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Free Excerpt from “Train For Top Dollar” Chapter Eight…

Can of Worms – Legal Considerations in Nutrition Consulting

Welcome to the nasty, smelly can of worms in the personal training industry. Can personal trainers legally and ethically dispense nutrition advice? For that matter, can “certified nutritionists” legally and ethically dispense nutrition advice? As a fitness professional, you are a gatekeeper of information on exercise and nutrition, but there is a great deal of disagreement over how you can actually share that information. Part of the disagreement is due to highly differing state laws that govern nutrition practices (to view state laws in more detail, visit , as well as a lack of consensus on the definition of diet prescription. 

If your exercise science college education was similar to mine, you may have been given the notion that all nutritional counseling, education, and recommendations should be performed by some type of college-educated nutrition professional (after all, that was the purpose of the college’s nutritional department, right?)

The fact is that current dietetics licensure laws do not limit your right to provide nutrition advice and information, as long as that advice and information is not designed to manage a diagnosed medical condition. Aside from medical management (for example, a diet for diabetes) there is no clear consensus on when it is more appropriate to refer your client to a nutrition professional such as a registered dietitian.

According to the American Dietetic Association’s website, 44 states have statutory provisions regarding professional regulation of dietitians and/or nutritionists. But the definition of a dietitian or nutritionist is rarely defined, and many of the other definitions provided by state statutes are highly ambiguous.

For example, in Louisiana and Florida, a fitness professional is not allowed to ask what kind of foods a person eats, because this could be defined as an nutritional assessment. And if the fitness professional discovers that the client is drinking 10 sodas per day, they are technically not allowed to recommend substituting sparkling water, because this may actually be defined as a dietary prescription.

But who is enforcing these statutes? And more importantly, what is the purpose of the statutes? To protect an individual from following uneducated advice, or to protect an individual from having to break their soft drink habit?

In other words, I highly recommend advocating healthy lifestyle behaviors related to nutrition, whether it is to a client or to the person sitting beside you on the airplane. Unless you step way outside your boundaries and attempt to diagnose disease or treat medical conditions via diet, nobody is going to jump out from a closet and arrest you. Build a trust relationship with your clients, be very clear about what your nutrition certification or license actually is, and you will stay within legal boundaries.

Use the following tips:

·      Provide general advice, not individualized and specific prescription. In other words, tell your clients that consuming low glycemic index foods will stabilize blood sugar, and not that they need to consume lentils every day for lunch to lower their personal resting insulin levels. Other good examples include: encouraging consumption of 6-10 small frequent meals throughout the day, eating natural, un-processed foods, eating lean protein, unprocessed carbohydrates and healthy fat, and drinking water regularly.

·      Suggest or highly recommend dietary supplements, but do not “prescribe” them. Tell the client that it is their choice, and recommend that they follow manufacturer’s instructions (don’t write “take 3mg melatonin every night to help you sleep” on a piece of paper and hand it to your client), then put the ball in their court.

·      Base all your advice on science and public information. If your client can’t easily find research or information on a supplement or dietary protocol, you shouldn’t be recommending it. For example, don’t give your client the brand new weight loss supplement that just arrived on the market, especially if it has no long term studies and very little public information or history. Excellent peer-reviewed resources for finding well researched information on diet supplements and nutrition include:

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Consumer Labs      

Medline Plus

Natural Standard


Reuters Health


If you’re very concerned about your legal liability, make it a habit to simply steer your clients in the right direction. One of my favorite websites for helping a client educate themselves on proper nutritional protocols is There is also a large number of websites, like and  that can help your clients track calories and take charge of their own diets. You can simply be the silent guide that stands by and nods them in the right direction.

Want to keep reading? Check out more of the book “Train For Top Dollar”, including video excerpts, here.

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