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Should I be asking my personal trainer for nutritional advice?

You may have heard of the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” at least once. It’s not entirely wrong — whether it’s losing weight or building muscle, your diet is just as or if not more important. But should you be asking your personal trainer for nutritional advice, and are they even qualified to do so? The short answer is yes; almost every client of ours that comes to us for muscle building and fat loss has consulted us on nutrition. However, there’s a lot more to this grey area which we’ll unpack in this article.

Registered dietician vs personal trainer: Who knows nutrition better?

As nutritional science advances, you’ll find that traditional ideas of what is considered ‘healthy’ are now challenged, especially in this age of social media. Go on Facebook or Instagram and you can easily find nutritional advice everywhere — but can that information be relied on? This is where a trusted expert comes into place. As more clients expect nutritional advice as part of their personal training package, it’s inevitable that even the best professionals in the scene must wade into nutrition waters, including us. 

In general, you should see it as a red flag if your trainer puts you on a special diet, say a keto diet or whatever’s popular among Hollywood celebrities at the moment. Sure, it may have worked for someone else — but only because that particular style of diet helped that person be in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is achieved when you consume fewer calories than your body expends. Remember — everyone’s body is different, but the rules for weight loss still apply. Regardless of your goal, your trainer should be able to advise you on evidence-based healthy eating such as calorie intake, portion control and macronutrients as long as the advice is general and not prescriptive. Specific, prescriptive advice such as meal plans is a huge no-no, especially if you’re looking to alleviate a medical condition such as diabetes. 

In case you didn’t know, unless your trainer is a registered dietician or doctor, he/she is not allowed to: 

  • Prescribe diets or supplements to treat medical/clinical conditions 
  • Prescribe diets to treat symptoms of medical/clinical conditions 
  • Diagnose medical conditions 

So if your coach prescribes you nutritional changes specifically to treat disease, it is outside his scope of practice and considered illegal. We recommend that you consult a registered dietician instead as they are qualified to prevent disease progression through a tailored diet.

So what nutritional advice can personal trainers and non-registered dieticians health coaches give?

Although there aren’t many laws in place when it comes to offering nutritional advice, an ethical and responsible personal trainer knowledgeable about nutrition should otherwise be able to give you advice on eating, moving and living healthier. These include: 

  • Educating you on the importance of portion control 
  • Educating you on the benefits and importance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats 
  • Encouraging you to eat lean protein, fruits and nutrient-rich vegetables 
  • Sharing calorie management strategies without starving yourself
  • Avoiding crash or celebrity diets 
  • Avoiding eliminating certain food groups entirely 
  • Offering recipes or meal prep tips 
  • Informing you about evidence-based nutritional supplements that might complement your healthy lifestyle 
  • Educating you on the principles of good nutrition and providing you with behaviour-based coaching to improve their eating habits 
  • Advising you on pre and post workout meal ideas 
  • Encouraging you to drink plenty of water 
  • Sharing resources from recognised organisations, such as ChooseMyPlate, Precision Nutrition and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 

Notice how none of these involve diagnosing health problems or prescribing nutritional interventions to treat diseases? In other words, how your personal trainer communicates with you regarding nutrition and his/her intention matters.

To talk nutrition, you have to know nutrition

If you look to your personal trainer for nutrition advice, the least you should expect is for them to know what they’re talking about. As a tip, the easiest way to check is through their qualifications. Do they have the right training and education to discuss nutrition? Where did they get their certificate from? While there are plenty of nutrition courses out there, we recommend keeping an eye out for the big boys such as Precision Nutrition, NESTA and I.S.S.A.

Coaches with these certifications are qualified to customise individual meal plans on top of designing a training program for you. At Elevate 360, our team of coaches are certified with fitness and nutrition credentials to help you achieve your goals. If you struggle with proper programming and diet, let us help you!

References 

  1. Schübel, R., Nattenmüller, J., Sookthai, D., Nonnenmacher, T., Graf, M. E., Riedl, L., Schlett, C. L., von Stackelberg, O., Johnson, T., Nabers, D., Kirsten, R., Kratz, M., Kauczor, H. U., Ulrich, C. M., Kaaks, R., & Kühn, T. (2018). Effects of intermittent and continuous calorie restriction on body weight and metabolism over 50 wk: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 108(5), 933–945. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy196
  2. Barnes, K., Beach, B., Ball, L., & Desbrow, B. (2019). Clients expect nutrition care to be provided by personal trainers in Australia. Nutrition & dietetics: the journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia, 76(4), 421–427. https://doi.org/10.1111/1747-0080.12545

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