This is an excerpt from NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training 3rd Edition With HKPropel Access by NSCA -National Strength & Conditioning Association,Brad Schoenfeld & Ronald L. Snarr.
By Eric R. Helms, PhD, and Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD
Role of the Personal Trainer Regarding Nutrition
Websites, social media, television, newspapers, and magazines are the major sources of nutrition information for most people. Nutrition information communicated as sound bites and advertisements can lead to consumer confusion. Personal trainers have the opportunity to help clear the confusion by serving as a source of credible nutrition information.
It is well within the personal trainer’s scope of practice to address misinformation and to give general advice related to nutrition for physical performance, disease prevention, weight loss, and weight gain. A personal trainer would be conveying general nutrition knowledge by saying, for example, “According to the American Heart Association, omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish like salmon or mackerel may benefit those who are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.” An important part of the core knowledge, from the standpoint of both ethics and safety, is the ability to recognize more complicated nutrition issues and know who to refer clients to.
Referral to a nutrition professional is indicated when the client has a disease state (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, eating disorder, osteoporosis, elevated cholesterol) that is affected by nutrition. This type of nutrition information is called medical nutrition therapy and falls under the scope of practice of a licensed nutritionist, dietitian, or registered dietitian (RD) (depending on the country and in the United States, on the state’s licensure laws) (4). Referral is also indicated when the complexity of the nutrition issue is beyond the competence of the personal trainer, which will vary. Personal trainers should find several nutrition professionals they feel comfortable referring their clients to and with whom they can communicate about clients. In the United States and Canada, registered dietitians can be located through state dietetic organizations; the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) website, www.eatright.org; the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition website (SCAN, a dietetic practice group of the AND), www.scandpg.org; and Dietitians of Canada, www.dietitians.ca. The European Federation of the Association of Dietitians, www.efad.org, provides links to each country’s dietitian organization. The website of Sports Dietitians Australia provides a tool to locate a local sports dietitian: www.sportsdietitians.com.au. In other countries, personal trainers will want to consult local dietetic organizations or national websites. To facilitate communication, the client should sign a release of information form so that the personal trainer and the nutrition professional can communicate about the client’s training program and general nutrition needs.
Personal trainers should refer clients to a dietitian when the client has a disease state, such as cardiovascular disease, that has a dietary component or when the complexity of the nutrition issue is beyond the competence of the personal trainer.
Who Can Provide Nutrition Counseling and Education?
Before assessing a client’s diet, personal trainers should turn to their state dietetic licensing board or to their country’s organization for dietetic regulations to find out the laws within their particular region that govern the provision of nutrition advice. In the United States, each state regulates the provision of nutrition information through licensure, statutory certification, or registration. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association; 4), definitions for these terms are as follows:
- Licensing: Statutes include an explicitly defined scope of practice, and performance of the profession is illegal unless a license has been obtained from the state.
- Statutory certification: Limits use of particular titles to persons meeting predetermined requirements, while persons not certified can still practice the occupation or profession.
Registration: This is the least restrictive form of state regulation. As with certification, unregistered persons are permitted to practice the profession. Typically, exams are not given and enforcement of the registration requirement is minimal.
At the time of this writing, the scope of nutrition practice in Alabama is clearly defined, and specific guidance on a person’s diet is allowed only by a registered dietitian or nutritionist (2). But in Arizona, for example, no licensure law exists, and any professional can offer nutrition advice (39). Various states and countries have different regulations governing whether or not personal trainers can provide dietary advice, and personal trainers should follow these guidelines. With that said, regardless of the varying regulations from state to state, a personal trainer can be held accountable for negligence, or misinformation provided to a client, which may result in civil action (and perhaps criminal charges) in extreme cases. Thus, it is extremely important that personal trainers know their limitations.