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The Scope of Nutrition


The state of Maryland has taken a tough stance on the nutrition information trainers can provide to clients. According to Julie Lincoln, the fitness director of Big Vanilla in Arnold, Md., the law states that it’s outside a personal trainer’s “scope of practice” to provide individualized meal planning, or dictate what, and when, clients should eat. Other states have similar laws, including Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and North Carolina.

Certain laws can pose challenges for health clubs, as members and clients look to personal trainers and club employees for nutritional guidance. But, if you don’t have a registered dietitian or nutritionist on staff, members may not legally have someone to rely on.

Fortunately, there are solutions that allow you to educate members on nutrition, while remaining within the confines of the law.

Photo courtesy of ACE.

Photo courtesy of ACE.


Due to Maryland’s strict nutrition information laws, Big Vanilla has turned to “Take it Off,” a meal-planning program that incorporates healthy eating, regular exercise and one-on-one coaching, to foster long-term results. About 14 clubs, in nine states, have used the franchise concept, which was developed by Casey Conrad to assist club members with nutrition guidance.

“‘Take it Off’ has been very successful and easy to manage,” explained Lincoln. “The program is 80 percent real food — fresh, whole and simple — and is about fueling for weight loss rather than deprivation. Our average member loses between 20 and 25 pounds in 12 weeks, but we have had members who had a lot to lose drop 40 pounds in the same time frame.” The other 20 percent of participants’ meals are derived from protein supplement bars.

Open to members and non-members, Big Vanilla charges $299 for the program, and earns even more if members choose both “Take it Off” and participate in personal training. According to Jill Williamson, one of Big Vanilla’s personal trainers, most program participants pair the two.

“I have only had one or two people not do personal training with ‘Take it Off,’” said Williamson, who is a fan of the program. “Bottom line, a lot of trainers are not qualified to give nutrition coaching. When I was in management in the club business, I ran into several trainers teaching people the latest ‘fad’ in nutrition — not sound information.”

Stacey Baca, another personal trainer for Big Vanilla, is also a fan of “Take it Off” due to the exposure it has given to her personal training services. “‘Take it Off’ has given me the opportunity to get in front of, and interact with, non-gym members and gym members with whom I might not have otherwise,” said Baca. “One of the top reasons people join a gym is to lose weight, whether defined by pounds or inches. ‘Take it Off’ is a great tool to help redirect members back to better eating patterns and, importantly, eating real, whole food for their three main meals of the day.”

Outside of “Take it Off,” Big Vanilla periodically invites Whole Foods Market’s culinary specialists as speakers to come to the club and provide presentations on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), which scores the nutrient density of a food on a scale from 1 to 1,000, based on nutrient content. “Whole Foods is very active with the community and looks to partner with local businesses,” said Lincoln. “If you can show them you have a symbiotic relationship to offer, then they are very cooperative.”

Photo courtesy of Jenn Graddy Photography.

Photo courtesy of Jenn Graddy Photography.


For members, your personal trainers may seem like obvious go-to individuals for nutrition advice. Therefore, having your trainers become properly certified can help ensure the information they provide is proper, and legal.

Nicole Copare is an ACE-certified personal trainer at both the Country Club of Orlando and her private personal training studio, “Train with Nicole,” also in Orlando. Understanding that nutrition advice is something that her clients would not only want, but also need, Copare became certified as an ACE Health Coach.

“ACE’S Health Coach certification allows me to coach my clients in all aspects of their life, from nutrition to eating habits and fitness,” detailed Copare. “It helps you look at the whole picture of well-being. For example, we discuss, ‘How can you make better choices when you’re going out for lunch?’” she explained. “We dive into temptations. I say, ‘Just because you’re at a party, it doesn’t mean you have to try every single thing there.’ I guide them and help them stick to their plan. I believe the Health Coach [certification], along with my ACE personal training certification, complement each other and hold me to a higher standard in the fitness industry.”

In addition to its Health Coach certification, ACE’s Fitness Nutrition Specialty Certification provides personal trainers with the expertise needed to provide practical nutrition information, while staying within their scope of practice. With ACE’s Fitness Nutrition Specialty Certification, personal trainers review web-based presentations taught by Natalie Digate Muth, a registered dietitian and ACE’s senior health strategist. In addition, they learn how to help clients put nutrition information into practical action and discover how to maximize this knowledge.

No matter what route you choose — whether it is hiring a nutritionist or registered dietitian, outsourcing a nutrition program, or getting your personal trainers certified — remaining within your scope of practice is important. “I understand the need for staying within  the scope of practice,” reiterated Baca. “It’s intended to protect the public.”

Juice Bars

According to a report from Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA), the world market for smoothies is projected to reach $9 billion by 2015. GIA attributed this partly to the rise of health-conscious individuals and on-the-go consumption convenience.

Dave Chichelo, the owner of Retro Fitness in Woodbridge, N.J., can attest to this possibility. “When we set the expectations for our juice bar, we thought we’d make a few extra dollars,” recalled Chichelo. “But right from the onset, we exceeded all expectations. Our juice bar has become a huge profit center for us.” Chichelo’s juice bar now grosses the highest revenue amongst all current Retro Fitness clubs.

According to Albert Daily, the VP of sales and marketing for the Smoothie Company, smoothies and protein shakes are ideal nutritional options for members. “With the combination of fast-absorbing whey protein and simple carbohydrates from the fruit, it’s a great way to rush the proper nutrients, minerals and amino acids to the areas that require recovery,” explained Daily. “The member can take advantage of the ‘30-minute window,’ or that brief period of time post-workout where the body is acting as a sponge and will absorb all the nutritional benefits in a recovery smoothie.”

To position your juice bar in the best light possible, Daily suggested combining your front desk and your juice bar into one area. “Clubs that utilize their front desk area as both the front desk and juice bar have seen the best results,” he said. “Not only are [clubs] not spending money on increased overhead due to the hiring of another employee to man the juice bar, but they also can take advantage of being in front of the member when they come in and leave the club. With some simple sampling of smoothies for members to try on their way out, clubs can see an increase in smoothie sales, generating great profit margins for the club, while giving the members what they want and need.”

At Chichelo’s club, members not only have the option of adding protein to their shakes, but other supplements as well, such as creatine and glutamine. “We have options that try and meet everyone’s needs,” said Chichelo.

Ultimately, Chichelo said having a juice bar has positioned his club as a “one-stop-shop” for members. “Try to give your members everything that’s of convenience,” continued Chichelo. “People these days are spread very thin, and giving them access to things, such as juice bars, where they can get a healthy meal, is ideal.”


By Rachel Zabonick

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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