Get the Basics...
  • Being a personal trainer is not the same as being a certified nutritional specialist.
  • Most personal trainers do not have the appropriate certification to give you dietary advice.
  • If your personal trainer makes dietary suggestions, verify its safety with your family physician.

What do you expect when you hire a personal trainer? Typically, clients want advice about which workout they should do and how to perform each movement properly, and they also want motivation for when they feel like giving up.

And while these aspects of training are exactly what you should experience, it leaves out one important part of the equation: nutrition.

Everyone knows that you can’t work off a bad diet. No matter how hard or long you exercise, abs are partially made in the kitchen. With this said, you may begin to think that your trainer should be providing nutritional advice as well. Whether it’s asking them what they eat on a daily basis or how many carbs you need to cut, it’s easy to assume that you should be able to ask the person who’s helping you slim down.

Why is certification important?

Your personal trainer should know what you’re eating. Not only does it give your trainer a general idea of what your lifestyle is like, but it also helps them know how to structure your workouts based on your dietary choices. However, if your personal trainer doesn’t have the appropriate certification or isn’t a registered dietitian, they may not be qualified to give you nutritional advice.

In general, most trainers have a firm grasp on proper nutrition. After all, they are a walking advertisement for their lifestyle choices. But without nutritional certification, their knowledge may be rudimentary and be based on past personal experience. You don’t need to know a lot about nutrition to get personal training certification. In general, it doesn’t go any further than teaching what a carbohydrate is, so it’s up to your trainer to get the added education.

What works best for your trainer may not work for you. In fact, they could even give you the wrong advice. For example, because taking creatine helped them build muscle mass, they may suggest that you do the same. But if you have a medical condition that doesn’t allow this, you may be headed for trouble.

It’s just like telling a woman to consume protein bars after working out. Although it can beneficial for men, it doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for their female counterparts. It’s all about knowing if your trainer has the knowledge to advise their clients on what they should and shouldn’t be putting in their bodies.

Although many trainers have taken the initiative to gain additional nutritional certification, many still haven’t. The best-case scenario would be that personal trainers are required to have either a nutritional background or are willing to obtain the appropriate certification.

What advice can my trainer give me?

From a legal perspective, it’s okay if your trainer offers nutritional advice, but it must come from an anecdotal perspective. There’s nothing wrong with your trainer suggesting you switch from white bread to whole wheat, but unless they are a registered dietitian, they cannot create a word-for-word meal plan for you.

In addition, they shouldn’t be telling you which supplements you should be taking either. While it’s 100 percent acceptable for them to tell you what types of vitamins and supplements they take, it’s imperative that they stress the importance of asking your family physician if it’s safe for you to take them as well.

If you’re still looking for someone to help you with meal planning, hire a registered dietitian. In addition to your own doctor, they have the qualifications to give you in-depth dietary information. A lot of clients want to know exactly what they should eat, nutrient by nutrient, and that’s where an experienced personal trainer should draw the line. Without the proper level of education, personal trainers should not be giving their clients nutritional advice.

How do I know if they have a nutritional background?

Now that you have an idea of who should be telling you what, how do you bring it up with your trainer? If you want to stay under the radar, start by looking at their business card. Specifically, look for “dietitian” or “nutrition specialist” on the card.

If you only see “certified personal trainer” in their title, accept that they are at a basic level and shouldn’t be giving you nutritional advice.

If you still aren’t sure, you can also do a little research online. There are a lot of databases that automatically pull up everyone in your area who also has a background in nutrition. Precision Nutrition is a great place to start if you want to find out your personal trainer’s credentials.

Finally, be on the lookout for trainers who try to sell you something right off the bat. Many personal trainers are affiliated with fitness products and get a percentage of all purchases. Typically, it’s a dead giveaway that they may not have your best interest in mind.

From Day One

Ultimately, clients shouldn’t have to question their personal trainer’s honesty. Even with the best intentions, some trainers continue to give nutritional advice when they aren’t qualified to do so. As the client, outlining your wants and needs from the beginning will go a long way toward building a healthy client-trainer relationship.