Q: Should You Listen To Your PT’s Diet Advice?

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Diet advice Instructor Giving Class - Q: Should You Listen To Your PT's Nutritional Trainer Tips? - Women's Health UK

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Your personal trainer campaigns for quinoa like the grain is running for Prime Minister, Instafit celebrities fill your feed with winning macro meal-prep shots and it seems like your spin class instructor must earn commission from the amount of green juice she peddles.

Yes, the union between food and fitness seems stronger than ever, and their marriage (unlike Brangelina’s) shows no signs of separation. Boutique studios are fully on board; many boast on-site healthy food offerings so shaky-legged patrons can recover with protein shakes and overnight oats.

Even star trainers like Joe ‘The Body Coach’ Wicks and Kayla Itsines are getting in on the action with meal plans and best-selling recipe books. But should we be more discerning about the diet advice we listen too?

CAN YOU OUT TRAIN A BAD DIET?

It goes without saying that PTs will share food and diet advice in some context, purely because you’re not going to see results without a healthy diet. All that talk about abs being made in the kitchen may sound twee, but the diet advice is true; you can’t out-train a bad diet.

So it figures that if a PT is going to be gauged on sculpting you a leaner, fitter body, they’re not going to leave you to undo their bespoke fitness regime with a penchant for a late-night cheese spree.

‘Trainers know they can’t yield noticeable or long-term results without addressing a client’s diet as well as fitness levels – the two are intrinsically linked,’ says Sarah O’Neill, PT and registered
nutritionist. So if this one-stop-shop approach is the best means by which to boost your fitness levels and strip fat, you’re set, right?

Diet help

According to sports dietitian Rick Miller, it lies in the assumption that simply because a PT knows their stuff when it comes to fitness, they’re sufficiently clued up on food, too. ‘Yes, most PTs will have a basic overview of nutrition and have diet advice on how it can affect your fitness, but without a nutritional qualification, they lack enough knowledge about health issues that can alter how the body responds to exercise,’ he says.

‘For example, while chocolate milk might be a beneficial post-workout refuel snack for those with healthy glucose levels, someone with diabetes (or even pre-diabetes) may be better advised to choose a protein option with less sugar, or go without entirely.’

Trainer tips woman working out, diet advice

DIET ADVICE: A ONE SIZE FITS ALL APPROACH?

There’s also the risk that trainers may apply their low-level nutrition diet advice in a very ‘cut and paste’ approach.

‘Diet advice that tells every client to cut out refined carbs for weight loss, without considering if this could leave someone with notably low levels of B vitamins, is not generally healthy advice,’ says Miller. ‘The “it worked for me, it’ll work for you” way of thinking is equally damaging; we’re all physically different with singular food preferences, intolerances and medical concerns.’

Perhaps one of the biggest issues is that trainers are taught to focus specifically on a person’s fitness goals; an obvious point to make, but it can mean they don’t necessarily take a holistic approach to food.

‘Many PTs focus their diet advice on what a client should eat or drink before or just after a workout, with a tendency to simplify sports nutrition down to protein shakes, protein bars and recovery protein powders,’ says Miller. ‘But fuelling your body to recover after exercise is as much about what you choose to eat over an entire day as it is packing a protein hit immediately after finishing your last set at the weights bench.’

This absence of a bespoke approach is exactly why O’Neill decided to train as a nutritionist on top of her PT qualifications. ‘Clients had questions about diet and I didn’t feel confident giving diet advice based solely on the basic nutrition information I’d learned during my PT diploma, of which nutrition probably made up only 10%,’ she says.

Now she has completed a degree in nutrition, which covered how food affects energy at a molecular level. ‘It’s now easier to find combinations of food to fully support a client’s body and training aims, and to dismiss false diet advice that are flying around,’ says O’Neill.

Trainer tips girls lacing up running-shoes, diet advice

HOW TO DISTINGUISH GOOD DIET ADVICE FROM THE BAD

But no matter how genuine the PT qualification, most courses simply don’t deliver the level of training needed to offer tailored nutritional diet advice.

The popular 12-week part-time PT diploma, offered by organisations such as YMCA, covers the basics (the functions of the digestive system, health risks associated with cutting out any one food group), but notably suggests students avoid recommending fad diets.

Instead, they’re advised to refer clients to a nutritionist if they have specific requirements or existing health issues that may be affected by diet or exercise. An undergrad degree in sports science does fare better with full, term-long modules dedicated to how nutrition can fuel the body to achieve different levels of fitness. Sports dietitians are even more specialised.

Obviously, fitness professionals who seek out formal training to become a registered nutritionist or dietitian, such as O’Neill, are qualified to deliver dietary plans and diet advice. These are the people to seek out if you want to supplement your regime with food plans to lower your blood pressure, follow a meal plan for marathon training, or are curious about foods that can help you cope with a chronic disease.

Then there’s the band of PTs that, despite holding no professional qualifications in nutrition, are dedicated to reading around the subject, analysing new research and trialing new recommendations. In short, they may be dispensing sound advice, but it’s up to you to distill it.

SO WHAT’S THE BEST DIET ADVICE TO FOLLOW?

A crack team made up of the right experts, advises Miguel Toribio-Mateas, chair of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy.

‘We recommend individuals looking to overhaul their health combine their PT with a nutritionist to get the fullest and most bespoke care package possible.’

So, take advice with a pinch of salt, but pay attention when the qualifications back up the diet advice.

Still not so sure? Read A Nutritionist Highlights UnHealthy Diet Advice Given By PTs or check out the Best Protein Powders For Women.

Fancy working out like a WH cover star for a day? Go BTS with Michelle Keegan here:

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