How to Start a Nutrition Program in Your Health Club

Use this blueprint to increase your facility's level of service and create a new revenue stream.

Once designed as places to improve muscle tone and do some cardiovascular training, fitness facilities are now the setting for serious lifestyle modifications to improve the body, mind and spirit of members. Clearly, consumers are seeking more than just exercise options from their health clubs. Facilities across the country have responded to this quest by offering a plethora of new services designed to improve members’ overall health. One service being embraced by major fitness chains and individual clubs is a comprehensive nutrition program.

For health clubs looking to compete in today’s competitive market, nutrition services may be the very thing that provides that needed edge. If your facility or studio is contemplating such a program, this article will show you how to plan, initiate and implement a nutrition service for your members. Whether you are just thinking about one day offering such a service or ready to take some concrete steps, this soup-to-nuts approach can provide a comprehensive guide to success.

Step 1: Contemplation

Club members have expressed some interest in learning more about nutrition, and management is curious. As a program manager, you find that your own interest has been piqued.

As you contemplate starting a nutrition program, the first step is to consider the needs of your facility. Now is the time to ask the hard questions: Do your members find value in nutrition education? Does it fit the club’s philosophy? Are you looking to compete with the best facilities? Since exercise and nutrition are integral to health, chances are you will answer yes to at least some of these questions.

According to Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD, owner of Mohr Results, a nutrition consulting company based in Louisville, Kentucky, and a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, collaboration between exercise and nutrition expertise is essential. “Collaborating in [the fitness] setting only expands the professionalism and ability to work with a wider variety of individuals,” says Mohr.

This is also the time to reach out to the nutrition community so that you have the expertise you need to create a program that doesn’t exceed the scope of your fitness facility. “Working with registered dietitians (RDs) is a wise idea for trainers, so each person can utilize their strengths to better help the members,” Mohr adds.

To locate a qualified RD in your area, see “How to Find a Nutrition Professional,” below.

Step 2: Preparation

Determining the range of nutrition services that will best suit your facility can be the most difficult aspect of this venture. Nutrition programs vary in scope a great deal across the country.

For example, the Ambassador Wellness Center in Nebraska City, Nebraska, offers a comprehensive 8-week class that combines personal training and dietitian services to help members and nonmembers reach their weight loss goals. Participants pay one fee for access to both services. Compare this approach with that of Crunch Fitness in Atlanta, which charges members on a per-diem basis for dietary consultations.

To determine what kind of nutrition program is best for your club, consider polling your members using a survey; this can be conducted over the phone, online on your club’s website or using hard-copy surveys that members fill out at the front desk. Other considerations at this point include the size of your facility, the demographics of your membership and your expected internal staffing budgets for the coming year.

Once you have determined your members’ needs, there are various approaches you can take to design a suitable nutrition program for your facility. Here are several business models to consider, starting with the simplest and ending with the most comprehensive of programs:

  • Team up with a local RD or nutritionist who operates as an independent contractor to your club and provides consultations for members.
  • Start by offering general nutrition classes or seminars that discuss in the broadest of terms how to safely lose weight or maintain weight loss and how to improve lifestyle behaviors—by eating healthier meals, for example.
  • Share nutrition information with your members through your club’s newsletter and/or website; include salient articles on nutrition and tips on providing healthy family meals.
  • Hire an RD to be part of your on-site staff. As with personal training, offer your members free initial consultations and then follow-up appointments (not free).
  • Combine all four approaches by hiring an RD, providing individual consultations for members and offering a series of nutrition seminars, along with information via a club newsletter or website.
    Step 3: Financial Planning

Obviously, the program approach you take will affect your start-up budget. Once the program is up and running, it will likely fund itself in much the same way your personal training program has become self-sufficient. However, in the initial stage, you will need to plan on making a small investment in your new services. At the very least, you will need to compensate any nutrition experts you bring on board for any time spent creating the program elements. You will also need to plan on paying for any materials needed to advertise the program to members or the public.

The chart on this page illustrates a sample start-up budget for different levels of programs. Note that all estimated costs will vary according to the scope of the program, its location and the quality of experts and materials needed for implementation.

Step 4: Take Action

Now that you have determined the scope and budget of the program, it is time to act. The following checklist outlines various steps that you should take at this point in the process:

Get as much input as possible from RDs and other experts while developing the particulars of your nutrition program.

Design advertising collateral, such as fliers and brochures, that outline the services of your club’s nutrition program.

Disseminate ad materials during personal training sessions, in group fitness classes, at the front desk and in other high-traffic areas; include the information in all new-member packages and post it on your website.

Hold a meeting with all staff to ensure they understand the elements of your nutrition program so they can communicate them to members and outsiders. Include your front-desk staff, who will need to field questions from both newcomers and veteran members.

Introduce the RD you will be working with to all staff, and highlight this expert’s qualifications in your club newsletter or on your website to get the word out.

Ask all your trainers and group exercise staff to alert their clients and participants to the new services provided.

Send out press releases to local newspapers and media outlets to highlight the new nutrition services.

Develop a comprehensive marketing campaign that ensures the future success of the program. For details, see “Marketing for Success” on page 87.

Step 5: Keep Improving!

Now that you have created your nutrition program, don’t rest on your laurels. Continue to solicit input from your staff, your RD connections and your members on ways to improve the program. Periodically review your efforts to determine whether the program is working and generating the revenue and accolades you expect.

Finally, learn from the success of others. Visit other clubs in the area to see what is impressive about their nutrition programs, and try to include some successful tactics in your own services. Finally, look at the different fitness facilities profiled in “Successful Nutrition Programs Nationwide,” left. Experts from an array of clubs share their perspectives, experiences and lessons learned to guide newcomers contemplating their own nutrition programs.

The Bottom Line

Whether your fitness club is large or small, nutrition programs can be a valuable service to your membership, as well as a good revenue source for your bottom line. Adding this important offering can catapult your club into the big leagues as a full-service facility.

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Jenna Bell-Wilson, PhD, RD, LD, holds a doctorate degree in exercise science and a master’s degree... more less

Shelby Morris

IDEA Author/Presenter
January 2007

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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