Should Personal Trainers Give Nutrition Advice?

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Today’s post comes from current Cressey Performance intern, and competitive powerlifter, Pat Koch.

As someone who’s often giving nutrition advice myself – albeit in a very limited fashion – I think this is a very important and pertinent discussion to have considering the resounding alternatives that people have at their disposal.

Who should we listen to?  Who should we believe?  Who’s right?  Who’s wrong? What the hell is going to happen in Fringe this season? 

You see, I like to ask the important questions!

Nevertheless, I think everyone will enjoy this one.  See you tomorrow.

Within the last couple months, a battle has been waging.  This battle is of particular interest to those involved in the health and wellness industry, but for the most part has flown under the radar.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics formerly known as the American Dietetic Association has used aggressive tactics to deter a blogger from disseminating nutrition advice.

The blogger in question is a diabetic who used a paleo diet to help him get off meds and improve his quality of life.  He openly encouraged other diabetics to follow his lead.  The blog provided advice mostly free of charge, and built a decent web presence.  Ultimately he seemed to help a few people out.

After an uproar from his supporters, documents leaked from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showing a plan to disenfranchise other nutrition providers, using state legislature.

It raises the question: Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics doing this for “the good of the people,” or are they trying to destroy competition for their business?

Certainly it is in their interest to make sure that registered dieticians are the gold standard of nutrition care.

I can certainly see why we don’t want any Joe Blow off the street giving diabetics nutrition advice, but do we need to make a crack down on other nutrition providers?

Physical therapists, chiropractors, personal trainers, MD’s, routinely give nutrition advice.  Should it be illegal?  Some of these professionals have no business talking Nutrition, and some of them have useful knowledge.

Note from TG:  on that tangent, it’s been said that medical students receive – at most – around two weeks of nutrition related course work during their tenure in school.  To me this is woefully deficient, and speaks volumes to the gap between who should be giving nutrition advice and who shouldn’t?.

On one hand you have someone who’s spent the better part of the past decade of their life studying the human body collecting a knowledge base that I can’t even begin to fathom. There’s a lot to be said for that and it should be commended and respected.

Yet, by that same token, I think we can all agree that two weeks of course work is peanuts and is by no means enough to cover one’s nutritional bases thoroughly.

I mean, we have some doctors out there spewing out nonsense like whole eggs are tantamount to smoking a cigarette (no joke!). I’m still waiting with bated breath the day where egg yolks are compared to ebola virus. 

Similarly, while there are undoubtedly thousands of reputable and well respected Registered Dietitians out there who “get it” and don’t coddle to the establishment, I’d be remiss to ignore that that number pales in comparison to those who are still spewing out nonsense like high(er) protein diets lead to renal damage or disease. 

On the other, you have those who, just because they read a book on how to make gluten free cupcakes (or have 10,000 posts on some random fitness forum) feel they have the nutritional fortitude to shell out advice to anyone and everyone with a computer screen.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of gray area here.

Personally, I feel completely comfortable discussing a bevy of nutritional topics with my athletes and clients.  I get questions all time relating to which supplements are worth taking, which are a waste of money, and which – if any (and there are a few) – are dangerous.

Too, I routinely answer many other inquiries ranging from what’s a good meal to eat after training and discussing with a young athlete the importance of getting enough protein in their diet to more geektastic topics like Intermittent Fasting and gluconeogenesis.

Thankfully I have a close network of diet and nutrition professionals whom I refer out to on a consistent basis.  I KNOW my scope of practice (I’m certainly not writing diets or diagnosing anything), and I would hope most personal trainers and coaches are doing the same.

That said, this is an interesting topic for sure.  For all the verbal fireworks that are abound, I think the answer does lie somewhere in the middle.

Okay, sorry for the slight rant.  Back to Pat!

Do consumers need to protect themselves from quack nutritionists?  Or should the government tell us who to listen to?

Certainly we don’t have to be reminded of the, “credible sources” that back in the day provided us with the recommendations for 6-11 servings of grains a day…

It would be a sad day when a doctor legally could not give nutrition advice but moments before entering the office, patients read magazines in the waiting room showing them how to “Lose Thirty LBS in 10 Days.”

What does everyone think?  Should personal trainers be allowed to give nutrition advice?  Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “protecting the people,” or overstepping boundaries in order to stifle competition?

To read more about the situation read on HERE

Author’s Bio

“Pat Koch is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) through the International Society of Sports Nutrition. After studying at Ithaca College, Pat obtained his undergraduate degree in Health Sciences with a concentration in Nutrition. Since then he has been working as a trainer specializing in Sports Performance.  Currently Pat interns at Cressey Performance, and has recently started competing in powerlifting.”

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Comments for This Entry

  • Mike Anderson

    Great question TG. Being able to tell a client that bagels are bad for them and red meat won't kill them is something that all personal trainers should be able to do. Scope of practice in MA allows for that, so it's something I take advantage of. I open the diet conversation with nearly all of my clients and help talk them through the process of making good choices. It's certainly not outside scope of practice to tell someone to eat more real food and less stuff from a box. The tough part for a lot of people is knowing when to say "i'm not sure about that, here's the name of someone who can help". If you don't know the answer, ask. Don't make stuff up.

    December 12, 2012 at 11:17 am | Reply to this comment

    • AJB

      Red meat can hurt someone and bagels can be helpful if they are whole grain with blueberry the blueberry in the bagel will prevent an insulin spike will red meat cause a similar to that of pure refined table sugar. Making statements without the proper training can hurt people but i do agree on people should eat less processed foods. The reason someone who is not trained should not be given advice is because majority of the population is misinformed and councils of food industries pay for misleading research and advertising to improve their profits. Then we have diets that tell people to eat diets that cause CVD like paleo diet and atkins diet when you should be talking to a licensed professional and not the internet or the lastest fad diet.

      January 21, 2015 at 6:00 am | Reply to this comment

  • Juliet

    Great question and fascinating subject of debate. I have to say, I agree with you. Right now I am working on my PhD in nutrition and am learning more about the science and current research than I ever imagined possible, but alas, my doctorate will not allow me to 'give advice' according to the AND. I think in all situations, you run into folks who are more qualified than others: there are those who go the extra mile and those who find it sufficient to dish out the little they are given - which may simply be because they do not realize there is more out there to learn (or because of money, as is the case with the AND). The truly hard part is that most people are looking for one blanket piece of advice to give everyone. High fat/low carb. Low carb/high fat. Lots of meat. Vegetarian/vegan. Of course there are some recommendations that fit that bill like eating more whole foods and less processed ones, but everyone is so different with their own stories that it makes everything that much more complex. I don't really know where I'm going with this save for ranting mindlessly about the situation ;)

    December 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Scotty Mitsialis

    This is a great topic with some interesting questions. Personally, I feel that personal trainers should have enough knowledge to be a resource for nutritional advice. Their clients are paying to see results, and whether the goal is fat loss, muscle mass, etc., nutrition plays a major role in that. I 100% agree that a personal trainer should have a close network of nutrition professionals for advice and client referral.

    December 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jay

    I think there are definite situations where Registered Dieticians are warranted. I recently had a client that was diagnosed for hypothyroidism. I knew the basics of the condition, but in now way was I prepared to create a nutrition plan for that person. On the flip side, for the common folk, personal trainers know the relationship between exercise and nutrition very well. It should not be illegal for fitness professionals to offer basic nutritional advice. I think the key point in being a personal trainer is to encourage clients to educate themselves. If you constantly urge clients to seek out legitimate resources (i.e. John Berardi) regarding nutrition, your client can become more well rounded. Provide a nutrition source or reads weekly through email as a part of your services.

    December 13, 2012 at 9:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • ori

    would you mind going into more detail about the scope of practice giving nutritional advice as a trainer, doctor, etc? what would be in the scope, and what outside of it?

    December 14, 2012 at 1:12 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well for instance, I'm not a registered dietician nor a nutritionist, so I don't really provide diet plans for any of my clients - ESPECIALLY for those who may have a pre-existing medical condition. I'm perfectly fine with offering advice on general nutrition questions, but given the highly litigious society that we live in today I'm not taking any risks.

      December 18, 2012 at 7:03 am | Reply to this comment

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