such as organic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, and countless nutrition courses. They must complete a rigorous internship program and log over 1200 hours of supervised practice while working with patients. Then and only then are they allowed to sit for an intensive board exam that they must pass to earn the RD credential.
This RD credential allows one to:
- Diagnose nutrition conditions
- Prescribe diets or meal plans to treat medical or nutrition conditions
- Prescribe supplements or medications to treat conditions
Therefore, if your personal trainer attempts to give nutrition advice to treat your diabetes, prescribes nutritional supplements for health issues, or gives you a meal plan for weight management, they are working outside of their scope of practice. These are examples of medical nutrition therapy. This is illegal for any non-RD to practice.
Overall, be wary of any nutrition advice you hear from someone who is not an RD. Signs of misguided nutrition advice include:
- Over-recommendation of supplements: You need whey protein, fish oil, creatine, ginseng, garlic, Echinacea, etc.
- Quick fixes: If you follow this meal plan, you will lose 5 pounds of fat per week!
- Extreme diet recommendations: Cut out all sugar, you must go gluten-free, dairy is bad for you, etc.
- Non-RD approved meal plans
- Rigid feeding rituals: Stop eating after 7:00 pm, only eat carbs before workouts, eat 40 grams of protein with each meal and snack, etc.
- Arbitrary recommendations for weight or body composition changes: The example mentioned earlier about my friend needing to lose 1 pound of body fat to be considered in “optimal shape”
For answers to any and all of your nutrition questions and concerns, contact a Registered Dietitian and leave your personal trainer, coach, or fitness instructor to the exercise.