Update 5/12/20. Good nutrition and personal training go hand-in-hand, but what about supplements? Should personal trainers recommend supplements to their clients? I know many do this, but I advise caution. To illustrate my reason for saying this, I would like to tell you about the most notorious personal trainer/supplement incident of all time. This is the horrible and sad, yet true story, you've probably never heard before. You must hear it, however, if you decide to sell or recommend supplements to people.
The Story You've Never Heard About
The story begins in New York City in 1998 when fashion designer Anne Marie Capati joined Crunch Fitness, a well-known health club chain. One of her goals—as was related in this New York Times article—was to lose a few pounds. She was also dealing with some high blood pressure.
Like many people, Anne Marie also hired a personal trainer who, along with the usual fitness instruction, also allegedly advised that she start taking some supplements.
According to a People Magazine story on the incident, the supplements recommended by the personal trainer—who was aware of her high blood pressure—were:
- Thermadrene (which can raise blood pressure)
- Yohimbe (which can raise blood pressure)
- Essential fatty acids (which do nothing for weight loss)
- Lean Body Shake (a protein shake)
- Whey Fuel (fancy name for a protein supplement)
Note. Thermadrene, at the time, contained the herb ephedra, which raises blood pressure and heart rate. When combined with all the other stimulants in the product—as well as Yohimbe—the blood-pressure-raising effect was likely magnified. Thermadine no longer contains ephedra.
According to the New York Times, the personal trainer—who knew about her high blood pressure—accompanied Mrs Capati to Vitamin Shoppe to get the supplements, which she took—per the instructions of her personal trainer— for about 3 months.
On the morning of October 1st, 1998 Anne Marie Capati collapsed in the gym while working out. She was rushed to the hospital—where she died later that night —from the stroke that she suffered.
Anne Marie Capati was 36 years old, was married, and had two young children.
She was already dealing with high blood pressure. It is very likely that the supplements prescribed by the personal trainer, at the very least, contributed to her stroke, and were perhaps the reason for her stroke.
After her death:
- the personal trainer
- Crunch Fitness
- Vitamin Shoppe
- and the makers of the 5 dietary supplements
were collectively sued for $320 million.
Let me say that again—The PERSONAL TRAINER was sued because of the supplements HE recommended she take.
So Can You Be Sued?
You—as a personal trainer—can be sued if you recommend dietary supplements to your clients and anything bad happens. This is a fact most people never consider when they decide to become involved with supplements. This can happen whether you are a trainer working at a gym or if you are a self-employed personal trainer.
There is no liability waiver and no personal trainer insurance that will protect you. In fact, personal trainer liability insurance policies may even say up front that if you are sued because of dietary supplement recommendations, they will not help you.
Does Your Certification Protect You?
No, it doesn't. In the story above the trainer was a “certified.” But, why didn't he know that stimulants—like ephedra and Yohimbe— are contraindicated in those with high blood pressure? One reason might be that fitness certifications often address exercise only.
As far as I can tell, this fitness trainer had no college education in nutrition, supplements, pharmacology or any other knowledge that would have helped him sort through the complex world of supplements and health problems.
This is also true for many personal trainers.
Some mistakingly assume that if something is sold in a health food store or through the internet that it has to be safe. Not necessarily so, as this story sadly illustrates.
Personal Trainer Supplement Tips
The world of supplements can be complicated. I've spent over 20 years investigating supplements. That said, let me offer you these simple tips to help you avoid mistakes when you deal with dietary supplements:
- Natural does not always mean safe for everybody
- Natural does not mean “has no side effects“
- Don't recommend stimulants /fat burners to clients
- If the product name includes the words Lipo, Phen, Burn, it likely contains stimulants
- Supplements CAN interact with medications
- Don't recommend herbs as they can have many side effects
- If the product is printed in a foreign language, avoid that product
- If the company address is the same as the Post Officer, avoid the company
See my Supplement Clarity website for unbiased reviews and info on many companies.
Something else to keep in mind is in many US states, ANYBODY can call themselves a “nutritionist.” This is one of those warm, fuzzy terms that usually has no legal definition. That's why you see so many people using this term. Don't assume all personal trainers know about supplements. Many don't. I train personal trainers. I can attest to this.
As a personal trainer, you likely know about exercise and how to design exercise programs. But, most personal trainers have very little—if any—training in the safe use of dietary supplements or nutrition.
So How Did The Court Case End Up?
As I understand it, the $320 million lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. I don't know what happened to that personal trainer or even if he is still in the fitness business. I've chosen not to mention his name because it would do no good and ultimately, I'm a believer in redemption.
I believe if our mistakes define who we were, then what we do because of those mistakes define who we are. His mistake all those years ago will haunt him for the rest of his life and that is a heavy cross to bear. I don't wish that burden on anybody.
Selling supplements is a way to earn extra income for some trainers, however, you have to be very careful. Not all supplements are safe for everybody.
This is one reason why I created Supplement Clarity.
My hope is personal trainers and group fitness instructors read these words and make a decision right now to either refrain from selling or recommending supplements or seek more education to help them if they do. If you want to know more about nutrition and supplements, here are resources that I recommend:
I never knew Mrs. Capati or her family, but I do think about them from time to time. What happened to her did not have to occur. I just don't want history to repeat itself.