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Does exercise improve your mental health?
Diet and nutrition is a huge part of fitness. So what advice can personal trainers give their clients? Here, we look at what you can and can't say.  
There’s an awful lot of info out there on dieting and nutrition these days. 
 
From lifestyle coaches to the Kardashians. Not all of it is useful. 
 
We’d advise caution when reading a lot of this and seek face to face professional advice instead. 
 
The question you might be asking is, can you get this advice from a personal trainer? 
 
And if you are a personal trainer or hoping to be one, can you cover this with your clients? 
 
What do you do if a client comes to you asking for a meal plan or for help overcoming a certain condition? 
 
In this article we look at what personal trainers should or shouldn’t be telling their clients. 

How important is nutrition for personal fitness? 

Nutrition is of course an essential part of any fitness regime. 
 
We’ll probably cover that topic in another post but it’s important to point out. 
 
Improving physical fitness is all down to striking a good balance between a healthy diet and exercise. 
 
Many would even argue that what you eat is significantly more important than the exercise itself. Exercising with a poor or unfocused diet is unlikely to lead to significant change. 
 
If your aim is to greatly improve your strength and fitness, grow muscle or even just improve long term health, then you need a strategy for exercise and eating. Personal trainers should be able to provide some help in this area. 
 
What that strategy looks like however, will vary significantly from person to person. Which is where it gets complicated. 
Chart showing mental health increase

Can Personal Trainers give nutritional advice? 

Whilst a lot of PTs will be able to give some level of advice around diet, more specific dietary advice and instruction is not the role of a personal trainer. 
 
Prescribing dietary advice is no walk in the park. It’s very conditional, as we mentioned above, and has the potential to seriously change how someone lives their life. 
 
That’s why in the UK to be qualified as a ‘dietician’ you need a degree. These highly qualified professionals can help diagnose and treat nutritional and health issues. 
 
As a personal trainer there’s a limit to the level of advice you can provide and the structure you can prescribe. Indeed, gyms will often point out that full on nutritional advice is not generally part of their role. 
 
In general, PTs should avoid prescriptive or bespoke advice and plans and instead offer more general advice that can aid a client. 
 
There are courses that cover nutrition and healthy eating basics that can provide the information that most PT’s would need – we’ll cover this in more depth below but be sure to check out this course for more info. 

What are the risks of giving unqualified advice? 

You may feel that you have a decent level of understanding in this area and may be able to provide a correct assessment of a particular client’s needs. 
 
However, even then, overly prescriptive advice is discouraged. 
 
The main issue is with people who have known or suspected medical conditions. It’s certainly not the job of personal trainers to deal with this and if complications were to arise because of your advice or it didn’t work, you could face trouble, and not just for the client. 
 
If someone took you to court over an issue like this, your professional insurance would be unlikely to cover the legal costs. This is because you would have acted outside the bounds of your professional responsibility. 
 
Not only that but the client may have specific needs and the level of care you would be able to provide is simply not as high as what they would get from a dietician. 
 
However tempting it might be to provide an extra level of service to your client, if it’s not the best thing for them then you aren’t actually doing your business any favours. 

So, what can you do? 

That’s not to say you can’t do anything and we wouldn’t want to dissuade you from saying anything about food and eating. 
 
As we mentioned above it’s a very important part of exercise and most personal trainers will have had some element of training in health and nutrition. 
 
The approach you take will depend on your current level of qualification. 
 
If you are taking the Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training then you will most likely be doing a unit on the principles of nutrition. If you are Level 2 qualified then the Active IQ Level 2 Award in Understanding Nutrition, Performance and Healthy Eating would be ideal. 
 
Differing organisations do have different units in Personal Training so you need to refer to your qualification to find out exactly what will be covered. 
 
There is also an Active IQ Level 3 qualification so if your PT course doesn’t cover it, this would be recommended. 
 
These courses will cover most of what you need to know in a short space of time. 
 
With this knowledge you can certainly guide and encourage clients to take steps towards healthier eating habits, educating them about foods that will improve their recovery. 
 
Whilst you can’t provide prescriptive diet plans to treat conditions you could put together a general meal plan that helps them reach certain targets or fitness goals such as losing weight or building muscle. 
 
Ultimately these should always be delivered as suggestions, and before taking on a client it’s a good idea to have in writing that you aren’t liable for any eating decisions they take. 

To deliver the best advice join a course 

To make sure you’re delivering proper fitness advice you need to be well informed. 
 
At Sportsability we offer several courses for people wanting to become personal trainers or people wanting to expand their offering. 
 
One of those is the Level 2 award in understanding nutrition. This should give you a good grounding for delivering nutrition and healthy eating advice to clients. To sign up or find out more information, head here. 
 
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