Can you trust a personal trainer to give you nutritional advice?

PTs (Personal Trainers) are very quick to give nutritional advice. It’s all part of the service alongside the training right? Wrong! Here’s why.

Something that angers me is the tough rap that Nutritionists and Nutritional Therapists get. Let me explain. Dieticians are regulated by law. Therefore, if someone is a dietician they have been through plenty of training, will have a degree or higher, and will undertake regular continued professional development in order to be able to continue to use the term dietician.

They will be registered and regulated, and you can probably trust that they know what they are talking about.

What does about Nutritional Therapists?

The terms ‘Nutritionist’ and ‘Nutritional Therapist’ on the other hand are not regulated which leaves them open to some abuse. This means that anyone can do a bit of training and then give themself one of those two titles. These courses can be as short as a couple of days long.

Now have a think about that – how much nutritional information do you think you can learn in a couple of days? Not much huh? What about if it was a couple of weeks long? I reckon you could learn some basics. Ok, so what about a couple of months – that’s bound to give you everything you need to know right? I don’t know about you but I couldn’t learn the complete ins and outs of the human body and the interactions with food in that time.

In contrast to that, my degree is 5 years of constant studying. Heads in books, a never ending stream of journal reading, and countless assignments, case studies, essays and clinical practice. 5 years of learning about the human body at a cellular level, anatomy and physiology, biochemical imbalances, disease, gut health down to a microbial level, hormones, the components of food and how each vitamin and mineral interacts with the body in a multitude of ways from the brain to the gut and all the surrounding complex systems. Then add into that the many health issues that people might have, and the clinical practice involved in helping that person overcome them. Still think that can be learnt in a couple of months??

Bad advice will blind you. Good advice will instruct you. Great advice will enlighten you.

What nutrition courses do personal trainers do?

Let’s bring this back to the PTs I was referring to. Most of them will have done some personal training qualifications, and some to a high level and high standard which is excellent. As an expert in their field I would expect that. Within these courses there will be an element of nutritional training, and probably some guidance on how to set meal plans to get the best from their physical training plans. 

A basic understanding of nutrition is good for them to have and can be a real help to the trainer, but I truly believe that at that level of knowledge you should still not be advising people. A PT cannot possibly have a full understanding of their client’s health status, and quite frankly to mess with their nutritional input can be quite dangerous.

An excerpt from a training manual for a currently available Level 3 personal training course clearly tells the student that after this course they can legally call themself a Nutritional Therapist. I found this course on a very quick search so it’s not specialised. 

This course is taught by personal trainers, not by nutrition health professionals. Their assessment for passing the nutritional aspect of the course is a multiple choice exam where they are required to achieve a pass of either 70% or 90% depending on whether they are a full time or part time student. Now, if only my degree was decided using a multiple choice test!

To bring this into context for you, a level 3 qualification is the equivalent to an AS or A level, or an advanced apprenticeship. Would you trust someone straight out of college or an apprenticeship to advise you on how to get the best from your body by telling you how to alter your diet? 

Before you answer that take into account that this course that I’m referring to is 2 weeks long if you are full time, and 6 weeks long if you are a part time student. If that isn’t worrying enough and you are still thinking it’ll probably be ok, be sure to think about the fact that getting the balance of just ONE single vitamin wrong can have drastic, even life threatening, results.

My registration with a professional body says that I cannot advise people until I have completed the full 5 years of the degree, yet these PTs are happy to advise after 2 weeks. What are your thoughts now?

Now technically…. TECHNICALLY… that person can indeed call themselves a nutritional therapist because they have undertaken some nutritional training. But so have I, and when you compare their snippet of information gained in a two week training course to the vast and in depth knowledge that I have through multiple training courses (at level 5) and the degree I think you’ll agree that I am more deserving of that title than they are.

You deserve better

What this rant is basically saying is please do your homework on the people that you are taking advice from. There are some really excellent Nutritionists and Nutritional Therapists out there that have done years of training to be able to help you in a competent and safe way. 

Never be afraid to ask someone what their qualifications are when they try to give you nutritional or dietary advice. Check out their registrations and ask them what they are required to do to stay up to date with the latest information in their field. Ask them what they specialise in. Does that translate to what you think you need? 

They might be very lovely and make you feel safe with them as a trainer, but that does not mean they are the person to coach your nutritional needs.

I’m not saying that all PTs are bad or that all PTs will give this advice. There are some that will happily say that they aren’t able to give nutritional advice, and they should be praised. Unfortunately there are others that do though, and will often charge extra for the pleasure! These are the ones to avoid. 

This is your health, your life, your wellbeing that they are messing with. That person could do you some good, or could do you a whole heap of damage. Make sure the person you are paying good money to really knows their stuff.

You deserve to be in the best health. Have the right people help you with that.

Please note, this post is intended to be general information only. Every care has been taken to ensure that facts and figures are correct at the time of posting. As always, please seek the support of a registered professional before making changes to your diet or lifestyle⁠, or if you feel that you are affected by any of the topics discussed. 

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