Meal Plans by Personal Trainers vs. Nutritionists: Which is Better?


The last tumultuous years have seen an increasing number of us turning to a fitter and healthier lifestyle.

RunRepeat’s research found that people who only exercised casually increased their exercise levels by 88% during lockdown – and many of us who caught the fitness bug during the coronavirus pandemic may be looking to kick things into high gear now that gyms are open.

Having a personal trainer, although expensive, can be essential in helping you start a new regimen, especially if you’re looking to up the ante. The number of physiotherapists in the UK has increased by 40% over the last decade, with 12.5% ​​of gym goers receiving additional coaching from fitness gurus.

But while personal trainers can be a godsend when it comes to honing your technique, making your workouts more effective, and maximizing your goals, what they may not be qualified to do is assign strict meal plans to their customers.

It’s easy to assume that fitness professionals will know exactly what we should be eating and how much exercise we should be doing. However, Eleanor Heaton-Armstrong, a personal trainer and qualified nutritionist, explains that fitness and food don’t necessarily go together.

“The mandatory information taught to entry-level physiotherapists doesn’t really provide the depth of information required for anything other than the basics,” she explains. It might include things like how to break down macros and calories, but nothing about what a full day’s worth of food should look like.

“While a PT may have a deep, granular knowledge of food and how it works, many don’t have a medical background, and without knowing more about a client’s internal health, you may end up prescribing a diet devoid of certain macro or micro vitamins,” adds Heaton-Armstrong. “As a general rule, a physical therapist should not tell clients that they ‘must’ eat or cut out foods because of their health condition.

She also says that personal training tends to be so focused on results and aesthetics, rather than nutritional value. “As many physical therapists like to focus on weight loss, there’s always a risk that clients end up with an unhealthy calorie deficit that could lead to long-term damage,” she says.

The problem with unqualified nutritional advice

Sports dietitian Renee McGregor adds that the widespread availability of nutritional “advice” online is concerning. Plus, the spread of fads like clean eating means people are turning to those who aren’t qualified for advice on plans that just don’t work.

“The difficulty with nutrition is that everyone feels like an expert and yet it’s a pretty complex science with a lot of other things to consider,” she says. “It’s not as simple as energy in versus energy out or even macro ratio. Nutrition for training is about understanding how all the different biological processes within the body interact and how the composition, timing and amount of nutrition fit into this network.

“When we simplify nutrition to just energy moving in and out, we don’t appreciate that the human body is wired to prefer to be in a positive energy balance, so if energy availability is too low , the body will adopt compensatory behaviors and the individual risks suffering negative consequences for his health.

A PT showing a client a meal plan
Physiotherapists often prescribe meal plans

Having poor nutritional intake can do more than just screw up your fitness regimen — fatigue, poor performance, and even obsessive behaviors could result.

“Poor nutrition can lead to low energy availability and then relative energy deficiency in sport,” says McGregor. “I think it’s also important for a physical therapist to work with their clients to achieve realistic body aesthetics rather than ‘ideals’.”

Heaton-Armstrong adds, “Overwatching your diet and trying to be too ‘healthy’ can very easily turn your health care mind off your back and become an exercise in obsession and even an eating disorder.

“My advice to clients is always the same; listen to experts, not influencers, and eat what makes you happy. The “clean eating” movement was a dangerous fad responsible for the sharp rise in orthorexia and anyone who knows about food will tell you that there is no such thing as “clean” food.

What to ask your physiotherapist about food

There is no legislation to prevent physiotherapists from giving you advice if you ask (and even if you don’t). But that’s ethically dubious, as the Registry of Exercise Professionals states that Level 3 personal trainers should not give prescriptive nutrition advice or develop bespoke nutrition plans tailored to each client.

“Physiotherapists should only provide general advice on healthy eating, rather than giving specific, prescriptive advice. If PTs begin giving nutritional counseling to relieve actual or suspected medical conditions, then they are operating outside their professional boundaries and may find themselves in trouble if issues with clients arise,” the report states. Additionally, there is a risk of civil litigation if they are suspected of overstepping their professional boundaries.

“It’s good to ask a PT about things like digestion, energy going in and out, what foods are nutrient-dense, and what’s good to avoid or eat more of if you’re trying to lose weight. or bulk up,” Heaton-Armstrong says.

“There is an important nuance between generic questions and questions that only a healthcare professional can answer. For example, a physical therapist might provide insight into questions such as “What can I eat that is high in vitamin D?”. However, a question to ask a qualified dietitian would be, ‘Will eating x-amount of vitamin D help me with my current illness?’

McGregor agrees that personal trainers are qualified to offer guidance, as opposed to unshakeable rules. “I think it’s totally okay for a physical therapist to give ideas and examples of meals/snacks that might be helpful,” she explains. “For example, if a client admits they have trouble eating breakfast before a workout, this would be a good place for a physiotherapist to highlight the importance of refueling and provide some simple ideas. , practical and easy to digest.”

For those of you looking to match your food intake to your new training regimen, it is essential that you consult professionals who can give you proper advice and plans so that you can properly fuel your body. .

“Always work with a sports dietitian or sports nutritionist. Check that they are registered with the APN and have specifically made the correct qualifications,” says McGregor. And Heaton-Armstrong adds that you should do your own research to find out who you want to ask for advice.

“As with most science, different experts believe different theories, so the broader your research, the better equipped you will be. Just don’t make drastic changes without consulting a medical professional and always check your sources,” says- And remember, you’ll never have to put up with a coach giving unsolicited advice.


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