Health & Food

My Trainer Gave Me This Diet Plan….

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The other day someone came into the supplement aisle and asked about a product called “Alpha Omega”. I had never heard of this product but I assumed it was a brand name that we just didn’t carry (or maybe the name of a fraternity??). I quickly asked the customer where this recommendation came from and was sickened by the answer I received;

“my trainer told me to buy it, along with these other foods and supplements he recommended for my new diet plan”.

UGH! You can’t just tell your client to buy “Alpha Omega” supplements when that brand name doesn’t even exist (I Googled it and had no luck), and when the term alpha omega means nothing. Did this trainer mean alpha linolenic acid (omega-3)? If so, how much is his client even supposed to take? Oh wait, he’s not allowed to tell his client a specific amount to take, so at least the trainer did something right. But the better approach would have been for the trainer to recommend his client see a dietitian, like me

So what exactly are the laws regarding personal trainers or other professionals writing diet plans or recommending supplements (assuming they are not RDs)? I e-mailed the Commission on Dietetic Registration to get the answer and received this response;

State laws and/or regulations determine who can practice dietetics in a particular state. State licensure and state certification are entirely separate and distinct from registration or certification by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the credentialing agency for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Neither ADA nor CDR is a regulatory agency. Dietetics practitioners are licensed by states to ensure that only qualified, trained professional provide nutrition services or advice to individuals requiring or seeking nutrition care or information. Only state-licensed dietetics professionals can provide nutrition counseling.

The laws are different in every state, but in Ohio, if you are ever told by someone that they are a “nutritionist” or a “certified nutritionist” make sure to ask if they are a dietitian as well. All dietitians can be considered “nutritionists” (some dietitians call themselves nutritionists because the name sounds more familiar to people), but not all nutritionists are registered, dietitians.And in fact, if a “nutritionist” is not a registered dietitian it’s actually illegal for them to call themselves a nutritionist in Ohio (and some other states).

* Check out these Facts Consumer Should Know About Licensed Dietitians in Ohio *

And what about personal trainers? The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is one of the leading fitness organizations that certifies personal trainers. Their Code of Ethics states that personal trainers should “refer clients to more qualified health or medical professionals when appropriate.” In their training manual for personal trainers, they state:

“if you are not a registered dietitian or healthcare professional, you should avoid making specific recommendations and refer your client to a registered dietitian or physician.”

On the topic of recommending dietary supplements, ACE has adopted a firm stance. Their Position Statement on Nutritional Supplements states:

“It is the position of the American Council on Exercise that it is outside the defined scope of practice of a fitness professional to recommend, prescribe, sell, or supply nutritional supplements to clients.”
So what type of advice can a personal trainer, or other nutrition professional provide to their client if they are not in fact a registered dietitian? They can provide General Non-Medical Nutrition Information:

  • Acceptable: “Orange juice is a good source of vitamin C.”
  • Not Acceptable: “You should drink more orange juice because you need more vitamin C.”

In other words, they can’t perform individualized dietary assessments, prescribe an individualized diet or give individual and specific dietary advice.

For more detailed information about the laws in Ohio regarding the use of the term “nutritionist”, “sports nutritionist”, “nutrition specialist” etc. as well as the type of non-medical nutrition information they are allowed to provide, check out this link.

Remember my experience with a personal trainer last year?It started out with a body fat test, and then my PT gave me a basic protein recommendation, which was not based on my individual stats.It was very general information about increasing my protein intake. I didn’t think it was accurate information at all, but the good thing was that he only made very general recommendations that were not specific to my individual needs.
Before I forget, I want to add that as a registered dietitian with only a couple exercise physiology classes under my belt, I also have no right to prescribe an exercise plan for someone, or put them through a training session such as the grueling one I was put through….

Does that mean I can’t tell someone to workout and suggest some of my own personal favorite moves? No, but like with personal trainers giving nutrition advice, there is a fine line that should not be crossed by someone like me without any training/background or certifications in personal training or exercise physiology or anything close to that.  On that same note, it’s certainly ok for a personal trainer to tell their client certain products that they use, but it crosses a boundary when they go one step further and actually recommend them (depending on what it is, of course, I mean recommending your favorite peanut butter is an entirely different story, or recommending a favorite protein powder because it mixes well and tastes delicious, not because they “need more protein”).

So whatever this customer I met in the supplement aisle received from his personal trainer could have easily crossed the boundaries. I didn’t really look at the sheet of paper, but I’m guessing there were specific recommendations that were personalized for the customer, which is illegal in Ohio, unless his PT was also an RD. Read more about the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian here. I also found a great blog post written by another dietitian, here.

QUESTION: Did you know that in some states (other than Ohio) anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, no matter what type of background/education they have? Do you think personal trainers should be able to give out personalized diets?

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