It can be confusing on where the lines start and stop on diet and exercise recommendations for the roles of a personal trainer and nutritionist. The boundaries aren’t as clearly defined as they once were. This is for two reasons. The first is that the nutrition advice giving role has splintered into two roles- a dietitian and a nutrition coach. The second reason is that most personal trainers have a majority of their clients looking for weight loss. And, exercise alone can’t achieve weight loss. Therefore, fitness professionals have realized the importance of nutrition and started offering nutrition coaching as part of their services. As wellness includes both diet and exercise, it’s important to know:

  1. The services these nutrition and fitness professionals provide
  2. Certification and education needed to help others with exercise and nutrition

Client Services In Fitness And Nutrition

To start, we’ll take a look at the different roles and how they offer different services in fitness and nutrition. 

  • Personal Fitness Trainer: Traditionally, a trainer is the person a client meets with on some, or all, of the days they go to the gym. The primary role for a trainer is to design results-oriented fitness programs, guide clients through a workout with great exercise technique, and provide general advice relating to fitness and sometimes nutrition. However, a personal training certification alone only qualifies this role to give the same nutrition recommendations as government guidelines.
  • Dietitian: This nutrition specialist has at least a four-year degree and is often credentialed as a registered dietitian. They have such specificity in the area of nutrition that they work with clients to prescribe a diet for health or medical purposes. For example, a morbidly obese client or client with type 2 diabetes might seek out the medical services of a dietitian for an individualized meal plan to lessen the negative impacts of their medical condition.
  • Nutrition Coach: These individuals provide guidance around the activities related to healthy nutrition. It includes adhering to general nutrition guidelines, with a strong emphasis on the behaviors and thought patterns around diet. For example, a nutrition coach can recommend a client eat smaller meals throughout the day, weigh and log their foods, and make food choices that will help them have better energy levels and fewer cravings throughout the day. Their guidance is not medical, but instead functional nutrition advice and behavioral coaching without crossing a boundary into mental health or nutrition professional counseling. 
  • Fitness Coach: This term is used fluidly in the wellness community. It’s expected it will be more clearly defined with a specific certification in the future. However, most fitness coaches not only are a certified personal trainer. Additionally, they provide nutrition coaching services. Therefore, a client who meets with a fitness coach (sometimes also called a wellness coach or health coach) will receive both physical activity and nutrition recommendations. Further, with the advances and acceptances of technology and virtual relationship services, many online personal trainer jobs are also providing this type of service. The goal is to create habits for a healthy lifestyle, achieve fitness goals, and establish overall wellness.

Certification And Education For Diet And Exercise Professions

A dietitian will need to have at least a bachelor degree in nutrition and oftentimes pass licensing requirements to be a registered dietitian. Because the focus in this role is so specific to nutrient quality and medical health impact, their services rarely include any physical activity recommendations. Nutritionists and nutrition coaches, on the other hand, are different. Their education includes a specialization or certification in nutrition (a three to six month process). This allows them to provide healthy eating recommendations, support weight loss goals, and behavioral nutrition coaching. Nutrition coaches tend to also be interested in fitness as a lifestyle as well. Therefore, it’s common for them to seek an exercise science degree as well. But it’s not a requirement.

A traditional personal trainer needs, at minimum, a personal training certification. It’s common for a trainer to also get advanced specializations in corrective exercise, youth fitness, and senior fitness. Some personal trainers also have an exercise science degree. A degree in exercise science is an expansive education that provides more than just the science behind strength training. Instead, exercise science graduates also learn about exercise physiology, functional and sports nutrition, business management, and exercise psychology to name a few topics.

Lastly, the role of a fitness coach has different requirements and definitions to date. However, because most agree it’s an expansive role that addresses exercise, daily physical activity, nutrition habits, psychology and motivation principles, sleep and overall wellness. Again, these roles are sometimes called a health coach, wellness coach, or lifestyle coach. While there is no set requirement for a fitness coach, an exercise science degree is a perfect preparation for individuals looking to work with clients beyond the walls of the gym.

The roles of a personal trainer and functional nutritionist or nutrition coach go hand in hand. Therefore, most fitness professionals achieve both certifications and pursue a degree program to support this advancement. The degree programs at Lionel not only offer students a variety of degrees, students also earn personal training and nutrition certifications along the way. This allows students to start working and get jobs as a fitness professional before they even graduate! It’s one of the many reasons why so many people choose Lionel University to study exercise science.

To learn more about whether Lionel is a good fit for your exercise science degree, contact us today!