It should be no secret to any fitness professional that in addition to regular exercise, the amount, type, and timing of a client's food intake can absolutely make or break their progress. That's right, if your clients want to lose weight, rehabilitate an injury, build muscle, improve their health or speed up sport performance adaptation, they'd better be paying attention to a few critical nutrition concepts.

Even if you have been giving your clients bits of advice, it's probably not enough. If your expertise isn't in the nutrition realm, you're less likely to incorporate nutrition coaching into your practice. Sure, you may give your clients a little advice about protein intake, water intake, or fruit and vegetable intake this advice coming between sets or between rehab appointments. But you and I both know that the best teaching does not occur when a client is gasping for breath between sets of squats or is laying face down getting ready for a chiropractic adjustment. Lifestyle change should not be taught in sound bites.

Your dilemma may be that you know clients need nutrition advice; yet you aren't being paid to give it. Most dietitians recommend some sort of referral program or joint venture; however, it may be beyond your clients' resources regarding time and financial investment. Some trainers may fear losing clients to dieticians since many consumers prefer to diet rather than to exercise.

It's a tough dilemma to be in do you refer them out and risk losing them, or do you take care of them in-house and risk doing an inadequate job?

Outside Programs
You have always had the option of sending your clients to a dietitian. But again, what if the client can't afford both you and the dietitian? What if the dietitian isn't very good? And why aren't you being compensated for the referral? Joint ventures are a great way to partner with someone of a complimentary expertise without being full-out business partners. In essence, you can benefit from each other's successes with little risk.

One way to make joint ventures work is to strike a deal in which you're compensated for clients you refer out. This compensation could be a flat rate or a percentage of the rate they charge. And of course, part of the deal could also include some sort of reciprocity for each client they refer to you, they get a flat fee or a percentage. With this arrangement, you're both incentivised to help each other out and even if a client does leave you to focus on the nutrition side of things, you're still getting a percent of the profit.

Often, the hardest part with this type of arrangement isn't the financial part it's finding someone in your local area that you trust enough to refer your clients and patients to. Some dietitians get results. And others don't. So if you're not confident in your local options and want to choose the joint venture option, you'll have to choose a distance based partner to work with.

The big advantage joint venture systems offer is that you get to do what you do best and your partner gets to do what they do best. Both parties collect fees through their referrals; however, the joint venture system has some disadvantages.

  1. You have no control over your joint venture partner business conduct. Set up a system of checks and balances and know that trust must be involved. Ask for references when choosing a joint partner.
  2. Secondly, you're sending the "nutritional consultation" money elsewhere and only keeping a small percentage of this profit when you can create an in-house revenue stream.
  3. Thirdly, you're giving up a great opportunity to diversify your own expertise with some supplemental lifestyle and nutrition consulting.

To avoid some of the disadvantages associated with either having no nutrition program or having to do a joint venture program, here are a few ways of creating your own in-house nutrition program; a program that allows you to continue to train clients as well as provide great nutrition advice.

Your Nutrition System
If you want to provide the best nutrition advice in such a way that it actually becomes your own new profit centre and integrates nicely with what you're already doing, you can't become an expert guiding every new client through the basics of good nutrition. Start out with a system that takes care of the basics for you. You can either create that system yourself or you can license one that's already been created for you. Regardless of which you choose, to truly affect client/patient change while also creating a sellable service offering and a program you can personally manage, you need to address the following things:

  1. Client/Patient Re-Education
    All of your clients/patients are already educated about nutrition. But often times, the information is misunderstood, confusing or influenced by the media. A re-education program is necessary. Most clients average one hour a week with their trainers. If you hope to have a chance in positively influencing client behavior, you must meet with them outside of the training time.

  2. Regular Social Support
    Despite what most fitness professionals think of programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, the fact remains that these programs are statistically the most effective ones out there. Why? Well these programs are rich in social support.

    Clients get to meet with groups of other individuals with similar goals, and during these meetings, they get to discuss their progress, share strategies for success and form bonds that are based on the encouragement of future successes.

    Just think about it, many of your clients have family and work environments that seem to conspire to drag them down into the depths of failure. What they need instead is a social circle designed for support and encouragement. Focus on ways to create this for them.

  3. New Kitchen, Cooking and Preparation Strategies
    Good nutrition isn't about having a diet plan. It's about having the right mind set and then creating the right environment for success. And that starts in your clients' kitchens.

    Clients need to learn to stock their cupboards and refrigerators with healthy whole foods. Then they need to learn how to prepare these foods so they taste great. Finally, they need to know how to prepare food in advance for when they're on the go. Without the right environment for success, no prescribed diet can succeed. Consider how you help pave the way for client success.

  4. Results Tracking and Accountability
    Your clients will need a regular program of results tracking and progress check-ups. If there's no one to check-in with, their discipline and commitment may waiver. However, at least initially, if you're there to track results and provide accountability, your clients will have a higher success rate. Make sure you're doing this by regularly checking body measures as well as nutritional adherence.

  5. Personalized Nutrition Plan
    Personalized nutrition plans aren't worth the paper they're printed on until you've paved the way for them to succeed with the elements above. Your clients need re-education about food amount, type and timing. They need social support. They need to create the right environment for success, and they need a regular program of accountability. Only when they have these things should you consider discussing a customized plan.

Turning Your System into a Profit Centre
Now that we've discussed the most important elements of a good program, it's time to turn this very effective system into a profit centre. Here are some ideas for doing so:

Begin with a Client/Re-Education System: Pool together all the necessary resources books, CDs, DVDS, manuals, etc., and offer them to your clients at a price that earns you revenue. You can supplement these resources with your own created materials, adding your style and philosophies to tie the program together.

Create Bi-Monthly Nutrition Meetings: Every two weeks or so, gather together small groups of clients for results tracking, troubleshooting and even some lecture/course content. Through these meetings, you're providing clients with social support, continuing education and accountability.

If you have your own facility, have the meetings there. If not, gather at your house or one of the client's homes. Have one member of the group bring healthy snacks every two weeks. Create an atmosphere of support and learning and this too is something you can charge for.

Support Changes in Your Clients' Environments: Take your groups grocery shopping and perform a kitchen makeover for them. You can go to their homes, help them clean out their pantries, restock with healthy foods and teach them how to prepare an infinite number of healthful meals.

Personalized Nutrition Plans: The best part about empowering your clients is that your clients should be able to tinker with building their own nutrition programs. Throughout the course of your bi-monthly meetings you can make suggestions for change and troubleshooting.

If your clients want specific nutritional prescription, especially for medical conditions, I recommend you contact someone with more nutrition expertise. Make arrangements with a dietitian to advise you in special situations.

According to Doug Kalman, Executive Vice President of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), "In most states, it's perfectly legal to make nutrition recommendations for otherwise healthy individuals, regardless of whether you're a Registered Dietitian or not. It's only when you try to prescribe nutrition for disease states that you may be breaching your particular state's nutrition regulations. Check out the CISSN program, an accredited sports nutrition certification for trainers and advanced health professionals (www.theissn.org), for more."

In the end, creating a nutrition system that complements your practice whether you're a trainer, a chiropractor, a physical therapist, a strength coach or a sports medicine doctor, is fairly easy to do if you have the right recipe for success. In my experience, fitness professionals who have adopted such programs report increased revenues, better client results and more diversity in their client services.

Dr. John Berardi has a PhD in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise and Nutritional Biochemistry. He is the Director of Sports Nutrition for six different NCAA, Olympic and Professional sport organizations. Through his Precision Nutrition Network, Dr. Berardi has pioneered a new way for fitness and sport professionals to fast track their own personal nutrition education, while delivering practical nutrition advice to their clients and all the while, creating new, nutrition-based revenue streams. For more information, visit www.precisionnutrition.com.

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