Personal Trainers and Dietary Supplements

Fitness instructors must work within the limits of their certification

All personal trainers and fitness instructors want to see their clients get results from the training that they provide, but it’s important they know their own limits.  Personal trainers are often asked for advice about dietary supplements, while others even take on the additional role of selling them.

I caution personal trainers about giving such advice on any level because, believe it or not, they can be swept up as a defendant in a product liability suit.

The dietary supplement industry has been the focus of an FDA criminal investigation for widespread deceptive marketing tactics and hidden ingredients in some products. In 2015,  charges were filed against 117 manufacturers and distributers of products falsely marketed as dietary supplements.

Another big issue with dietary supplements is how many contain undeclared substances – as many as 25% of those on the market. Not all those undeclared substances are necessarily harmful, but surely the manufacturers have an obligation to inform consumers as to what they’re ingesting.

The root of the problem

In 1994, Congress defined  dietary supplement as “a product taken by mouth that contains a dietary ingredient intended to supplement the diet.” This resulted in supplements fitting into the regulatory category of foods, not drugs.  That being said, the regulations for supplements are much more lax than those  for prescription medications. This leaves an opening for supplement manufacturers and distributers to infiltrate the market with impure and mislabeled dietary supplements.

What this means for you

If a client to whom you offered advice about or sold a dietary supplement has an adverse reaction due to an undeclared substance, you could be sued along with the manufacturer, distributor, and retailer in a product liability lawsuit.

A case that made it to the New York State Supreme Court detailed in the New York Times article “Health Club and Trainer are Sued in a Death” shows what can happen when a trainer goes too far in advising clients on dietary supplements.

It’s best to steer clear of offering nutritional and dietary advice. Stay in your lane as a certified fitness instructor,