Personal Trainers are Not Registered Dietitians

When it comes to nutrition, personal trainers need to remain mindful of their licensed scope of practice. The area of nutrition is where the lines can get blurred. This topic is tough for personal trainers not because it’s difficult to discuss but because there are do’s and don’ts when it comes to dispensing advice.

What Personal Trainers Shouldn’t Do

Depending on your geographic location and the laws or regulations governing nutritional practices in your areas, there are certain approaches certified personal trainers should avoid in order to reduce liability and practising outside their intended scope.

Personal trainers should not:

  • Provide medical nutrition therapy
  • Create and prescribe meal plans
  • Offer nutrition counselling
  • Conduct sophisticated nutritional assessments to evaluate specific needs
  • Recommend dietary supplements
  • Promote oneself as a nutritionist or registered dietitian

All of the above are within the scope of practice of a licensed nutritionist or registered dietitian (again, depending on governing regulations).

What Personal Trainers Should Do

Personal trainers have a professional responsibility to discuss nutrition with their clients. Nutrition and physical fitness are intertwined and should be viewed us synergistic components of a healthy lifestyle. That said, personal trainers do need to remain conscious of appropriate actions related to dispensing nutritional guidance and advice.

Personal trainers should:

  • Share resources endorsed by government agencies in your country or by registered dietitians
  • Ask clients to keep a dietary log or track nutritional practices
  • Evaluate potential gaps in nutritional intake (lack of water, an abundance of caffeine consumption, lack of variety or limited consumption of fruits and veggies)
  • Offer cooking demonstrations within your culinary capabilities
  • Provide grocery shopping tours
  • Conduct a kitchen inventory
  • Help clients choose healthier options (i.e. monounsaturated fats versus trans fats, whole grains vs. refined grains, etc.).
  • Encourage healthy hydration

If you have a client who requires more intensive nutritional oversight, refer him or her to a registered dietitian in your network. Remain within your scope.

Action Steps to Take 

While providing specific recommendations or therapy is not within the identified scope of practice, seeking continuing education that supports the development of a more sophisticated understanding of nutrition certainly is. Here’s what you can do to be better prepared to discuss this critically important topic with your clients.

  • Add a registered dietitian to your professional/referral network.
  • Communicate openly with your clients your licensed scope of practise related to nutrition.
  • Invest in nutrition education classes, webinars, article research, etc.
  • Review your certifying agency’s position stand on nutrition scope of practise for personal trainers – most organizations will have one available and published.
  • Invest in reputable nutrition desk manuals from qualified sources
  • Research shareable sources from reputable organizations

Don’t shy away from discussing nutrition with your clients. What your clients do (or don’t do) in the kitchen is equally as important as their habits in the gym. Although you have a responsibility to stay within your scope, you have an equal responsibility to educate clients about healthy nutritional practices and hold them accountable to those practices. The key to being successful is knowing what you can safely and effectively do when it comes to the topic of nutrition.