How do you feel about selling supplements to your clients?
As a trainer, I have often been approached by companies who want me to sell their supplements to my clients. As I do not have any degree in nutrition, I always declined. And even if I had a degree, I feel that selling one brand of supplements would constitute a conflict of interest. What are your thought on that subject?
You may not have a nutrition degree, but it seems that you have a pretty sensible understanding of the realities of healthy eating.
I believe strongly if we as personal trainers/fitness professionals are going to raise the professional standard in our industry, we must do a better job of abiding by the code of ethics of the organization we are certified by. This normal behavior within licensed professions.
The American Council on Exercise is very clear regarding their position on nutritional supplements. They state:
"It is the position of the American Council on Exercise (ACE that it is outside the defined scope of practice of a fitness professional to recommend, prescribe, sell or supply nutritional supplments to clients. Recommending supplements without possessing the requisite qualifications e.g. R.D.) can place the client's health at risk and possibly expose the fitness professional to disciplinary action and litigation. If a client want to take supplements, a fitness professional should work in conjunction with a qualified registered dietitian or medical doctor to provide safe and effective nutritional education and recommendations."
Holding an AFAA Personal Training Certification, AFAA has a Supplement Policy which should be read.
I work in a facility that recently brought on board a supplement line which I do not actively participate in the selling of those products.
With thousands of supplements available, some clients will ask about a product they are currently taking or think about taking.
I simply quiz them on why they think they need supplementation and make sure they thoroughly read all the ingredients and let them decide for themselves.
Updated the link in my previous post and posted the policy from AFAA.
Aerobics and FitnessAssociation ofAmerica
Policy Statement on the Sale, Provision, or Recommendation of Nutritional
Supplements by AFAA Certified Fitness Professionals to Clients
Copyright © 1999, 2006, 2007, 2009 by AFAA, Sherman Oaks, California
As part of its mission, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) is committed to assisting
AFAA certified fitness professionals in their provision of exceptional fitness-related services to clients. To
assist in this process, AFAA gathers and publishes information on a wide variety of topics to inform such
professionals and help them to provide the best possible services to their clients.
In 1999, AFAA originally developed this Policy Statement regarding the recommendation, provision, and/or
sale of nutritional supplements to consumers. In 2006, 2007 and 2009, AFAA determined to review and update
the statement. As with its first work on this subject, this revised Policy Statement is intended to assist
professionals in determining how they might, in the exercise of independent professional judgment, provide
relevant services or products to their clients. However, this statement is not intended to limit the
recommendation or sale of nutritional supplement products by knowledgeable entities which use computerized
programs or algorithms to recommend the use of nutritional products to individual clients, nor to limit the
provision of relevant service by those who are qualified by reason of education, training, licensure or other
form of regulation to provide nutritional supplement advice or dietary advice. By reason of the
development and publication of this Policy Statement, neither the authors nor AFAA shall be deemed to
be engaged in the practice of any form of health care or law; nor do they assume any duty toward clients of
fitness professionals or fitness professionals themselves who consider the materials within this Policy
Statement for adaptation to their professional practices. Fitness professionals considering these issues
should consult with their individual medical and legal advisors for guidance.
As a starting point, fitness professionals must acknowledge that some manufacturers of nutritional
supplements as well as others often encourage health and fitness facilities and fitness professionals to sell a
wide range of nutritional products to their employees and customers. Many facilities and professionals have
undertaken to do so for a variety of reasons. However, AFAA believes that the recommendation, sale, or
provision of such products must be based upon a number of factors.
The sale of nutritional supplements in the United States involves literally thousands of products sold to
most adult Americans through a variety of retail and service establishments as well as over the Internet.
The range of nutritional supplement products is extremely diverse. As reported by the United States
Government Accountability Office (US GAO), the greatest growth in supplement sales in the United States
was in weight loss products. As of 2007, according to the NUTRITIONAL BUSINESS JOURNAL, the
industry has been reported to be nearly $24 billion in sales in the United States and perhaps as large as
$228 billion worldwide. Growth in the industry is expected to continue at least through 2011 due to
increasing interest in personal health and wellness, the aging of the population and perhaps consumer
efforts at weight loss.
Nutritional supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and even hormones. There are 13 vitamins, 15
minerals, and untold numbers of herbal and other similar products available for sale in this market. While
vitamins and minerals may be the most studied, and perhaps the best understood of all nutritional
supplements, controversy continues to surround all such products.
As a general rule, but subject to ever developing research findings which may indicate otherwise, vitamin
and mineral supplements are not harmful unless taken in excessive doses, in which case, actual damage can
result. Several herb products, such as aspirin, have proven medicinal properties, while many other herbs
and even hormones can be clearly harmful, or are not yet well understood. Moreover, some nutritional
products can be harmful when ingested along with other such products, prescriptions, over-the-counter
medications, or even foods or beverages. Those with certain health conditions should not ingest some
nutritional products. In addition, those who ingest certain nutritional products may have increased surgical
and anesthesia related risks. Consequently, it is necessary to obtain health-care provider advice, approval,
and monitoring of product use.
Generally, there is no legal requirement in the United States for nutritional supplements (as opposed to
drug products) to be tested and/or approved for use by any governmental agency prior to their sale to
consumers. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does have some regulatory authority and
responsibility as to nutritional products, and while certain “new dietary ingredient” products must be
reported to the FDA before such products are marketed, such supplements are only subject to regulation
after such products are determined to be dangerous or to the extent that claims are made that such products
cure, mitigate, or treat various diseases. However, companies are required to report serious adverse events
associated with some products.
Due to the present lack of pre-sale regulation of these products, some such products may not be "pure," or
in other words, of a certain formula or strength; and some, potentially, may not contain what is actually on
the product label. Since nutritional products are not sold as prescriptions by health-care providers, the legal
doctrine applicable in some states and known as the "learned intermediary doctrine" does not limit the duty
of producers and manufactures to warn consumers of adverse consequences associated with such products.
Moreover, those who sell, provide, or recommend such products necessarily do so with only limited
information, as compared to the information that is available for prescription drug products, which are
subject to extensive testing and research before being approved by the FDA for sale to consumers.
Due to all of the foregoing, those recommending nutritional supplement products to consumers, and those
actually involved in providing or selling such products to consumers, may well have increased ethical,
professional, and legal duties and responsibilities to ensure that the products they recommend, sell, or
provide are relatively safe for consumption and/or are beneficial to the user. This conclusion is due in part
to the fact that such products are not "sanctioned" by any government agency and that there is often only
limited information and research findings available from non-manufacturer sources as to the safety and
efficacy of many of these products.
Since some nutritional supplements have been deemed by the FDA to be associated with certain adverse
health effects, AFAA strongly discourages professionals from making any favorable recommendations to
clients related to these specific products or from providing or selling same. HYPERLINK "Dietary"
Dietary Supplement Warnings and Safety Information can be obtained from the US FDA internet site at
HYPERLINK "http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/ds-warn.html" http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/dswarn.
html. AFAA also discourages professionals from making favorable product recommendations or
from selling or providing products to clients when the available scientific evidence and research findings
from sources other than manufacturers are insufficient to provide clear guidance as to whether such products
AFAA recognizes that some health/fitness facilities and professionals do not, as a matter of policy, sell or
provide supplements or advice to others concerning nutritional products. Many believe it to be
inappropriate and even unethical to do so. Others do not do so for fear of incurring additional legal
exposure in the situation in which an untoward event occurs which is related to such products. These
concerns are valid and must be given some deference by professionals.
In the event that any of these products are sold, provided, or recommended by professionals to consumers
to treat, cure, or beneficially impact a disease process or infirmity, or perhaps even for preventive purposes,
such professionals could be exposed to criminal and/or civil claims related to the unauthorized practice of
medicine or other similar licensed health-care provider practices such as those reserved for provision by
dietitians. If an untoward event occurred which is associated with a practice violating any of the foregoing
kinds of statutes, a fitness professional who recommends, provides, or sells nutritional substances in the
course of providing unauthorized advice could be exposed to rather substantial claims.
To illustrate what can happen in regard to advice given to a fitness client about nutritional supplements
readers should consider what was alleged in a lawsuit that was filed in the state of New York. The suit
arose from the 1998 death of a 37-year-old facility patron who allegedly took five nutritional supplements
at the claimed, written recommendation of a personal trainer employed by a health and fitness facility. The
suit sought $320 million in damages against the trainer, the facility, the named retail seller of the
supplements, and five nutritional supplement manufacturers. The suit was based upon negligence, willful,
wanton, malicious, and reckless conduct, improper and dangerous product use instructions, failure to warn,
and the sale of unreasonably dangerous products. The action was resolved in 2004 for an undisclosed,
confidential settlement but reported at an amount exceeding $4 million paid by certain of the parties.
Based upon the foregoing concerns the following basic principles should be considered by professionals as
to the sale, recommendation, or provision of nutritional supplement products to clients.
Health and fitness facilities and fitness professionals should not sell, recommend, or provide
("provide") nutritional supplement products, including vitamins, minerals, herbs, and/or
hormones ("nutritional supplements") to their employees and/or members/guests/clients
unless the sale, recommendation, or provision of such products is justified by existing
scientific and medical research, which is derived independently from those who
manufacture such products and which demonstrates some benefit or potential benefit to
consumers who ingest such products.
Such facilities and personnel should not provide nutritional supplements unless there is adequate,
independent, scientifically-based information other than manufacturer information
available as to the use of such supplements to indicate that use is preferably beneficial or
at least reasonably safe when taken in proper quantities and subject to health-care provider
approval, review, and monitoring.
Nutritional supplements which have been determined by the FDA to be harmful or those which
have been associated with certain adverse health effects should not be provided by fitness
professionals to clients.
If the provision of nutritional supplements is deemed by health/fitness facilities or fitness
professionals to be appropriate based upon the foregoing principles, consumers of such
products should be provided with certain information. This information should be
specific and individual warnings and/or disclaimers advising the consumer of the
potential adverse consequences associated with certain supplements should be included.
Provided information should also include a statement about the limitations of present
knowledge as to some products, and the unknown risks or adverse potential reactions or
consequences that might be associated with the use of some products, either when
ingested alone or in conjunction with other similar products, drugs, other substances,
some foods or beverages, or when some such products are used prior to surgical
procedures. Those products that may not provide anticipated or advertised benefits should
also be identified for consumers. Products that may be inadequately labeled or those
whose quality or purity cannot be verified independently should not be recommended,
provided, or sold to consumers.
In conjunction with the provision of any nutritional supplement, scientifically formulated and
derived information should be provided in writing to the consumer/purchaser of such
supplements that is based upon information obtained from scientifically/medically
reliable sources apart from the manufacturers or wholesalers of such products. These
authoritative sources might include the FDA or organizations such as the American
Medical Association (AMA) or the American Dietetic Association. Fitness professionals
must stay current as to developments in this area and provide reasonably current
information to clients, including manufacturer information. Fitness professionals who
decide to provide nutritional supplement products to clients while also providing
information related to those products must be aware of and fully comply with applicable
requirements related to such practices as provided by regulations issued under the Dietary
Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) and as those regulations and
statutes may be amended or changed from time to time. Under the latest revisions to the
regulations promulgated pursuant to the DSHEA, the FDA has established new rules as
to what kinds of information may be supplied (and how and in what context) to
consumers associated with the sale of dietary supplement products. As a consequence,
fitness professionals providing products and information must review the Act and the
regulations promulgated there under as same may be amended or changed from time to
time to determine what is permissible and what is not permissible in that regard. It may
also be helpful for such professionals to review Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
requirements dealing with claims in advertising (including direct marketing materials)
and even state/local law/regulations that may impact the provision of such products and
information. Consequently, based upon all of the foregoing, professionals must
independently determine how, when, and in what manner and context relevant
information may be provided to consumers about nutritional supplement products.
The provision of nutritional supplements by health/fitness facilities/professionals should not
under any circumstances be used to treat, cure, mitigate, or otherwise attempt to
beneficially impact any condition. disease, or infirmity with which an individual is
afflicted in violation of state health-care provider licensing and/or practice statutes, or be
used in any way on the recommendation of a fitness professional, which would violate
state practice of medicine acts or other similar statutes or laws. No exercise or fitness
professional should ever recommend any supplement or even any activity under
circumstances where the practice could be deemed to be the unauthorized practice of
medicine or some other health-care discipline including those services reserved for
provision by licensed nutritionists or dietitians.
7. Nutritional supplements must have appropriate and accurate labeling information that
properly describes product purity, weight/size, quantity, and recommended dosages.
Product information as required by law must be provided. Health claims associated with
nutritional products must not be made unless specifically allowed by law.
8. The provision of nutritional supplements by health and fitness facilities/professionals
should not be made for the purposes of enhancing or attempting to enhance athletic
performance or the athletic condition of those clients participating in such activities.
9. Before a consumer begins using or ingesting a nutritional supplement that is provided by
a fitness facility or professional, that individual's use of any nutritional supplement
should be reviewed and approved by the consumer's health-care provider, especially when
such supplements are provided to individuals who are taking other forms of prescription
or over-the-counter medications or supplements. Moreover, an individual's use of such
supplements should be monitored by his/her health-care provider. Due to the foregoing,
fitness facilities and professionals must make such a recommendation to their members/
guests/clients in writing before the provision of such a supplement product to seek such
clearance, advice, guidance, and monitoring. Written documentation as to the client's
receipt of such advice, and preferably the written acknowledgement of same by the
recipient, should be secured if possible.
10. Health and fitness facilities and exercise professionals should document all of the
foregoing in their written records. Such records should be maintained for a period of time
coexistent with advice provided by their independent legal/professional advisors. The use
of waivers, releases, or assumption-of-risk documents by fitness professionals to be
executed by clients who are provided with nutritional supplements should be considered
where warranted and as fitness personnel are advised by their individual professional/legal
Even though I have the knowledge and experience to recommend supplements and nutrition in general, I let a registered dietitian or a nutritionist to do these types of recommendations and suggestions. For the obvious reasons, I stay away form selling any type of supplements and I also stay away form gyms and trainers who are involved in this type of trade especially if they are not certified in nutrition.
i do offer my clients a discount when they become my costumer, but i'm also respectful of clients that are already taking a product they believe in. i always encourage anyone and everyone to seek out the peer reviewed, non restricted, double blind, placebo clinical research. also what medical journals endorse it? what doctors take it? is it whole food based? does it carry a nutrition label? how processed is it?... If my client is honest it will cut down alot of useless products they are taking. -firstname.lastname@example.org
The companies like to spin their products as pure, organic, fruit & vegetable extracts, yada yada yada, but they are still highly processed and often laden with sugar.
I don't sell or endorse any supplements. If a client is taking something and they want me to take a look at it, I will have them bring it in so we can go through the ingredient list. Clients don't often know what they're consuming.
More than once I've had clients wonder why they couldn't sleep, only to find out they were taking weight loss supplements (that they hadn't mentioned) filled with stimulants. Suppose I had recommended another stimulant-containing supplement to a client who was already taking one? It's too risky.
Consumerlab does lab analysis of many supplements, and some contain contaminants and heavy metals. In a big-biz industry like this, some companies will cut corners and use questionable sources.
That said, I'll eat the occasional meal replacement bar or make a shake with protein powder. I consider it "emergency food", something better than nothing, but I'd rather have a regular meal any day.
My response to your stance..good for you!
I also don't have a backgorund in supplements. Too much can happen when you give clients something you're not sure of. Registered dieticians are more suited for this subject.
One bad supplement incident can open up a huge Pandora's box!