Having worked in the health and fitness industry for over 25 years, I feel well justified in expressing my opinion about the essential role sound nutrition information plays in the health and fitness industry.
A large portion of my early years in the health and fitness industry was focused on exercise, its many forms and types, its intensity, duration, frequency and all the exercise options, equipment and trends available. Nutrition always played a complimentary role, if not a dominant one. We knew (based on research) that it was 40% exercise and 60% nutrition when it came to weight management in general. Although this is not the sole focus of the fitness industry, it is justifiably, a dominant one. Being the founding director of a major national education company and pioneering personal trainer education as far back as 1995, nutrition education was always an integral part of the program. It was essential that personal trainers and other fitness/health professionals passed on sound nutrition guidelines to their clients. It was also essential that they worked in partnership with dietitians and nutritionists whose role is to prescribe eating plans, menus and diets for the general population and those with specific health, medical and dietary needs.
In the past decade, our society has become increasingly interested, if not obsessed, by food and dietary information, hungrily devouring any morsel of information claiming to improve their health, help them lose weight, clear their skin, give them youth and prolong their life. Extreme diets like Atkins in the early 2000s and the Palio diet in more recent years became trends, almost religions, creating in their followers a smugness, a feeling of elitism in treating the body as their temple and judging any alternative as grossly unhealthy and damaging.
At every turn, we have real and virtual information surrounding us, making us question what and how we are eating. People turn to television shows with celebrity chefs, celebrity spin off books, magazines, social chat rooms, YouTube, Facebook, friends and trainers for primary information on diet and nutrition. Because we have such great access to information, everyone feels like an expert, eliminating the need for professional advice. But the every-day person and celebrity has not been educated in human physiology and biochemistry. They have not spent years studying research findings to understand the value of evidence backed guidelines.
Personal trainers and fitness leaders provide a valuable opportunity to nutrition and dietetic professionals; a strong link between the consumer and their professional services. The PT and fitness professional is the liaison officer; the go-between; the link. If we can ensure that trainers are adequately educated, well enough to hold an informed discussion with clients that balances food and nutrition hype with scientific evidence, we have a stronger chance of guiding clients on a more sustainable path to better health. If these trainers and health workers are well educated to identify when, how and why to refer clients to professional assistance and be able to intelligently inform and converse with such professionals, taking a team approach, then the whole industry benefits; society and our economy also benefits.
Nutritionists and dietitians who have spent 4-5 years in higher education need not fear that PTs and fitness professionals are encroaching on their territory. They should feel confident that educating PTs in nutrition will add value to their consultancies, provide opportunity, and create a new sub-industry. Without a doubt, food for health has increasingly become an emerging industry in its own right.
It is clearly not a PT’s role to prescribe diets and specific eating plans for clients. That’s the dietitian’s domain. It is not the PT’s role to run nutrition campaigns, that’s the nutritionist’s domain. But how much better will the fitness and health program be if these segments work harmoniously and intelligently together?
Consumers, if you are striving to obtain optimum personal health and adopt healthy behaviours that are sustainable, look for PTs that have some added nutrition education and can answer your questions about what you read in the paper that morning about the latest super food. They should be able to help you weigh up a commercially-driven concept (eg someone trying to make a quick buck from selling a new diet book) with research based evidence, putting perspective on the ‘hype’. But if you need a personalized diet plan to achieve your goals, seek the advice of a sport dietitian, general dietitian or qualified nutritionist. Everyone benefits in the long run, most importantly, you. Your trusted PT should be able to link you with someone they trust themselves.
The Food Studies Australia and Food studies International Certificate courses and short courses aim to achieve this goal of providing quality education and information to health and fitness professionals to balance diet-based and nutritional hype with scientific evidence. To equip these professionals with knowledge and confidence to identify how to set clients on a better path and build networks they feel confident and equipped to relate with is our driving goal.
Food Studies Australia/International is different to current and alternative education alternatives as, traditionally, the focus has always been on nutrition theory. Our focus is on food. We go right to the end of the chain – what consumers are choosing to eat and what they are putting in their mouths. How is that impacting their physical, mental and social health? This practical knowledge is what PTs and health workers are dealing with. Who hasn’t overheard conversations in the gym between trainers and clients about a fabulous chia seed breakfast pot they enjoyed on the weekend at the local cafe or the latest sugar-free muffin recipe? If PTs have input in passing on good information and can contribute to modifying habits generally, as opposed to prescribing diets specifically, they can set their clients onto the right path to making general changes and progressing towards making specific changes with the guidance of the appropriate professional.
Food Studies Australia/International courses available include:
- Certificate in Food and Nutritional Health
- Certificate in Food and Nutrition Coaching for Health Professionals
Short Courses in:
- Food Synergy & Nutritional Optimisation;
- Superfoods – Media v Evidence;
- Nutritional Analysis of Menus;
- Understanding & Deciphering Food Labels;
- Tools and Guides to Manage Health Behaviour Change
Workshops/Webinars for everyone interested in Food:
- Nutrition and Health: Gut Health, Fermentation and Preservation;
- Raw Health – Optimising Bioavailability of Nutrients in Cooking;
- Sports Nutrition on a Plate
More information: www.healthcoachesinternational.com
©Kristin McMaster 2016, Food Studies Australia, all rights reserved.