By Jenny D. Johnson
Faculty Member, Sports and Health Sciences at American Public University
American Public University’s Jenny D. Johnson explains the role of personal trainers and nutritional counseling.
Currently there is an obesity epidemic in America. More than 35 percent of the adult population and 12.5 million children and adolescents are considered obese—and the numbers are rising. The Center for Disease Control reports that obesity is classified as a person having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is the calculation of a male’s or female’s height and weight and is a general indicator of body fat percentage.
Personal trainers are helping clients in the battle against obesity by providing tools, education and motivation. As someone who dedicated her life to sports and health sciences, I belong to a community of physical fitness coaches and motivators dedicated to helping people reach their fitness goals. Clients sometimes need that extra push—that “little voice,” inside their heads that tells them to get going. Some clients also need a customized strategy that is safe for them to implement and sustains their drive. Once a client begins to see results, a reduction in a person’s BMI can serve as an example for the client’s family members or office peers. Often when someone gets into shape it jumps starts others to live more healthy lifestyles.
While personal trainers develop training strategies, they should not be designing diet plans for clients. It’s important that certified professionals focus on their area of expertise. When it comes to diet plans, only licensed and certified nutritionists and registered dietitians should be providing nutritional plans to aid individuals in overcoming obesity. If you’re a personal trainer, it’s important that you develop a professional relationship with a licensed nutritionist and refer clients when they need or ask for a diet plan.
Currently more than 46 states have laws regarding the practice and certification requirements of professionals in area of nutritional counseling. These professionals; registered dietitians, licensed dietitian/nutritionist, and licensed nutrition counselor, etc., must be registered within the states they are practicing. The certification a personal trainer receives does not qualify him or her for nutritional licensure. Certifying agencies such as the National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the American College of Sport Medicine (ACSM) all require their certified personal trainers to “refer clients to other healthcare professionals when nutritional and supplemental advice is requested.”
Personal trainers can offer general knowledge to their clients regarding food choices and healthy eating habits. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it is important to point out that a diet is not necessarily an eating plan with the intent of weight loss. Below are a few appropriate tips for advising clients about healthy eating.
Acceptable advice from a personal trainer
“Did you eat your high fiber breakfast this morning?”
“Be sure to get a snack in before you leave the gym.”
Unacceptable guidance/advice from a personal trainer
“Be sure to eat 4 cups of oatmeal with 56 g of protein powder”
“Don’t eat carbs before your wedding; they will make you hold water.”
A great tool for personal trainers and their clients to reference is choosemyplate.gov. Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, ChooseMyPlate is a revamp of the former mypyramid.gov. The user-friendly site can help in managing individual and family diet and food choices. It allows users to compare current nutritional diets to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” and offers suggested meal plans to meet their current weight and dietary goals.
Personal trainers are highly skilled coaches in the realm of health and fitness. We are not allowed to prescribe, diagnose or treat any condition that is not in our legal scope of practice. We can, however, train, motivate, encourage and cheer our clients to a successful, healthy and fit lifestyle full of vitality.
About the Author
Jenny was born into the field of exercise and coaching. Her father was the spark for her early influence in the field. He was an Olympic Class race walker, and he was one of the first individuals to become certified by Dr. Cooper when the term “Aerobics” was coined. He developed the first Fitness Testing Protocol for the National Soccer Referees that earned him a place in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Jenny obtained her master’s in exercise science and returned to higher education to teach her 20-plus years of industry knowledge to personal trainers and fitness buffs. Currently, Jenny is working on her Ph.D. in education.