Fitness clients are naturally curious about the structure and function of the body – especially as they begin to see and feel the physical adaptations to exercise and better nutrition. As such, clients look to their personal trainers for guidance, education, and advice. As the professional, you do have a responsibility to provide your clients with intelligent responses that are within your defined scope of practice. Here are 5 common questions clients ask and suggested responses you can use to address those questions.
Do I need to take an ergogenic aid or dietary supplement to get the most out of my exercise session?
The supplement industry is worth billions and it seems like new performance-enhancing products are released to the open market on a weekly basis. Ads permeate social media feeds and are often touted as “the answer” to all your fitness woes. The sad bottom line: supplements are not subject to rigorous regulatory oversight, so the quality, purity, and efficacy remain in question for most products available.
Second, it is outside the scope of practice for a personal trainer to recommend the use of a supplement (even if a supplement has research-supported positive effects). To best address this question, start a conversation with the client and find out their why and what supplement they had in mind. Provide them with solid, evidence-based resources and explain your scope of practice. It’s ok to tell a client you are not an expert in dietary supplement use or need and you would recommend for them to speak to a registered dietitian. If you have a registered dietitian at your gym, studio, clinic, or within your professional network, offer to facilitate an introduction.
Can you provide me with a structured meal plan so I can stay on track?
I receive this question almost daily. Exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand so a person who is an expert with exercise is clearly licensed to dispense specific nutritional guidance, right? Wrong.
Again, this comes down to a limited scope of practice. As a fit pro, you can and should be speaking to your clients about the role of nutrients in the body, whole food sources, hydration, and healthy eating guidelines and practices. You are not allowed to provide clients with meal plans, a complete nutritional analysis, or medical nutrition therapy. This is the scope and expertise of a registered dietitian.
Here, explain to your client your legitimate scope and what guidance you can provide them when it comes to their nutritional practices. You can offer to start with a food log review and discuss some nutritional behavior changes the client may be interested in implementing. If your client is someone who will achieve greater results with a specific and personally designed nutrition plan, refer them to a registered dietitian.
What is the best time of day to exercise?
It depends. It’s honestly a matter of personal preference, time allotment, and when a client is at their physical and mental best. Some clients prefer the early mornings while others like a mid-day calorie burn. Guide your clients in selecting a time that works best for them and their lifestyle. The best time for a client is the time that they are prepared to work their hardest and the time that they can commit to regularly throughout the week.
If I lift heavy weights, will I get bulky?
This is a common myth and a question that most of my female clients and students become overly concerned with. Here, you have an opportunity to explain the role hormones play in the creation of muscle tissue and growth (protein synthesis). Testosterone is a primary hormone responsible for muscle growth. While females do produce this hormone, they do not produce nearly as much as men.
Typically, testosterone levels in men are 10-20 percent higher than in females (Storey & Smith, 2012). Simply stated, it’s physiologically unlikely that women can and will undergo the same muscular adaptation as men. To really achieve the “bulk” would require a combination of extreme training, nutritional requirements, and – in some cases – supplement use, often hormone-tampering varieties. It’s best to provide quality education to your female clients and focus on the health benefits of weight training (lean muscle tissue, reduction in fat mass, improved overall quality of life, and increased metabolic rate).
If I exercise enough, I don’t need to worry about my diet, right?
Oh, if only this were 100% accurate. But, it’s not. A caveat – exercise may provide a bit more flexibility or room in the diet for caloric intake. That said, it is impossible to out-exercise a bad diet. Exercise requires the body to work hard. To work hard, the body must be fueled appropriately.
Further, to achieve desired body composition goals, muscle definition, and general health, nutrition is key and needs to be dialed in and on point. This doesn’t mean your clients need to eat only veggies and broiled chicken. It does mean, however, that you should be encouraging clients to eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods, maintain quality water intake, limit added sugars and saturated fats, and eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies. Here, you can provide clients quality educational tools and resources to help them understand what foods will optimize their performance. Food is fuel and medicine – not just a measure of calories.
Most fitness professionals love getting questions from their clients. I know I do. Questions are a sign of curiosity and a desire to learn. As fitness professionals, we have a responsible to educate as well as physically train our clients to achieve better health. Encourage questions and nurture curiosity with all of your fitness clients so that they grow in both knowledge and skill.
Storey, A. and Smith, H.I. (2012). Unique aspects of competitive weightlifting: Performance, training and physiology. Sports Medicine, 42, 9, 769–790.