Although a certified personal trainer and registered dietician/licensed nutritionist have different professional scopes and boundaries, there are some overlapping aspects within the realm of education. Certified personal trainers are often confronted with client questions pertaining to nutrition and dietary planning for weight loss or weight gain. The challenging dynamic behind appropriate professional practice is supplying quality information that complies with the laws of states that regulate nutrition professions (46 States). Personal trainers may provide nutritional education based on established nutrient guidelines to aid their clients in their goal attainment, while still staying within the personal trainer’s scope of practice. It should be noted that some organizations offer “certifications” in nutrition which are not valid qualifications for practice in regulated states and potentially empower unknowing professionals to engage in practices that place them at risk for liability and potential illegal activity. Providing diets and nutritional counseling in license-required states without appropriate credentials is illegal. Below are the working definitions according to the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).

  • Licensing – statutes include an explicitly defined scope of practice, and performance of the profession is illegal without first obtaining a license from the state.
  • Statutory certification — limits use of particular titles to persons meeting predetermined requirements, while persons not certified can still practice the occupation or profession.
  • Registration — is the least restrictive form of state regulation. As with certification, unregistered persons are permitted to practice the profession. Typically, exams are not given and enforcement of the registration requirement is minimal.

Even with legal boundaries established, certified personal trainers can certainly identify foods that are “good sources” of particular nutrients and help identify key nutrients that warrant dietary attention such as calcium and iron, for instance. Suggesting swapping iceberg lettuce for spinach in a salad and adding tomatoes for better iron absorption is different than prescribing a diet or advising what specifically to eat.

Another example of guideline dissemination that can be demonstrated within personal trainer practices is educating clients about things to look for in a healthy diet like fiber. Because fiber is a non-starch polysaccharide that is resistant to digestive breakdown it presents advantages as a constituent of complex carbohydrates. Fiber provides relatively low caloric value per unit volume; making it an excellent addition to calorie-controlled diets. The caloric yield generally falls around 2 kcal per gram of food product consumed, depending on the source. Sources are often categorically described as soluble or insoluble fiber.

The consumption of adequate fiber is associated with:

  • Lower risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, intestinal disorders, some cancers, and heart disease
  • Enhanced gastrointestinal function and mobilization of harmful chemicals
  • Decreased length of time carcinogenic materials remain in the intestines
  • Reduced absorption rate of carbohydrates for potential weight loss and positive blood glucose dynamics

Unfortunately, most Americans consume far less fiber (12-15 grams) than the recommended 20-35 grams per day. The average American only consumes around 40-50% of their total diet from carbohydrate sources (below the recommended 55-60% range), and a surprising number consume nearly 50% of these calories from simple rather than complex sources. Furthermore, it has been estimated that many Americans consume nearly 25% of the diet in the form of processed sugar; significantly contributing to the risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Fiber content is one way that consumers can evaluate their food choices.

A very important factor for the personal trainer to consider when educating a client on the importance of fiber is that natural food sources should be consumed rather than focusing on fiber fortification and supplements. Although a protein bar can certainly add a substantial amount of fiber per serving, a better way of increasing fiber intake would emphasize additional consumption of fruits, vegetables, and balanced whole grain products. Consuming food products that are high in fiber can result in greater satiety with lower caloric intake throughout the day. Furthermore, fiber fortification and supplements are usually not as nutrient-rich and low in calorie as natural sources, and may have unhealthy additives and simple sugars to improve taste and texture. This is not to say they cannot be utilized effectively to promote increased fiber intake, just that they should not replace fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet that fights against belly fat.