Nutrition – What Advice Can Personal Trainers Provide?


Nutrition: Is it illegal for personal trainers to give nutritional advice and programming to their clients?

There is a lot of attention in the media recently on qualifications and nutrition, and who is allowed to say and do what. This blog will look at what a Personal Trainer can and can’t do.

Many fitness professionals step out of their scope of practice in things like nutrition. It is important as a trainer to know the law. Just because trainers and coaches cannot prescribe medical advice for nutrition doesn’t mean they can’t make a positive impact on the lifestyle choices of their clients. Knowing the difference between the two not only keeps your clients safe and happy, but you within your scope of practice and out of legal trouble as a trainer.

The Fitness Australia Scope of Practice states that:

Registered Personal Trainer, Gym Instructor and/or Group Exercise has a scope of practice that includes:

  1. Pre-exercise health screening
  2. Safety and risk assessment and management
  3. Application of first aid to clients where required
  4. Fitness assessment and analysis in accordance with knowledge and skill obtained through qualification and/or continuing education
  5. Development of safe, effective and appropriate exercise programs tailored to client or group needs
  6. Exercise delivery inclusive of demonstrating, instructing, monitoring, reviewing and modifying program content including technique, method and progression
  7. Working within professional limitations to provide basic healthy eating information and advice through the application of nationally endorsed nutritional standards and guidelines.
  8. Provision of general nationally endorsed public health information that will educate and support positive client health outcomes

The scope of practice for a Personal Trainer category also includes:

  • Use of evidence-based protocols to enhance client exercise adherence through goal setting, motivation, guidance, social support, relapse prevention and feedback
  • Referring to medical or allied health professionals for guidance. Utilising best practice referral/ feedback processes to optimise client health outcomes

The Registered Exercise Professional Scope of Practice does not include:

  1. Provision of nutritional advice outside of basic healthy eating information and nationally endorsed nutritional standards and guidelines
  2. Therapeutic treatment or independent rehabilitative exercise prescription
  3. Independent exercise prescription for high-risk clients
  4. Diagnostic tests or procedures
  5. Sports coaching
  6. Psychological Counselling

Registered Exercise Professionals agree to abide by the Fitness Australia Registered Exercise Professional Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics outlines terms for professional practice across:

  • Relationship with and responsibilities to clients
  • Professional Integrity
  • Professional Relationships and Responsibilities
  • Standards

The Professional Code of Ethics also outlines a complaint resolution, disciplinary and appeals process. 

The Registered Exercise Professional scope of practice is influenced by local regulatory frameworks and as such, registered exercise professionals must adhere to regulations including (but not limited to):

  1.  Jurisdictional OH&S legislation
  2. Civil Liability Law
  3. Privacy Law
  4. Consumer Law
  5. Anti-discrimination Law
  6. Criminal Law – this may include a national criminal history record check or working with children check
  7. Local government policy for the use of public space for exercise service delivery
  8. Other relevant setting-specific policies or regulations

Is It Illegal For Personal Trainers To Give Nutritional Advice?

There is a lot of misinformation in the fitness industry. Due to the unsupported ideas that are being spread, the population is confused. The Australian Government, therefore, developed The Australian Dietary Guidelines and The Eat for Health Program based on scientific evidence. The Eat for Health Program is for people who do not have special dietary needs. It adapts the Australian Dietary Guidelines to suit the lifestyles and food choices of Australians.

Due to the large amount of b.s. information is very important that Personal Trainers stay within their scope of helping their clients with their health. Personal Trainers require the ability to provide healthy eating information and assist clients within the industry-endorsed scope of practice. A Personal Trainer can offer general nutritional advice to their clients. Providing nutritional information or advice should highlight healthy food choices while encouraging healthy lifestyles that will minimise the risks of the development of diet-related diseases. For weight loss, the following may be suggested:

  • Choose unsaturated fat in preference to saturated fat
  • Choose less sugary foods
  • Restrict energy-dense foods (often those high in sugar)
  • Aim for a minimum of 30g of fibre per day
  • Eat a varied diet (foods that are all the colours of the rainbow)
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Reduce energy intake by 200kj per week (15-20% reduction). This equates to approximately 0.5kg of weight loss per week. (Wahlqvist 2002)

The scope of practice of a Personal Trainer does not include:

  • the provision of specific or individualised dietary analysis or advice, or information regarding:
  • specific diets
  • fad diets
  • nutritional supplementation
  • sports foods
  • ergogenic aids
  • nutrition for exercise or sports performance
  • the provision of information or advice to people with medical conditions requiring specialised dietary advice, or to frail elderly people who are at risk of malnutrition
  • the provision of dietary information or advice for infants and toddlers.

The Personal Trainer must refer clients to an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Sports Dietitian, or General Practitioner as appropriate. It is important to treat people as individuals. Therefore, providing comprehensive nutrition education to people from different backgrounds and ages requires advanced education and training. An accredited dietitian is a recognised professional with education and training to provide expert advice on dietary intake.

Nutrition: Providing information to clients

What can be provided?

How can a Personal Trainer provide information regarding healthy eating/health and fitness and support healthy attitudes to eating and weight management for their clients but not go outside the scope of practice?

  1. The client should have been health screened and fitness tested to identify risks and goals.
  2. Understand the Personal Trainer scope of practice.
  3. Evaluate whether guidance from a health professional is required to meet the client’s needs.
  4. Refer a client to an appropriate allied health professional where required
  5. Analyse current dietary habits
  6. Provide feedback on current dietary habits using the ADG and EFHEG

Evaluate whether guidance from a health professional is required to meet the client’s needs.

  1. Is there a possibility that the client has a disease or co-morbidity associated with their weight or related to diet?
  2. Is your client trying to manage medical symptoms through diet?
  3. Would the advice requested be considered medical or as disease treatment?
  4. Could your assessment or advice possibly cause a delay in treatment or a misdiagnosis that may result in serious harm to your client?
  5. Could your advice result in an unwanted interaction between foods/drugs, foods / medical condition, supplement/drugs, foods/supplements?
  6. Does the advice requested involve the interpretation of blood work or other clinical tests?
  7. Is the client asking you for individualised dietary assessment?
  8. Is the client asking you to prescribe an individualised diet, meal plans or dietary advice (versus general information like portion awareness or nutrient density)?
  9. Is your client asking for your opinion or recommendation on specific diets, fad diets, nutritional supplementation, sports foods, ergogenic aids or nutrition for exercise or sports performance?
  10.  If any of the questions can be answered with a ‘yes’, then decide what expertise is required to manage the client.

A general rule of thumb is:

If the reason for referral relates to a medical condition, refer to a General Practitioner. Otherwise, refer to an Accredited Practising Dietitian / Accredited Sports Dietitian as appropriate.

This is covered in depth in the Certificate III in Fitness and Certificate IV in Fitness. Enrol today and become a personal trainer!



If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in reading The 10,000 Rule Applied to Personal Training, or The 10 Commandments of a Personal Trainer

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