Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Trainer Gave Me This Diet Plan....

The other day someone came into the supplement aisle and asked about a product called "Alpha Omega". I had never heard of this product but I assumed it was a brand name that we just didn't carry (or maybe the name of a fraternity??). I quickly asked the customer where this recommendation came from and was sickened by the answer I received;

"my trainer told me to buy it, along with these other foods and supplements he recommended for my new diet plan".

You can't just tell your client to buy "Alpha Omega" supplements when that brand name doesn't even exist (I Googled it and had no luck), and when the term alpha omega means nothing. Did this trainer mean alpha linolenic acid (omega-3)? If so, how much is his client even supposed to take? Oh wait, he's not allowed to tell his client a specific amount to take, so at least the trainer did something right. But the better approach would have been for the trainer to recommend his client see a dietitian, like me :)

So what exactly are the laws regarding personal trainers or other professionals writing diet plans or recommending supplements (assuming they are not RDs)? I e-mailed the Commission on Dietetic Registration to get the answer and received this response;

State laws and/or regulations determine who can practice dietetics in a particular state. State licensure and state certification are entirely separate and distinct from registration or certification by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the credentialing agency for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Neither ADA nor CDR is a regulatory agency. Dietetics practitioners are licensed by states to ensure that only qualified, trained professional provide nutrition services or advice to individuals requiring or seeking nutrition care or information. Only state-licensed dietetics professionals can provide nutrition counseling.

The laws are different in every state, but in Ohio if you are ever told by someone that they are a "nutritionist" or a "certified nutritionist" make sure to ask if they are a dietitian as well. All dietitians can be considered "nutritionists" (some dietitians call themselves nutritionists because the name sounds more familiar to people), but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. And in fact, if a "nutritionist" is not a registered dietitian it's actually illegal for them to call themselves a nutritionist in Ohio (and some other states).

And what about personal trainers? The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is one of the leading fitness organizations that certifies personal trainers. Their Code of Ethics states that personal trainers should "refer clients to more qualified health or medical professionals when appropriate." In their training manual for personal trainers, they state:

"if you are not a registered dietitian or healthcare professional, you should avoid making specific recommendations and refer your client to a registered dietitian or physician."

On the topic of recommending dietary supplements, ACE has adopted a firm stance. Their Position Statement on Nutritional Supplements states:

"It is the position of the American Council on Exercise that it is outside the defined scope of practice of a fitness professional to recommend, prescribe, sell, or supply nutritional supplements to clients."
So what type of advice can a personal trainer, or other nutrition professional provide to their client if they are not in fact a registered dietitian? They can provide General Non-Medical Nutrition Information:
  • Acceptable: "Orange juice is a good source of vitamin C."
  • Not Acceptable: "You should drink more orange juice because you need more vitamin C."
In other words, they can't perform individualized dietary assessments, prescribe an individualized diet or give individual and specific dietary advice.

For more detailed information about the laws in Ohio regarding the use of the term "nutritionist", "sports nutritionist", "nutrition specialist" etc. as well as the type of non-medical nutrition information they are allowed to provide, check out this link.
Remember my experience with a personal trainer last year? It started out with a body fat test, and then my PT gave me a basic protein recommendation, which was not based on my individual stats. It was very general information about increasing my protein intake. I didn't think it was accurate information at all, but the good thing was that he only made very general recommendations that were not specific to my individual needs.
Before I forget, I want to add that as a registered dietitian with only a couple exercise physiology classes under my belt, I also have no right to prescribe an exercise plan for someone, or put them through a training session such as the grueling one I was put through....

Does that mean I can't tell someone to workout and suggest some of my own personal favorite moves? No, but like with personal trainers giving nutrition advice, there is a fine line that should not be crossed by someone like me without any training/background or certifications in personal training or exercise physiology or anything close to that.  On that same note, it's certainly ok for a personal trainer to tell their client certain products that they use, but it crosses a boundary when they go one step further and actually recommend them (depending on what it is, of course, I mean recommending your favorite peanut butter is an entirely different story, or recommending a favorite protein powder because it mixes well and tastes delicious, not because they "need more protein").

So whatever this customer I met in the supplement aisle received from his personal trainer could have easily crossed the boundaries. I didn't really look at the sheet of paper, but I'm guessing there were specific recommendations that were personalized for the customer, which is illegal in Ohio, unless his PT was also an RD. Read more about the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian here. I also found a great blog post written by another dietitian, here.

QUESTION: Did you know that in some states (other than Ohio) anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, no matter what type of background/education they have? Do you think personal trainers should be able to give out personalized diets?


  1. This is SO frustrating to me! I am actually studying to be ACE certified and they state CLEARLY in the manual (like you said), that unless you are a dietitian, you cannot recommend supplements or diet plans. Arg.

  2. I get so frustrated with this topic (as a fellow RD), but am trying to get over it. I just laughed when I toured my current gym and they said "we have a nutritionist on staff". I asked if they were a registered dietitian and the guy looked at me like I had two heads!

  3. I think it`s really tough for trainers because they want their customers to look and feel their best but they have no control over what the client is eating. And nutrition definitely comes before weight training when it comes to weight loss (which, let`s be honest, most clients are setting as their goal.)

    But you`re right, they shouldn`t be giving out nutrition plans if they aren`t certifid to do so.

  4. Yeah, when I worked out with my trainer, he suggested supplements and protein powders. I never went for them though-- I'm not a big supplement person. And this is the trainer who later died from steroid I was totally right to not listen to his advice.

  5. in BC some organizations, like BCRPA which i got my training from, tell you its illegal to offer any nutritional advice to clients. it was only recently made this way because of issues around this very fact. I think it should be a rule that one has to take a course in nutrition and health, like the one ACE teaches, which really gives a person the confidence to understand how food works in respect to fitness. you are spot on right girl!!

    xoxo <3

  6. ...And this is precisely why my husband needs to see a RD instead of listening to the personal trainer. The boy cannot get ENOUGH protein in his diet (according to him, influenced by trainers). Gah!

  7. Great post! Many people do not know this. It is great that you have licensure. In NV we were stopped by lobbyists for the supplement industry as they claimed it would hurt their business. Duh! Very scary stuff. We did have title protection though, where a nutritionist can't be called a dietitian unless they are actually one.

    Great point too about not being able to recommend an exercise plan. I have to remind my students in my nutrition classes all the time when they get too specific. I tell them if they are not trained and certified in this then it is out of their scope of practice. Nutrition and exercise do go hand in hand but a practitioner of one is not automatically a practitioner in another. I usually give generals, like list the IOM guidelines and remind them to be medically cleared by a physician before starting any plan. I suggest a personal trainer, at least a one time consultation to see what it right for them. But I never give more than the general recommendations (like times per week for cardio and that stuff).

  8. This is so interesting - I never knew the ins and outs of what is obviously a very complicated area of expertise! I'm going to go and look up the laws for Britain, where I live, and see if they're any different!

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  10. When I worked at a big gym as a personal trainer (I am also a dietitian), they had all the personal trainers giving specific meal plans (basically a dietary exchange plan) and recommend supplements. I was comfortable with the diet plan, since I was already an RD, but I never recommended the kind of supplements they tried to get us to recommend. I wonder if that gym still has trainers do the diet's a big gym that is all over the country.

  11. I definitely think it's inappropriate that the trainer give nutrientional information if they are not trained to do that. I think you can give personal advise or share what has worked before for other people but to say it as a general rule specially when when it. comes to nutrition everyone can be different.

  12. I love this post, can we send it to all trainers? And why do people think their trainers know what they should eat? I defer to trainers all the time for fitness questions, can they not to the same?

  13. Umm all trainers should read this:

    I just can't believe how many trainers are still making supplement recommendations. It's one thing to say maybe you should see your doctor and get a blood test to see if your low in iron or xyz, but they cannot and should not prescribe anything.

    I have to add that I would not eat/supplement the way many trainers I know do and I cringe cringe at the idea that they think other people should listen to their un-professional advice.

  14. I have a nutrition and wellness certification. My cert took two years to complete, but as far as I'm concerned doesn't qualify me to to provide the services of an RD, so I don't. I feel the same way about personal trainers who try and give me diet advice - this has happened several times. Most often they are young people who shouldn't be giving diet advice to women in their 50s. They have no idea what my health issues might be and have often recommended extreme dieting advice. Great post.

  15. UGGGGGGGGGGGGGH! I was just telling my students this, too. They had no idea and they're pursuing registration as diet technicians. I get IRATE when I hear things like this - great post, girl!!

  16. As a certified health and wellness coach I would not begin to feel I am on level with a RD, however, I do know what my training has been and feel qualified to give nutrition advise.
    I know this creates friction in the RD world but RD's should be happy that there are many others out there who have not been trained on the USDA pyramid or medical school beliefs who have a strong passion for helping others.
    I counseled with an RD for 3 years and quite frankly it wasn't until I went to wellness coach who was trained in all dietary theories that I got healthy and lost weight.
    Just saying....

  17. Very interesting post... I've been taking a boot camp class and the trainer has given us very broad nutrition advice mostly, but he did say that if we want to e-mail him with any specific questions we can. My coworker was talking about how she wants him to give her a full diet plan... I was like, hmm... but he's not really an expert on nutrition right? and she's like but he's a trainer... I'm like yeah so he's an expert on exercise then, right? I feel like some people dont' even think about it and see trainer/nutritionist as the same thing even though clearly it's not!

  18. I agree that people familiarize better with "nutritionist" as opposed to dietitian but so many don't realize the difference!!! There is so much involved with becoming a dietitian as there is to becoming a fitness trainer- but again- most people don't realize what is involved, criteria, time, education, money!

  19. NOOOOOOOOOOO I do not think they should be allowed! I am currently going to school for an RD and stories like these make me so frustrated! I have heard quite a few stories about people referring to themselves as nutritionists, but actually have NO training! It's really sad because people receiving information from these "nutritionists" actually believe it :(

  20. Great post - this is so confusing to the general public and I don't blame them. I used to take a spin class where the instructor would give all kinds of recommendations for nutrition and supplements that were completely wrong. I had to stop taking it because I couldn't listen any more!

  21. Personal trainers with certificate in nutrition. hmmmm Um whats the point in getting a nutritionist certification? And American council on exercise offers a nutritionist certification. And just because you dont have an 8 year degree you cant tell make a recomendation on supplements or protien intake? I disagree. I am certified in personal training and as a nutritionist. I dont give out how much of something to take or what to take. I just tell the client what I use. I let them know that they should consult with their doctor before taking any new approach in terms of supplements and nutrients. I give them a few sample diet plans to show their doctor to get approval. Once they get approval, I then have them incorporate the diet into the training regimen.

    1. I have been helping people change their lives for 9 years and this has been effective for my clients and their overall well being from struggling with obesity to football athlete to overall well being.

    2. I never go into exact brands either