So many people I talk to in the industry discourage trainers from talking about nutrition because we aren’t licensed to do so, and for the most part I can’t blame them them for saying so. Mostly because many trainers out there are not even qualified to train people let alone tell them how to eat. I personally have a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences as well as post graduate work in nutrition so I feel very confident in my opinions and ideas around nutrition but mostly I serve as the “crap” filter for all the gimmicks out there that many of my clients have fallen right in to in the past. Unfortunately, many knucklehead trainers out there get all of their nutritional information from the monthly subscription of Muscle head magazine and try and get all of their clients to follow what they just read. For the most part not all of that information in some of these magazines are bad. The problem lies in the fact that trainers start to cross the line when they start recommending supplements to clients or giving specific diet advice to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. I am not talking about telling a client to take a multi-vitamin and a good fish-oil. I am referring to the trainer that has a client taking “enhancement’ supplements that many times are just a waste of money, but in some cases can be detrimental to a client’s health. A case in 1999 a trainer recommended a client take a fat burner that then caused the death of the client because of a pre-existing heart condition, hence a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Even individuals that don’t have a pre-existing heart conditions are very susceptible to anxiety attacks and other nasty side effects from these supplements.
Nutrition Specialist and some other forewarnings
There are a few gyms in town that tout that they “specialize in nutrition”. Really? ask them if one of their trainers have a degree in nutrition? Most likely not. I am sorry but you are not a specialist unless you are educated in the area and I don’t mean you took an online Nutrition Specialist test through ACE fitness either or if you are a certified life coach. It also doesn’t mean that because you have a competed in a bodybuilding competition that makes you a nutritionist either. Also if your title is Fitness Counselor or Nutrition Counselor at A big box gym you have no business offering specific nutritional or supplements. Go to school for 4+ years if you want to counsel people on nutrition specifically.
First, if a trainer has a quota at their gym for product sales then politely defer any advice from this trainer regarding supplements. Also, if they are selling a supplement that is part of a Multi-level Marketing company follow the same advice. Many of the supplements sold at the big box gyms are trash, especially if it has their label on it and MLM supplements are just sooo….(never mind that is an entirely different article).
Also, consider what the term supplement means. It means to add to. Really we should be getting much of our nutrients from the foods we eat. Now, if our diets are limited then we need to acknowledge what we are not getting and either start eating foods with them or take a supplement that may supply this lacking nutrient(s). In all of my years studying this field, it is safe to say a good multivitamin (not ones at the grocery store) usually found in the capsule form is a good start for many people to ensure they are covering many of the basis. Another supplement I may recommend is a fish oil that has good amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids that are essential for life. Many don’t eat fish or other foods high in Omega-3′s so a supplement is usually a good thing. Beyond that I don’t encourage more unless I see something that is really glaring. If there are any symptoms a client is having due to something that could be vitamin /energy deficiency and they are taking a solid multi-vitamin then it is not up to a trainer to start adding energy boosting formulas, shakes, or metabolism enhancers to a diet. My first line of action would be to have the client keep a diet journal to see what they are actually consuming. I had a client once complain of lack of energy and wanted to take a energy supplement. After reviewing the diet journal, it was glaring…. A diet consisting of a bagel and coffee for breakfast, a croissant with cheese and a diet soda for lunch , and chicken wings with ranch and celery for dinner can point out some glaring deficiencies. Other days didn’t look much better than that. Unfortunately changing the diet takes effort and a pill takes $24.99 to attempt to fix it. If there are physical symptoms or anything out of line refer to a doctor, CYA.(cover your …)
Are there other good supplements out there?
Yes there are some other good supplements out there depending on the goals of your client’s, but again where is the diet at? If someone isn’t eating enough or good quality foods then all the creatine in the world isn’t going to help your client put on muscle. Same for protein powders. In some situations a protein powder may be a good thing, but it also depends on the client, their goals, and once again what are they eating to begin with. For the most part I am a fan of eating calories not just drinking them. Yes there are supplements for adrenal health, sleep, energy, weight loss, and weight gain, but it almost all the time relates to the diet first. I have a good friend that is a Naturopathic Physician that I bounce ideas off of and if I feel that I am missing something I defer to him to guide me for specific supplements. Why? because that is his specialty. He studies it and lives it. For the most part I would rather stick to training people rather than trying to dose them.
When not to give specifics
If a client is on medications for the heart or blood pressure then don’t put them on any supplement or diet. This also goes for any other diagnosed disease including diabetes etc. I give really general guidelines that just make sense to these clients. Don’t eat crap food with sugar, this includes refined foods, candy, or sodas. I also tell them to avoid fried foods and fast foods if possible. The general guidelines may also be something like eat lean meat, vegetables, some fruit, and limited amounts of nuts and seeds. Besides that it can be dangerous. Even giving out this advice to a diabetic can be dangerous. Many are taking higher doses of insulin and other meds to lower blood sugar, then when you tell them to cut the crappy foods out they have the ability go into hypoglycemia if they don’t change their meds and that is definitely not our job. That is why it is best to just have them work with their diabetes educator on this even though you may have other ideas.
It’s Just Food or is it?
At the end of the day it is food. As fitness professionals we should be educating ourselves on nutrition since it goes hand in hand with exercise. Being phobic of giving out nutritional guidelines is not necessary, but having common sense is. Granted, I have chosen to be a trainer and not a nutritionist as my career because I don’t want to deal with creating diets all day for people. I refer people to specific books such as the Paleo Solution or the Paleo Diet to read so they can make up their own mind if the philosophy I follow is right for them. Diet and nutrition has such a hold on people that really it has little to do about nutrition and more about having a degree in psychology. Food is just food until it isn’t. I have actually referred a few of my client’s to OA (Overeaters Anonymous) which is a 12 step program for those that are addicted to sugar and have problems with food. It has actually worked very successfully for those that have participated in the program. In that situation there is nothing I could say or do for that person except to encourage them to get help.
As a training professional my job is to guide people on their journey of health. I do provide knowledge and education on nutrition to them, but I don’t market myself as a nutritional counselor. I train people to move better and become strong and conditioned which is my primary purpose.