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What’s your stance on clients taking supplements?

What's your stance on clients taking supplements?


In our industry, supplements are a huge and profitable market. My concern is that many of the supplements available have no scientific validity and may in many cases cause long-term side effects.

When we have an athletic population that depends solely on performance for success, should we allow any controlled supplementation? On one hand I strongly believe that any ergogenic aid that enhances the physiological makeup of athletes should not be allowed. (Athletes who use ergogenic aids are not truly achieving peak performance on their own.) Many substances are already banned by the International Olympic Committee. On the other hand I believe it is okay to take “supplements” that are part of a natural, healthy diet; may enhance one’s quality of life; and have been proven harmless in the scientific community. I’m talking about products like vitamins, glucosamine (a joint enhancer), electrolyte drinks and energy bars, among many others.

At the Cooper Aerobics Center, we endorse only these types of products, including—but not limited to—Cooper vitamins and glucosamine. Most of my clients take such products, especially a daily multivitamin.

On a final note, as an athlete I’ve completed more than 50 triathlons, including three Ironman races—in Hawaii, Germany and Brazil—and I strongly believe in fair competition!

Carla B. Sottovia, PhD
Assistant Fitness Director/Senior Personal Trainer
Cooper Fitness Center


My experience may be very different from that of trainers who live in the United States. In France where I live, and in many countries in Europe, the government strictly regulates dietary supplements, so obtaining them is more difficult. Many supplements are available by prescription only. This rule reduces some of the abuse seen elsewhere. I have never prescribed supplements to any of my clients.

However, French people have started to become concerned about weight gain and obesity, since they are unfortunately following in Americans’ footsteps—
developing bad eating habits and indulging in fast foods. Recently weight loss supplements have become commonplace in pharmacies and some supermarkets. Other ergogenic aids are available in specialty stores that target primarily bodybuilders.

I am rarely asked by my clients about the various supplements on the market. In general, people here are less informed than those in the U.S. about the existence of many of these supplements. When I am asked, my usual approach is to stay neutral and listen to what the client has heard about the product. Then I ask what the client is looking for that the supplement could offer and what he sees as the goal of taking it.

I keep myself informed about the products that exist in France and other countries in the European Community to know how to reply to the questions posed. I also stay abreast of what exists in the U.S. through monthly health and fitness journals as well as the Internet. With so much in the news recently about ergogenic aids, staying informed has been relatively easy, so when I am asked about supplements, I am in a good position to reply.

On several occasions clients have asked me to bring back products from the U.S. that are not legal or available in France without a prescription. I have refused, since this type of activity is against my professional principles—and I could get into a lot of legal trouble. Instead I approach the subject by inquiring why the client needs to use these supplements.

Often if a client asks about a certain product, it is because she has heard something miraculous about it from the media, a friend or a family member. We look at the issue together. I always tell her as much as I know about the product, as well as the positive and negative effects of taking supplements. I then discuss the long-term effects of the specific supplement. If she is looking for a quick fix, I try to find a long-term solution instead. I always try to encourage a change in lifestyle behaviors, such as a well-balanced diet and exercise.

Fred Hoffman, MEd
Fitness Consultant, Reebok France
Reebok University Global Master Trainer
Personal Trainer, Fitness Resources


The supplement issue contains some complexities. First of all, a personal trainer who is not a registered dietitian (RD) does not have the expertise or background to recommend supplementation. Keeping up with the myriad products on the market can be overwhelming even for an RD – especially considering the limited amount of information and research available on some of these products.

The supplementation industry, however, is here to stay, and clients are asking for more and more information in this arena. We handle this issue by employing a dietitian who meets with clients who we determine through our screening process may need special dietary guidance. The charge for these consultations is separate from our personal training sessions. We do not sell supplements, but our dietitian will recommend over-the-counter supplements she feels are appropriate.

Gregory Florez
Salt Lake City


Some supplements are beneficial and others are detrimental, but advising clients to use supplements is not within my scope of practice. In most instances I neither encourage nor discourage the use of supplements. I will interject my position only when I know a client is thinking of using a supplement that may be contraindicated with a medication he is taking, or may have an adverse effect on his medical condition. When clients ask me for advice regarding a specific supplement, I provide information on its positive and negative effects. I also direct clients to consult a physician before using any supplement.

On page 11 of the January 2001 issue of IDEA Personal Trainer, there’s an article on muscle damage and the benefits of vitamin E in protecting muscle cell
membranes during cardiovascular exercise; the article ends with a caveat that persons who are deficient in vitamin K or take anticlotting drugs should be especially careful when taking vitamin E. Information like this points out why you, as a personal trainer, may be making yourself vulnerable to lawsuits, or contributing to a fatal outcome for clients, if you advocate the use of supplements. Your clients view you as a professional and value your advice as truth. I believe it’s important for trainers to understand our scope of practice and stay within it.

Tony Lewis
IDEA Elite Personal Trainer
Owner, Dynamic Health and Fitness Staffing
Newark, Delaware


According to the November 2003 CBI magazine, “Strong consumer interest and demand, along with the natural connection with fitness, have prompted more and more clubs to sell these pills, powders, and drinks. However, not all of the concoctions produced by this unregulated industry are benign, and even some that were previously regarded as safe have recently been found to be harmful.”

As we all work to enhance the credibility and image of the personal training industry, I believe it’s important to understand our role as trainers and pay attention to boundaries. With this in mind, I usually suggest that clients consult with a physician, a nutritionist or a dietitian I know and trust before they add supplements to their fitness regimen.

Part of my job as a fitness professional is to develop relationships with other professionals. These mutual relationships are a great way to grow my business and develop a solid reputation. My goal as a personal trainer is to share my exercise knowledge with my clients so they can be successful in the long term. I prefer to have a medical or dietary professional “weigh in” on a client’s use of supplements.

Nicki Anderson
Reality Fitness Inc.
Naperville, Illinois

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