This article appeared in the October issue of Athletic Business. Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.
If you've worked in the health industry for more than five minutes you've undoubtedly been asked: How do I lose weight? Or perhaps: What should I eat? Or maybe: You're in good shape, what supplements do you take?
The client asking one or all of these questions is looking for a simple, straightforward answer. Unfortunately, there isn't one. These are complicated questions and the answer to any one of them often begins with, "Well, it depends."
No matter how much we, as an industry, try to educate people about the health benefits of exercise, many are primarily interested in losing weight — often at any cost. How do we help our clients reach their goals? How do we engage them in a healthful, effective exercise program and also help them lose weight?
Well, it depends…
Nutritionists and nutritional advice Make sure you check the laws in your state to better understand what advice you and your staff can and cannot dispense to your members. In some states, Pennsylvania amoung them, only a registered dietitian can write out a diet plan for an individual. Our trainers can only give general healthful-eating guidelines — more fruits and vegetables, cut back on fried foods, be aware of portion sizes. They cannot write down a diet plan for a client.
For the past 15 years, we have consulted with a local nutritionist on behalf of our clients and our staff. She is a licensed dietitian with more than 30 years of experience. She has done "Lunch & Learn" sessions for our members, she has lectured to our staff on how they can better help their clients with weight-loss goals without overstepping their level of expertise, and we have included a free consultation with her for every new member who joined in a given month.
We want our members — and staff — to have access to a real professional who isn't going to push some fad diet on them. We compensate her for some of her services, and some of her services she provides to us as a courtesy so that she has the opportunity to meet members who might be potential clients for her private practice.
Weight-loss programs, classes
Over the many years that we have been trying to help our members reach their goals, we have offered a variety of weight-loss programs. None included a fad diet or the sale of any supplements.
We try to educate our members about the benefits of exercise for its own sake (improved self-esteem, stronger muscles and bones, lower blood pressure and blood sugar) and how exercise should be a part of any weight-loss program. But it's not a magic bullet. You cannot eat whatever you want and magically lose weight by walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes.
We have offered structured four- and six-week programs (more than that and people are hesitant to commit) that centered around education and bootcamp-like workouts led by our trainers. We often charge only a nominal fee ($10 to $20) to cover the cost of any materials we might hand out or a T-shirt that participants might earn by completing the program.
Groups of five to 15 participants meet twice a week with their trainer. The first day starts with a weigh-in and a few simple circumference measurements. Each meeting then follows the same format: the trainer will hand out a simple sheet with the nutritional tip of the week — how to cook low fat, what's in a fast food meal — and talk about that topic for 10 to 15 minutes. The trainer will then lead the group through a 45-minute workout.
On the last day, the trainer will do another weigh-in and retake measurements. We then hand out a coupon for our personal-training services and encourage the participants to keep going with their trainer, either by purchasing one-on-one training or by joining our small group personal-training classes.
We will sometimes invite our nutritionist to be a part of the program to give more detailed advice to participants. She will even lead the group on a "shopping trip" through a local supermarket to talk about food labels and choices. With the variety of online calorie and food trackers now available, we have also offered programs that include instruction on how to use personal devices to improve healthful eating habits. We have even offered these programs to the general public as a member-recruitment tool. Again, a minimal fee is charged to help cover our costs but also to make sure people commit to the program.
Other than a basic protein drink that we carry in our drink cooler alongside water and other sports drinks, we have never sold dietary supplements at our facility. For the better part of two decades, we felt that it just didn't fit with what we do. There are pros and cons, however, and we are currently re-examining the idea of selling supplements.
A big concern of mine was always the possibility that a staff member would "recommend" a certain supplement to one of our members. This is a huge mistake and a liability nightmare. My staff is not qualified to do this. We don't know this member's health history or whether or not he or she has a pre-existing condition.
Years ago, a trainer at a large chain took one of his clients shopping for supplements. One of the weight-loss supplements he recommended contained a stimulant. This client had a pre-existing heart condition and died as a result of taking the supplement. While this may seem like an extreme example, it is a real possibility.
Next comes the question of what supplements to carry. Can I carry enough inventory to interest my members? Everyone seems to have his or her favorite brand. How do I convince them that the brand I carry is the right product? And I have to figure out just what categories of products to offer: protein bars, protein drinks, weight-loss supplements, pre-workout stimulants. I only have so much room to display products, and I have to go with what is most likely to sell best.
Can I generate enough revenue to make it a worthwhile endeavor? I may not be able to make money selling at the same discounted rates members can find online. Do I have enough traffic on a daily basis to move enough product?
Lastly, am I comfortable selling these products, most of which are more hype than anything else? I do have members who are trying to "add muscle," and a quality protein powder could help them. I have members who take pre-workout stimulants. I'm not sure I want to sell these, but they are among the hot products right now. So why should I lose a sale to a supplement store in the mall if these are already my customers and they are willing to buy form me instead?
So how can you help your members lose weight? Well, it depends…
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Advice on dispensing weight-loss advice"