PT on the Net Research

Nutrition Programs


In addition to regular exercise, the amount, type and timing of a client’s food intake can absolutely make or break his or her progress. Regardless of whether your clients want to lose weight, rehabilitate an injury, build muscle, improve their health or speed up sport performance adaptation, they’d better be paying attention to a few critical nutrition concepts or else they’ll miss the boat. And you’ll both suffer from poor results.

So what are your clients doing for nutrition? And what are you doing to help them? If your answer is, “I give them a little advice or direction when I can,” I can assure you they’re not learning what they need to learn to optimize their results.

Simply put, if your expertise isn’t in the nutrition realm, you’re less likely to incorporate real nutrition coaching into your practice. Sure, you may give your clients a little advice about intake of protein, water and/or fruits and vegetables, but this advice is often coming between sets or appointments. Both you and I know that the best teaching does not occur when a client is gasping for breath between sets of squats. Lifestyle change can't be taught in sound bites.

So, what can you do? You know your clients need the nutrition advice, and yet you aren’t being paid to give it. Sure, you could get some sort of referral program or joint venture going, but let’s get real. Most of your clients only have a limited budget for fitness-related expenses. Many of them simply don’t have the financial resources to hire a team of fitness practitioners. And you’d sure hate to refer someone out, only to lose that client.

It’s a tough dilemma to be in – do you refer them out and risk losing them, or do you take care of them in house and risk doing an inadequate job? This article addresses the pros and cons of referring clients out versus taking care of them yourself.

Outside Programs

You have always had the option of sending your clients to a dietitian. But again, what if the client can’t afford both you and the dietitian? What if the dietitian isn’t very good? And why aren’t you being compensated for the referral?

These are all important questions you need to think through. And with joint ventures, many of these questions can be addressed in a satisfactory way.

For starters, joint ventures are a great way to partner with someone of a complimentary expertise without being full-out business partners. In essence, you can benefit from each other’s successes without risking that success if your partner’s business fails.

One way to make joint ventures work in this industry is to strike a deal in which you’re compensated for clients you refer out. This compensation could be a flat rate or a percentage of the rate they charge. And of course, part of the deal could also include some sort of reciprocity – for each client they refer to you, they get a flat fee or a percentage. With this arrangement, you both have incentive to help each other out, and even if a client does leave you to focus on the nutrition side of things, you’re still getting a percentage of the profit.

Of course, often the hardest part with this type of arrangement isn’t the financial part, it’s finding someone in your local area you trust enough to see your clients and patients. Some dietitians get results and others don’t. So if you’re not confident in your local experts and want to choose the joint venture option, you’ll have to locate a distance-based partner to work with on referrals. 

Now, the big advantage joint venture systems offer is that you get to do what you do best, and your partner gets to do what he or she does best. Further, both parties get to make some money through their referrals. Both of these are great advantages. Yet, with the joint venture system, there are also some disadvantages. These include:

  1. You have no control over what your joint venture partner is doing at any point in time, neither in their client interactions or in the financial aspect of the arrangement. You just have to trust that they’re doing a great job and that you’re being compensated appropriately for your referrals.
  2. You’re sending the "nutritional consultation” money elsewhere. Why keep only a small percentage of this profit when you can create an in-house revenue stream?
  3. Thirdly, you’re giving up a great opportunity to diversify your own expertise. Unless you absolutely enjoy training clients for 30 to 60 hours a week and wouldn’t want to do anything else, why not break up the monotony of long days of counting sets and reps with some supplemental lifestyle and nutrition consulting, especially when you can engineer a nutrition program that earns you an even higher hourly wage?

To avoid some of the disadvantages associated with either having no nutrition program or having to do a joint venture program, let’s discuss a few ways of creating your own in-house nutrition program that will allow you to continue to train clients as well as provide great nutrition advice.

Your Nutrition System

If you want to provide the best nutrition advice in such a way that it actually becomes your own new profit center and integrates nicely with what you’re already doing as a trainer, you can’t become a one-off expert guiding every new client through the basics of good nutrition. No, you’ll have to start out with a system that takes care of the basics for you. Now, you can either create that system yourself, or you can license one that’s already been created for you. Regardless of which you choose, to truly affect client/patient change while also creating a saleable service offering and a program you can personally manage, you need to address the following things:

  1. Client/Patient Re-Education - All of your clients/patients are already educated about nutrition. But often times, that education is the wrong kind. Simply put, the North American nutrition education is a poor one. So you need a re-education program for your clients. How are you going to re-educate them? Which texts will they read? What videos will they watch? What assignments will you give them? If you hope to have a chance in influencing client behavior outside of the few hours they spend with you per week, you’d better have a re-education program. Again, good nutrition isn’t taught in sound bites between sets.
  2. Regular Social Support - Despite what most fitness professionals think of programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, the fact remains that these programs are statistically the most effective ones out there. Why? Well, these programs are rich in social support. Clients get to meet with groups of other individuals with similar goals, and during these meetings, they get to discuss their progress, share strategies for success and form bonds that are based on the encouragement of future successes. Just think about it: many of your clients have family and work environments that seem to conspire to drag them down into the depths of failure. What they need instead is a social circle designed for support and encouragement. So how can you create this for them?
  3. New Kitchen, Cooking and Preparation Strategies - Good nutrition isn’t about having a diet plan. It’s about creating the right environment for success. And that starts in your clients’ kitchens. Clients need to learn to stock their cupboards and refrigerators with the right foods. Then they need to learn how to prepare these foods so they taste great. Finally, they need to know how to prepare food in advance for when they’re on the go. Without the right environment for success, no prescribed diet can succeed. How can you help pave the way for client success?
  4. Results Tracking and Accountability - Your clients will also need a regular program of results tracking and progress check ups. If there’s no one to check in with every two weeks, their discipline and commitment may waiver. However, at least initially, if you’re there to track results and provide accountability, your clients will have a higher success rate. Make sure you’re doing this by regularly checking body measures as well as nutritional adherence.
  5. Personalized Nutrition Plan - Notice the fact that I saved this part for last. Personalized nutrition plans aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on until you’ve paved the way for them to succeed with the elements above. Your clients need a re-education about food amount, type and timing. They need a social support circle. They need to create the right environment for success, and they need a regular program of accountability. Only when they have these things should you consider discussing a customized plan.

Turning Your System into a Profit Center

Now that we’ve discussed the most important elements of a good program, it’s time to turn this very effective system into a profit center. Here are some ideas for doing so:

  1. Begin with a client re-education system. Pool together all the necessary resources (i.e., books, CDs, DVDS, manuals, etc) and offer them to your clients at a price that earns you revenue. At the end of this article will be some examples of client re-education ideas.
  2. Create bi-monthly nutrition meetings. Every two weeks or so, gather together small groups of clients for results tracking, troubleshooting and even some lecture/course content. Through these meetings, you’re providing clients with social support, continuing education and accountability. If you have your own facility, have the meetings there. If not, get together at your house or one of the client’s homes. Have one member of the group bring healthy snacks every two weeks. Create an atmosphere of support and learning – and this too is something for which you can charge.
  3. Support changes in your clients’ environments. In order to help change your clients’ environments, you can either take your group grocery shopping and perform a kitchen makeover for them, or you can check out some of the programs available that already do this. For example, there is a great program by Toronto-based nutrition coach, Amanda Graydon, MA, BSM, BEd. Amanda’s online program walks people through a kitchen makeover and a full grocery shopping experience and provides optimal food preparation strategies. Again, this is something you should charge for, or in the case of the Healthy Kitchens Makeover program, you can license and earn a profit on this.

Personalized Nutrition Plans

The best part about the system so far is that your clients, through their re-education, should be able to tinker with building their own nutrition programs. That’s what I teach my own clients to do. And in support of this, throughout the course of your bi-monthly meetings, you can make suggestions for change and troubleshooting.

Yet if your clients want specific nutritional prescription, especially for medical conditions, this is where I recommend you contact someone with more nutrition expertise.

According to Doug Kalman, MS, RD, Executive Vice President and Treasurer of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, in most states it’s perfectly legal to make nutrition recommendations for otherwise healthy individuals, regardless of whether you’re a Registered Dietitian or not. It’s only when you try to prescribe nutrition for disease that you may be breaching your particular state’s nutrition regulations.

In the end, creating a nutrition system that complements your program is fairly easy to do if you have the right recipe for success. Further, as indicated above, it’s completely legal as long as you’re making recommendations for healthy individuals (treating disease is something else entirely and will require collaboration with a nutrition professional).

In my experience, fitness professionals who incorporate both training and nutrition into their practices report increased revenues, better client results and more diversity in their client services. So if you’re a fitness professional looking to take his or her business to the next level, consider these strategies for incorporating nutrition into your practice.

Additional Information

  1. The Precision Nutrition Network Program. www.precisionnutrition.com/network.html
  2. Kitchen Makeovers. www.healthykitchensmakeover.com
  3. International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN); www.sportsnutritionsociety.org