The conversation normally goes like this:
Client: “Hey Eric, I’ve got this trip coming up and I want to be ready for the beach. Do you have any nutritional supplements advice or recommendations that will help me lose weight faster?”
We’ve all been there. Your client is looking to accelerate progress and the almighty dietary and nutritional supplement question arises. What are you to do?
Nutritional supplementation is quite controversial: there are literally tens of thousands of supplements for everything from joint support and fat loss to improving athletic performance and sexual function.
Whether you’re a fan of supplements or not, they’re big business, to the tune of nearly 100 Billion this year and not going anywhere. Nor should they — in the right cases supplementation makes building muscle, improving performance, and shredding body fat more convenient.
Given the circumstances, it’s best to arm yourself with knowledge on how to handle questions about dietary supplements with your clients and which supplements work, which are garbage, and how to protect yourself.
First, let’s look at rules, regulations, and guidelines for dietary supplementation.
It’s 100% essential to understand that talking nutrition and providing medical nutrition therapy are two different things.
Medical nutrition therapy, recognized by Medicare as the domain of the registered dietitian, involves providing individualized nutrition assessment and dietary recommendations to help manage and treat diseases.
In other words, unless you’re a registered dietician you cannot recommend dietary changes and supplementation to treat medical conditions.
In most cases, trainers and coaches are allowed to make nutritional recommendations to healthy clients, but the scope of practice that’s prohibited is Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT), which means giving nutrition advice to treat or cure disease.
Even more troubling, these regulations change state-by-state and you need to do your due diligence. (For those in the United States you can find out your nutritional guidelines and restrictions here.)
Common Problems and Solutions
Any supplement recommendations must be preceded by strict, evidence based needs analysis.
For example, are your clients basic nutritional needs meet? Are they getting enough water, fruits, and vegetables?
Remember, nutritional supplements are in their nature, best used to coincide with a balanced complete diet, rather than a replacement and cure-all.
Basic Dietary Needs Aren’t Met
Dietary Supplements should be supplemental to a sound diet. It’s amazing what happens when your clients each more vegetables, drink more water, and ditch the double-stuffed pizza.
Tainted Supplements Or Potential Positive Tests
If you work with athletes or professionals with strict testing regulations be extremely cautious to avoid subpar, potentially tainted OR illegal supplements.
If you have a client that gets “popped” for a positive test, even if it’s accidental, the incident will reflect extremely poor on your professionalism and may even lead to legal action and loss of business.
When I get supplement and nutritional questions with my athletes my first urge is to reach out to a registered dietician and check with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), NSCA, or specific governing agency for your athletes.
Conflicts With Medications And Drugs
Make sure your supplements don’t conflict with any prescribed or over-the counter drugs and medications. Understand your clients won’t always disclose every medication their taken or won’t feel comfortable.
In this case, due your diligence and personally check or refer them to the Merck Manual of Medical Information at www.merck.com/mmhe before making recommendations.
Also, check with companies such as Consumerlab.com, HFL Sport science, and NSF for third party testing, purity testing, and label claims of supplements.
At times affiliates can cause a conflict of interest with many coaches and their clients. In this case, disclose any affiliates and the money you make with certain supplements to your clients and ALWAYS let them know there are other options.
It takes months to build up trust with your clients and mere seconds to come off as a sleazy supplement salesman. Do yourself a favor and look at the positives and negatives of affiliate supplementation and stay up front with your clients.
As PTDC head coach Jonathan Goodman points out, supplements are the biggest threat facing the personal training industry (click to open in a new window and read after)
In Most Cases, Refer Out
I consider myself well versed in nutrition, but in most cases I still opt to refer out to other experts. There may always be an underlying issue that’s well outside your scope of practice related to disease.
Refer out, urge clients to meet with their doctors, and potentially get tests done to look at metabolism, hormone levels, and basic health parameters that most people simple neglect.
Do Your Homework:
Remember, your name is attached to everything you do and every client you have. It takes one mistake or bad piece of advice to cause major issues for you and your business.
Network with nutritionists in your area, do you homework with scientific literature like textbooks, academic journals, and peer reviewed studies like the examine supplement guide, and tread carefully.
Supplements provide a unique tool to improve your clients’ results and your business, but don’t betray your integrity or sense for a quick buck.
What to Read Next?
Your reputation is your livelihood. Supplements are a huge threat to the integrity of the personal training industry. Know what you’re getting into and be prepared. Read this.
Personal Trainers and Supplements – Jonathan Goodman
Berardi, PhD, John, and Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, RD. “Nutritional Supplementation.” The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. 2nd ed. Toronto: Precision Nutrition, 2012. 379-391. Print