Food for Thought – Scope of Practice and the Personal Trainer

By |August 30th, 2017|Nutrition|

Are you allowed to talk about nutrition with personal training clients? If you are, how much is ok? And what is ok? Nutrition is gray area in the fitness industry…

It makes sense that clients will (and do) ask their trainers for guidance and advice about nutrition practices. If an individual isn’t fueling his or her body with the right types of nutrients and calories, achieving optimal physical performance isn’t possible.

Naturally, a personal trainer has a responsibility to talk about nutrition and share valuable and reliable information. That said, a personal trainer is not a registered dietitian (unless of course the CPT also achieved the RD credential, there are certainly exceptions). This means (unless appropriately credentialed) it is outside the scope of practice of a personal trainer to prescribe a specific diet, conduct a robust dietary analysis (beyond a food log), and/or provide medical nutrition therapy or nutrition counseling.

This means (unless appropriately credentialed) it is outside the scope of practice of a personal trainer to prescribe a specific diet, conduct a robust dietary analysis (beyond a food log), and/or provide medical nutrition therapy or nutrition counseling.

In short, personal trainers are limited in what they can and cannot do when it comes to talking the nutrition talk with clients. This doesn’t mean they should avoid the topic altogether. It does mean, however, that all personal trainers should be aware of their limitations – legally and professionally.

What Trainers Can and Should Do

• Learn the laws. Each state has a different set of statutes that govern the field of nutrition and dietetics. However, there are states that lack these governing guidelines. These states include Arizona, Colorado, and New Jersey.
• Become more knowledgeable. As part of continuing education efforts, trainers can prioritize learning about nutrition to enhance their own comfort level with the function of nutrients in the body and what steps they can take to educate their clients about balanced nutrition.
• Share quality information. Personal trainers should not shy away from sharing information about good nutrition and healthy dietary practices. Refer clients to resources such as the USDA, Eatright.org and other accredited certifying agencies (such as the NFPT) for nutrition articles and guidance and latest research.
• Give Grocery Store Tours. Take clients on a tour of the local markets available in your area and teach them how to shop healthy and avoid the more processed/packaged foods.
• Strengthen your professional network. All professionals, including personal trainers, should have a group of other professionals they can rely upon to answer questions, provide insight, and refer clients to. If you do not have a registered dietitian as part of your network, starting making those connections and developing those relationships. Consider partnering with a dietitian to offer mini workshops or webinars to clients and local businesses. Look for the win-win in all networking opportunities.

Reduce Liability

Trainers have a responsibility to know their licensed scope of practice and, as such, are obligated to communicate that scope to all clients. Be upfront with your clients about what services you can safely and effectively provide and include a list of referral sources for other services outside of your scope (such as nutrition counseling, meal planning, and therapy).

Don’t be afraid to talk nutrition with your clients; it’s necessary to help them achieve optimal well-being. Continue to operate inside of your scope and rely on outside sources to help you guide your clients with a holistic approach to living well.

About the Author:

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at belivestaywell.com