4 Ways To Deliver Nutritional Advice without Prescribing Meal Plans

As certified personal trainers, we are taught that giving specific nutritional advice or prescribing meal plans to clients is outside of our scope of practice. In fact, the ACE Personal Trainer Manual states that implementing a certain diet or recommending nutritional supplements for a client is a violation of the ACE Code of Ethics. Yikes.


For a long time, I felt that messing with calorie counting, supplementation, and diet recommendations were muddy waters best left to a registered dietitian or nutritionist.


Throwing around phrases like “scope of practice” and “violating ethical codes” is a sure-fire way to scare a new (or any) trainer away from even talking about diet and nutrition!


As we know though, diet is a crucial part to any client’s success – possibly the most important part!



Diet is a crucial part to any client's success -> 4 Ways To Deliver Nutritional Advice w/out Meal Plans Click To Tweet


So how can we possibly dance around the topic?


Well, we can’t. Not anymore.


As trainers and fitness professionals, it is our job to deliver results. And when your client comes to you and can’t understand why she is not losing weight, well, we have to look at her diet. End of story.


So, yes, although fitness professionals cannot tell clients what to eat, what not to eat, or create meal plans, we still need to know what our clients are eating, educate them on nutritional topics, and keep them accountable.


4 Ways To Deliver Nutritional Advice without Prescribing Meal Plans


1. Ask the Right Questions

When I first started my career in fitness, I cannot tell you how many times I would ask clients how their diet was and they would respond “oh pretty good” or “not too bad actually.”


I would think, “hmmm, ok, well you just said you wanted to lose 30 pounds and you are clearly out of shape, but ok, I am not going to argue with you!”


Then a few weeks go by and they don’t lose a pound, or possibly gain some pounds, and they are confused and defeated. They seriously think their diet is “not too bad” because they don’t know any better and now that they are working out, they surely should be losing weight.


Ask the right questions up front… because this little scenario will happen.


Below are 5 open-ended questions that will help you better understand your clients’ eating habits. You may not even use some of these answers right now, but they are good to keep in your back pocket.


Question 1: Are you on any type of diet or nutrition plan?

This gives insight into their eating habits and preferences. It also opens the door to learn about any weird or crazy diets they have tried in the past, what may or may not have worked for them, and what they THINK is best for them.

Also, if they are strong followers of extremely low carb or calorie diets, then you may need to factor that into your training intensity and timing.


Question 2: How much are you eating a day?

If someone already counts their calories, this is a good question to ask. If not, you may not want to get into calorie counting right away, as it can be overwhelming and sometimes not really necessary if someone just starts making healthier choices.

This question will give you an idea of how many calories a day someone is eating and if they are over-consuming and by how much.


Question 3: What do you eat regularly?

People tend to be creatures of habit. So have them give you a list of foods they regularly eat and discuss which items have nutritional value and which ones could be replaced with healthier options.

If they are regularly eating any higher calorie foods, then maybe these can be replaced with lower calorie alternatives.


Question 4: When are you eating?

Meal timing can impact hunger, energy levels, and performance.


Question 5: How are your hunger and energy levels?

If they are hungry all the time and/or have poor energy, then perhaps they are not eating enough.


2.Keep a Food Journal

Have your client write down everything she eats and at what times for 2-3 days.


Then go over it with her and ask questions about what is written down (put the client in the driver seat).

  • What healthy foods can you eat more often?
  • What non-nutritional foods are you OK with cutting out?
  • Which food choices could be made healthier?


Encourage your client to make some healthy food swaps.


For example…

  • Avocado for Mayo (sub out mayo the next time you make a sandwich)
  • Cauliflower for Mashed Potatoes (with a little milk and a tad of butter and salt, you won’t even miss the potatoes)
  • Spaghetti Squash or Spiralized Zucchini for Pasta (add a little sauce and/or salt & pepper – it is surprisingly delicious!)
  • Baked Sweet Potato Fries for French Fries (add tons of nutritional value to your fries with this simple swap)
  • Coconut Water for Fruit Juice (skip the sugar in juices and load up on potassium and electrolytes with natural coconut water)


I like this approach because you don’t even have to get into calorie counting. Keep it simple and encourage your client to stick to general nutritional guidelines by including carbs, protein, and fat in every meal.


You can have your client record her diet every few weeks and track the changes, improvements, and setbacks.


Knowledge is power. And you have no power to change anything if you do not know.


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3. Keep clients accountable with 2 weekly questions.

Whether you ask these questions is in an email, in person, or in a group setting like a Facebook accountability program, these simple questions force your clients to reflect on their diets on a weekly basis.


Not only that, but if they know you will be asking these questions every week, let’s say every Friday morning, they will strive to eat better so that they have an acceptable answer for you!


  1. What have you done this week to bring you CLOSER to your goal?
  2. What is one thing you did this week that brought you FURTHER from your goal?


I recently listened to a webinar with Alicia Streger where her and her guest talked about the importance of nutrition and how to keep clients accountable.


These simple questions were shared as a way to keep participants in a group program accountable. And of course I loved this idea and had to share it with you all because it is so freakin’ simple!


Note: In the webinar, there was a third question offered that would be used in a group program – Who is someone you see doing it RIGHT? This third question helps members to feel supported and encouraged within the group. They cheer each other on and strive to do well.


4. Offer weekly nutritional challenges

This is a fun and easy approach to encourage your client to eat better.


Some examples of weekly nutritional challenges could be:

  • In honor of fall, make a meal using squash or pumpkin this week (you could provide a link to a roundup of healthy fall recipes).
  • Try a healthy crock pot (or vegan or gluten-free or whatever) recipe this week and let me know how your family liked it.
  • Cut out sugar and/or white starches this week. Let me know if it got easier to live without them by the end of the week.


4 ways personal trainers can deliver nutrtional advice without prescribing meal plans


Let’s Chat

Do you have any tips or tactics to deliver nutritional advice to clients?




Photo Cred: Ivory Mix