When it comes to nutrition, some fitness professionals are afraid to utter a word, whereas others
perform detailed analysis, offer individualized advice and devise complete meal plans. Confusion can exist among fitness professionals on where to draw the line when it comes to assisting their clients with nutrition-related questions and goals. Even with the best intentions, the lack of clear information can lead to unwanted outcomes for you, your clients and your facility.

It's safe and reasonable to offer specific guidelines to support the nutrition-related needs of your clients while protecting both practitioners and organizations. The American Dietetic Association asserts, "All weight-management programs should contain a lifelong commitment to healthful lifestyle behaviors emphasizing sustainable and enjoyable eating practices and daily physical activity."

A strong relationship has always existed between nutrition, fitness, wellness and disease prevention. Certified fitness professionals should possess knowledge in these areas as well as assessment, interpretation and calculation. Know that all nutrition and weight management information should begin with the words "knowledge of or ability to describe." In a general sense, any nutritional information or advice that a fitness professional provides to a client must be appropriate for that particular individual.

Things to Consider:

  1. Understand the role of carbohydrates, fats and proteins as fuels for aerobic and
    anaerobic metabolism.
  2. Describe and define obesity, overweight, percent fat, lean body mass, anorexia, bulimia and body fat distribution.
  3. Have knowledge of the food pyramid and determining nutrient requirements.
  4. Understand health conditions addressed by disease prevention or uncomplicated instances of chronic diseases of the general population, such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
  5. Have knowledge of women's calcium and iron needs and the number of kilocalories equivalent to losing one pound of body fat.

Work Together

Ideally, fitness professionals work together as part of a medical, athletic and wellness team. In reality, fitness professionals work independently of dietetic professionals. Sometimes this lack of interaction can lead to a lack of communication. After all, it's not until individuals work closely with other professionals that they understand their professional capacity and how it may differ from their own. A synergistic correlation with a professional who specializes in their corresponding area is highly valuable. This step allows a crossover of information to sports nutrition, cardiovascular health, disease prevention and special populations, such as pediatrics or geriatrics.

Such a relationship benefits both parties. For example, a fitness professional can refer clients about services for medical nutrition information, and the practitioner can serve as an informational resource. Furthermore, the practitioner can become a valuable referral source for the fitness professional and an aid in networking with other medical and allied health professionals.

Since so many participants need valid health and fitness information, it's wise to link with someone who could become an integral part of the fitness team and provide individualized
nutrition advice to participants. This relationship boosts the credibility of a fitness professional with their clients and their organization. Without the crossover, it's probably a good starting point to provide general information pertaining to principles of good nutrition, food preparation in the daily diet, the amount of essential nutrients needed by the body and their various effects based on deficiencies or excessive amounts.

Why Not Try the Popular Diets?

Hey, why not? Who hasn't given it a try? It sounds simple, yet most of our clients forget about consequences as they search for instant gratification and immediate results. The question is: "Which one can get me there the fastest?"

For the most part, these diets often serve as a stepping stone in trying to find the solution to healthy weight achievement. Somehow, somewhere, someone has to be blamed. Popular diets have the best expectations from the authors and are usually designed with two things in mind: extrapolation, which means "one size fits all," and who is to blame. Are carbohydrates the enemy? What about fats? How about the glycemic index?

All too often, it's about elimination of food groups, as opposed to moderation. This type of eating plan can lead to serious health-related issues, including nutritional deficiencies, increased disease risk, ketosis, lean tissue loss and dehydration. The body is not designed for rapid weight loss or to run on alternative fuels besides carbohydrates. This can result in a suppressed appetite, the incomplete breakdown of fat and the use of amino acids from muscle protein for energy. These are not optimal fuel options and normally cause a drop in metabolism, increased water loss and lean muscle tissue reduction.

A realistic approach of a focused plan in a timed setting will ultimately have a higher success ratio in the long run. First, start with some obtainable goals that are specific and measurable, such as creating a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day through diet and exercise. Your initial weight loss goal should be one to two pounds per week. Encourage your client that slow weight loss is likely to be long-term weight loss. Always be realistic about energy intake, and maintain a caloric intake of at least 1,200 calories a day. Low calorie diets (less than 1,000 calories per day) and very low calorie diets (less than 800 calories per day) are typically done only under physician supervision.

Extremely low calorie diets may lead to feelings of deprivation, and too often these diets label food as "good" or "bad." Avoid extreme exercise programs as they lead to fatigue or injury. Refrain from overwhelming your client with too big of an agenda. Start small by focusing on changes that can be sustained, and never make all the adjustments at once. Unfortunately, many popular diets have no emphasis on behavior modification. Educate your clients about the diet's criteria. Discuss the crucial components:

  • The author's credentials
  • The basic premise of the diet
  • Calories, foods and supplements allowed
  • Sustainability
  • The expected amount of weight loss
  • The reason for the weight loss
  • Scientific basis and research

You have a professional obligation to clients, associations and organizations to work together and uphold the highest standards of care. The lack of quality information can contribute to confusion, frustration, liability risk and the possibility of harm to clients. Remember: Your professional knowledge increases your credibility!

Scott Josephson, MS, RD, is a national-level conference speaker who provides continuing education lectures and is frequently published. In addition to several certifications, he holds a masters degree from the University of Miami and is on the advisory board of the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. He can be contacted at sjosephson@hippocratesinst.org.