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Can Personal Trainers Give Nutritional Advice?

Here at OriGym, we often get asked questions along the lines of ‘can personal trainers give nutrition advice in the UK?’.

With so much inaccurate information online and many instances of trainers writing meal plans without actually knowing or understanding the extent of the advice that they can give, we thought we would clear up the answer to this question. 

Before we get stuck in, if you aren’t already a qualified personal trainer, why not enquire about our Level 3 Personal Training certification here.

If you’re already a PT, go and check out OriGym's range of Level 4 Personal Trainer courses or download the OriGym course prospectus to see how you can progress in your career.

Also feel free to download your FREE Food Diary for Clients:

Can Personal Trainers Give Nutritional Advice?

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First things first, if you’re a personal trainer that offers nutritional advice or creates detailed meal plans for clients, you might want to stop what you’re doing right now. Here’s why…

Whilst PTs can give some nutrition advice, it's important to know exactly what kind of advice you can and cannot give, and what language you should use to avoid stepping into the territory of a dietitian. 

In the UK, only Registered Dieticians (RDs) can medically prescribe nutrition plans. Dieticians are degree-qualified professionals who have undergone extensive training. 

According to the BDA, the role of a Dietician is to “assess, diagnose, and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public-health level”.

The term ‘Dietician’ is protected in the UK, meaning that this title is protected by law and only those who have the appropriate qualifications and HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council) registration can call themselves a Dietician.

In order to practice as a registered dietitian, an individual must complete a Dietetics degree that is approved by the HCPC and accredited by the BDA (British Dietetic Association). Following graduation, individuals must then apply for registration from the HCPC before they can practice as a Registered Dietitian.

 

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What Nutritional Advice Can a Personal Trainer Give?

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As you can see above, the entry requirements for working as a Dietitian are pretty extensive. This is mainly because unlike a Nutritionist or a Personal Trainer, a Dietitian can diagnose health problems and prescribe dietary advice as part of prevention or treatment.

If you aren't already qualified, you can find out how to become a certified personal trainer here.

Meanwhile, other professionals (personal trainers included) can only advise, recommend, and suggest nutritional changes relevant to an individual fitness goal as opposed to anything that has a medical consequence.

In an official statement, The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) explain that Level 3 Personal Trainers should not give prescriptive nutritional advice or develop bespoke nutrition plans tailored for individual clients.

The statement goes on to explain that:

“PTs should only provide general advice on healthy eating, rather than give specific, prescriptive advice. If PTs start giving nutrition advice to alleviate real or suspected medical conditions, then they are operating outside of their professional boundaries and may find themselves in trouble if problems with clients occur.”

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Instead, some good phrases for personal trainers to use include:

  • I Recommend...
  • I Advise...
  • I Suggest...
  • I Propose...
  • I Endorse...
  • I Urge...

These phrases allow you to discuss nutrition with your clients and recommend positive changes that can help them achieve their goals without treading into the territory of ‘prescribing’ a nutrition programme.

This might seem a little confusing at the moment, but don’t worry because we’re about to break down exactly what nutrition advice personal trainers can give, starting by discussing whether PTs should write meal plans!

To learn more about what it's like to be a PT, read this OriGym guide to a day in the life of a personal trainer!

Can Personal Trainers Write Meal Plans?

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The topic of “can personal trainers give meal plans” is a very contentious one. The answer is yes, with a great big “but”. When it comes to writing meal plans as a personal trainer, you need to be really careful about how you phrase something, especially if it is in writing.

You also need to be clear about the intention of your advice, emphasising that any nutritional recommendations or meal plans are for the purpose of helping a client to reach a fitness related goal and not to treat a medical condition.

Things only start to get risky for PTs should you start prescribing food groups or supplements to cure, treat, or as part of a diagnosis for your clients.

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Here are some things that you cannot do as a personal trainer:

You cannot prescribe any foods, supplements, or recipes as cure or treatment for a medical condition. A common example of when personal trainers cross is this line is in prescribing diets to treat an individual’s obesity.

You can’t diagnose a condition. Now, if you’re like most personal trainers giving nutrition advice, you might be thinking that you don’t diagnose anybody anyway, but in actual fact many PTs do this without even realising.

For example, you might find yourself telling a client “You may be suffering from ‘diabetes’ or ‘high cholesterol / blood pressure’, therefore you should…..”

You can’t suggest that a client takes a certain supplement or certain types of food to treat a condition. For example, a personal trainer can’t say “I would suggest adding blueberries in your diet to help with inflammation at your joints.”

Only registered dieticians and doctors can give nutritional advice pertaining to prescribing, diagnosing, treating, and curing. You could find yourself in hot bother with personal trainer legal issues if you were to do any of the above, and you could even find yourself under investigation from the ASA if you market your nutrition business in a way that suggests that you can do any of the above.

Instead, stick to writing personal trainer meal plans based on a client's general exercise goals, such as losing weight, gaining muscle, or improving strength. Why not check out this OriGym guide to personal trainer meal plans for inspiration!

So, What Can Personal Trainers Do? 

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Personal trainers can give meal plans as long as they are not based on a diagnosis, intended as a form of treatment or prescribed plan, or provided as a cure. This is why, as we mentioned earlier, terminology matters quite a bit. 

Here are some examples of how you can use phrases such as ‘I recommend’, ‘I advise’, and ‘I suggest’, when offering personal trainer nutrition advice:

“I recommend the following meal plan to help you achieve your fitness goal of losing 2 stone of fat, in 4 months.”

The answer to “can personal trainers give nutritional advice (UK)” is yes, but you just have to do it in the right way!

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In terms of nutrition services, Level 3 qualified personal trainers are perfectly fine to:

  • Offer nutritional management strategies, including advice and guidance around calorie quantities in relation to goals and training
  • Advise clients on what time you feel is best for them to consume food or drink based on their goals
  • Make recommendations on portion sizing, suggesting the amount and proportions of key vitamins and minerals within a plan
  • Help clients with the food selection process, providing healthier alternatives to foods in their existing diet to help facilitate their goals
  • Suggest supplements to aid and support physical performance exclusively in association with training 
  • Demonstrate or give advice on how best to prepare meals
  • Educate clients, providing tips, guidance and recommendations on the benefits of healthy eating as well as informing clients on how vitamins operate
  • Share scientifically backed resources with clients from accredited sources

As long as you stick within the parameters outlined above, personal trainers giving nutritional advice is absolutely fine. Just remember, if you’re ever unsure, do not take the risk and refer the client to see a registered dietician or doctor instead.

Read this personal trainer job description to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of a PT!

What Do Personal Trainers Know About Nutrition?

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Diet and nutrition play a huge role in a clients fitness journey, so it only makes sense that regulated personal trainer courses include a module dedicated to the application of nutrition within a physical activity programme.

This module is part of the qualification framework set by Ofqual (the government body for vocational qualifications), making it a mandatory unit for all personal trainers. This module is a compulsory aspect of every Ofqual regulated PT course as it teaches personal trainers about the role of nutrition and how it can be utilised to directly benefit a client’s training.

Topics covered within this module include understanding the nutrient groups, getting to know micro and macro nutrients, and the skills needed to consult with a client and set goals based on that consultation.

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Since what and how much you eat can have such a significant impact on your fitness goals, some personal trainers choose to expand their knowledge of nutrition with further qualifications, such as OriGym’s Level 4 Advanced Sports Nutrition course

Whilst the vast majority of personal trainers do not have this advanced level of knowledge, all personal trainers could benefit from completing this further qualification. 

Level 4 Nutrition courses go into much greater detail about how changes in diet and nutrition contribute to overall performance and influence exercise-related goals, such as weight management. OriGym’s course also breaks down the process of writing nutrition plans for the purpose of helping personal training clients to achieve specific exercise goals.

On completion of this course, you can then advertise yourself as a Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, allowing you to advertise yourself as an expert, charge more for your services, and attract more clients!

Now you know the answer to 'can personal trainers give nutrition advice?', check out the following articles to learn more about how you can progress your personal training career by offering nutrition services:

Personal Trainer Nutrition Disclaimer Form 

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If you’ve got to this point in our article, you’re probably well aware that when it comes to personal trainer nutrition advice, how something is phrased is really important.

To avoid saying the wrong thing or having a client misinterpret you, it helps to have a written nutrition disclaimer in place for clients to sign prior to providing them with a meal plan or any other nutrition advice.

Fortunately for you, we have drafted up this general disclaimer for personal trainers giving nutritional advice - all you need to do is copy and paste it and ask for your clients to sign it!

Here it is:

“By utilising (your name / company) personal trainer services, you acknowledge that any meal plans issued are not aimed to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure any medical conditions. The meal plans issued are to guide and provide advice to complement and support your fitness goals solely. By signing below, you acknowledge that you understand that (your name / company) personal trainer services meal plans are recommendations and advice only and that you should seek the advice of a registered dietician or doctor if you feel you have a medical condition that requires a nutritional-based diagnosis, prescription or treatment.

Client’s signature: (Clients Name)”

Can Personal Trainers Give Nutritional Advice? FAQ Section 

By now, you should know that the answer to ‘Can I give nutritional advice as a personal trainer?’ is yes, with a few ifs and buts. If you’ve been reading carefully, then you’ll know that personal trainers can give meal plans and other nutrition advice as long as this is relevant to a clients exercise goals, and not part of a diagnosis or cure for a medical condition.

Just in case you had any further questions, we’ve included the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that we get on this topic!

I am a qualified PT and I have a Nutrition qualification, can I give nutritional advice as a personal trainer and nutritionist? 

can i give nutritional advice as a personal trainer uk

Unfortunately, even if you studied nutrition at university or you’ve completed a vocational nutrition course you still can’t prescribe a nutrition plan to a member of the public. 

To quote the BDA:

“Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code to ensure that they always work to the highest standard”. 

The phrase 'Nutritionist' is not a protected term in the UK, thus irrespective of whether you have completed a free nutrition course or a degree, anybody can call themselves a 'Nutritionist' and portray themselves as an expert. The one technicality is that not everybody can call themselves a Registered Nutritionist unless they are on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN).

By contrast, there are legal aspects for using the title 'Dietician'. This title is a legally protected term and should only be harnessed by degree qualified dieticians that are registered with the statutory regulator, the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Do Personal trainers need nutrition advice insurance?

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Another FAQ that is asked off the back of the discussion around what personal trainer nutrition advice should not include, is whether personal trainers need insurance to offer services such as meal planning.

Since personal trainers do have the right to give nutritional advice, such services are normally encompassed into a typical personal trainer insurance package. If you really wanted to, you could get specific nutrition advice insurance from the likes of Holistic Insurance, but normally this type of insurance is only necessary for dieticians. 

When comparing personal trainer insurance policies, bear in mind that many insurance packages come with different levels of cover. You should always check the extent of your cover with your insurance company before purchase, and always declare any additional qualifications that you hold - e.g. if you have a specialised Level 4 nutrition certification!

How can I market my nutrition business correctly?

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When it comes to marketing your nutrition business, the information that makes up any adverts or promotional materials needs to be consistent with the practises and guidelines that you are following during consultations and when writing meal plans.

That means, avoid phrases or terminology that could be misleading to clients or land you in trouble with the ASA

When marketing your business, feel free to call yourself any of the following:

  • Fitness & Diet Expert
  • Nutrition Advisor
  • Nutrition Expert
  • Nutrition Coach
  • PT & Nutrition consultant

Or any other colourful variation of the above!

See below how Liverpool based personal trainer, Vicki Cumberworth harnesses "Personal trainer and Nutrition Coach" in her advertisements:

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Here is another example from degree qualified nutritionist and personal trainer Sarah O'Neill marketing her nutritional and personal training services:

can personal trainers give meal plans image

Neither of these trainers are Registered Dieticians, thus they have marketed their nutrition business using phrases such as "nutrition coach" and "accredited nutritionist". Despite each having different levels of qualifications, they have both been able to advertise their nutrition services without claiming that they can cure, diagnose or treat a client's nutritional needs.

Before You Go!

So there you have it, the answer to "Can Personal Trainers Give Nutritional Advice (UK)?" is YES, but just be careful how you phrase your advice. If you’re ever in doubt, do not. 

If you’d like to improve your knowledge of nutrition and advertise yourself as a Nutrition Coach, go ahead and enquire about our Level 4 Advanced Nutrition for Sport qualification here.

Not qualified as a PT yet? If you're interested in starting a career in fitness, go download our free prospectus

 

Become a Level 4 Nutrition for Sport Expert

Become a Level 4 Nutrition for Sport Expert and Expand Your Business Credentials

Written by Luke Hughes

CEO and Co-Founder

Join Luke on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Luke is the CEO and Co-Founder of OriGym. Holding a first-class degree in Sport and Exercise and an MSc in Sport and Nutrition, he is also qualified as a Level 4 Personal Trainer with various specialist credentials covering the entire spectrum of health, fitness and business. Luke has contributed to a variety of major industry publications, including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Metro, Cosmopolitan, The Mirror, The Sun, The Standard and more.

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