Supplements and Fitness Professionals. For good or ill these two topics seem to go hand in hand. But what is their relationship? We have talked about how to make sure that you are not offering medical advice as a fitness professional, and the legal issues with offering nutritional advice as a fitness professional. There are even disclaimers and waivers relating to nutrition available for you to download. The truth is that Fitness Professionals face both philosophical and practical challenges in working out the boundaries of their professional practice. This is called “scope of practice.” To be clear, fitness professionals should discuss general nutritional principles with their client-athletes. If you are aware of your scope of practice and encourage your clients to see how nutritional and dietetics advice from a professional, you do not need to avoid discussion of nutrition entirely. Discussing nutrition in general terms is not the same, of course, as recommending specific nutritional supplements or providing a custom meal plan which is outside of practice of most fitness professionals. We need to talk about supplements and the special legal issues that arise when fitness professionals promote, recommend or sell supplements to their clients. You may mean well and genuinely want to find ways to help your client-athletes but “naturalness” does not prevent you from being legally liable if you “prescribe” something that turns out to be dangerous to your client, especially if you are not qualified to be giving nutritional advice. More than the risks of injury or damage, it remains that it is illegal in many US jurisdictions to offer dietetics or nutritional advice without a license. In addition, many of the professional associations also have detailed codes of ethics that clearly detail the scope of practice for a fitness professional and specifically indicate that designing or implementing a specific diet or recommending specifically nutritional supplement for your clients as being outside the scope of practice. More than 40 US state jurisdictions require nutrition or dietetics professionals to be licensed, and offer detailed guidance for the kinds of activities and advice that require dietetics and nutritionist licensing. The Commission on Dietetics Registration are the people to ask for more information about registration as a dietician. Under US law, to be sold as “dietary supplements” products must include at least one “vitamin, mineral, amino acid, enzyme, or other substance used by the body.” This is very broad definition. The quality of marketing and the sales of a supplement may or may not relate to the quality and effectiveness of the product. One risk of taking supplements is that over the last few years quite a few have been found to contain additional substances not listed on the label, including banned substances (from the steroid family), and other dangerous ingredients that have been responsible for illness or injury to those athletes who have taken them. The billion-dollar supplement industry in the US is largely unregulated. The FDA has indicated that it has found dozens of illegal products being openly marketed and sold. Due diligence may not be enough if the supplement turns out to be adulterated. So there’s a couple of legal issues here. The first is the duty of care you may have to your client – by recommending they take a specific supplement (if outside your scope of practice) and that supplement turns out to cause illness or injury you may be liable if they have relied on that advice. The second is that there are not currently guidelines from the USDA or regulations from the FDA about supplementation, which means your scope of practice as a fitness professional is limited to general information about positives and negatives of supplementation; client-athletes who want further information or recommendations about supplementation should be referred to their doctor or a specialist sports nutritionist. The third is that if you are receiving compensation, including commissions, then you need to be aware of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requirements to disclose that financial relationship to your clients. Some of the questions your clients might ask you about supplementation include:
- Should I use supplements before or after a workout?
- Does creatine or a pre-workout really help do XX (whatever it claims to do)?
- Should I take supplement B or supplement C?
- Is there a supplement that jumpstart my metabolism?
- What should I be taking after a training session?