What a subject! Lately the media has spent a great deal of time talking about steroids and supplements and their role in advancing athletic performance. This is not a new subject to athletes and coaches. Let’s face it, the temptation is great and the convenience may make it down right irresistible for some. Sure they have benefits, but quick results don’t come without risk.
While most supplements are generally safe and have a low incidence of serious side effects, performance enhancers pose the risk of dangerous side effects. For some people, the adverse reactions can range from serious to life threatening. For example, ephedrine has been used for over a decade by thousands to stimulate the metabolism and help with food cravings. This product has worked well for many people who use it responsibly but, like many over-the-counter products, will continue to be pulled from the shelf as a result of consumer abuse or the manufacturer’s irresponsible marketing, both of which will and have resulted in the loss of lives.
Everyone is quick to point the finger and pass the blame. Is it the consumer’s fault for not being better educated, the manufacturer’s fault for misleading ads and poor label instructions, the doctor’s or pharmacist’s fault for not providing a list of drug interactions for their patients medication(s), or the personal trainer’s fault for even suggesting the availability of the product? Or is it Hollywood’s or the advertiser’s fault for placing such unreachable, unhealthy and unrealistic standards of the perfect look or to win, win, win?
The fact is it’s everyone’s fault. It’s time to face the facts, tell your clients the supplement industry is unregulated and full of immoral and unethical people who are out to squeeze every last ounce of profit from your life. Sounds bad, but it’s the truth. As a professional, it is your responsibility to educate your clients based on peer-reviewed research.
As health advocates, personal trainers must be very careful with their recommendations. Let your clients know you’re not willing to provide them with quick results at the expense of their health or to make a quick buck. That’s not to say that you can’t benefit by recommending products (which you may also sell), but be sure that you research carefully so that you can safely make recommendations.
Supplements work, but is there too much of a good thing?
Most supplements are often taken incorrectly. The chance of a reaction increases if the product is taken more frequently or in higher doses than recommended or is unwittingly mixed with another product containing the same ingredients. I have been guilty of this so how much more likely is my client? Do you train older clients who might have difficulty just keeping their medications straight? In addition, supplements, including herbs and even some vitamins and minerals, have the potential to interact with any drug, including non-prescription drugs, making them less or more effective.
If you wish to advocate a product to your client to speed their results, or know that your clients are going to ask you about such things, you have an ethical and moral obligation to not only be informed, but to also know your professional limits. Can you make such recommendations in your state? Does the law allow you to discuss the use of certain products with your clients? One thing you can do is provide third-party product research to educate your clients. Always recommend they speak with their doctor before introducing a new supplement, advise them to follow the product recommendations and have them discontinue the product if they experience any problems.
What is the holistic willing or, more importantly, not willing to do?
As a long time advocate of health, I find myself often walking that line between what is athletic and what is holistic. I wish to live a long life in good health, but I also have a strong desire for physical competition. Many people have the thirst for competition, but how far they take things is where the distinction is made between being a competitive athlete and being holistic.
Someone who is completely holistic will not knowingly do anything that will compromise their health. Being completely holistic for me sounds restrictive, but to others the compromise to their health is not worth the enjoyment of an occasional hamburger or the physical stress of being 4% body fat. The holistic person wouldn’t consider swimming in freezing water or lifting a seven hundred pound car….I would. At the same time I’m not willing to take something that I know will be a risk to my health just to be competitive.
What is your client willing to do? If your client is truly holistic, they are not likely to strive for 4% body fat. I have clients who are cancer survivors who have both nutritional and exercise restrictions that prevent them from doing the very thing that would give them the best physical results. Because they have placed their trust in me as a professional, I must focus on the goal that brought them to me.
I have also found that frustrated clients, even those who I would consider to be very health conscious, have made statements to me such as, “Just tell me what to do and I will do it.” But most people don’t do well being told what to do even if they have asked for it.
I’m also asked, “What do you do or take…?” Every trainer will be asked this. What works for one person may not work for another – especially if their goals are different. Instead remind them of what is necessary to achieve optimal health and provide all the research you can so that your client can make an educated decision. Together we come up with the plan and it may mean explaining to them that the journey to reach their goal may take longer. Ultimately they will achieve their goals which will be more sustainable in the long term.