How to choose if you need a personal trainer or nutritionist to meet your fitness goal

Sometimes, you've got to ask yourself, have you really got your priorities straight?

If the classic muscular six-pack is the end goal for fitness freaks, why, then are we spending so much time and money on PTs and gym membership when all health research agrees: over three quarters of your body-shape is dictated by your diet.

Research undertaken by Suncorp in 2015 found that Australians spend $8.5 billion annually on gym memberships, sports equipment and fitness trends. Last year alone, there was a 7.5 per cent growth rate in the gym and fitness sector in Australia.

That is a vast amount of money to spend on an area that accounts for less than a quarter of your body goals.

"Too many use exercise alone to achieve goals"

One potential reason could be how people associate nutritionists with diets and losing weight, which could seem paradoxical to their goal of bulking up or gaining strength.

Tully Johns, 40, from Brighton East in Victoria, decided he'd train as a nutritionist in addition to being a PT for this very reason.

"When I first became a PT, I didn't want to contribute to people spinning their "weight loss" wheels by being unable to offer sound nutritional advice. Too many people attempt to reach their goals using exercise alone. Receiving good nutritional advice to accompany a smart exercise plan will see people reaching their physical goals."

An Accredited Nutritionist for 15 years, Tracie Connor believes our PT obsession reflects peculiarly skewed priorities.

"There's a saying 'you can't outrun a bad diet'. No matter how hard and often you train, if your fuel isn't optimal, you won't get far. Diet is 80 per cent-plus responsible for reaching health goals, including ripped, bulked or trimmed; therefore you're better off spending money on tailored dietary advice from a qualified nutritionist (of which you can receive a good rebate with your health fund) before physically training with a PT."


Sack and replace the PT?

But it really depends on your goals. If you want to perfect your form and technique at the gym, a nutritionist cannot help you there. But when it comes to getting that six pack, Tully Johns - who straddles both areas - is firm: "Without good nutrition your efforts in the gym will be wasted. Revealing abs will involve losing body fat. Paying attention to overall energy intake is crucial."

It's advice that stuck with 28-year-old F45 instructor Daniel Walshe. By seeing a nutritionist, he has gone from 24 per cent body fat down to 16, without losing weight and keeping his muscle mass. He says it has helped him with both cutting and bulking cycles.

"The key is meal prepping at the start of the week, and moving away from unhealthy snacking - all of which my nutritionist helps me with." Occasional treats are permitted: "I'm allowed a cheat meal once a week - I plan ahead so I don't have to stop being social."

Eat more steak!

Through hiring a nutritionist who is also a PT, clients can see accelerated gains at the gym. Tully Johns says: "One client has taken his barbell deadlift from 30kg to 125kg and another has increased his Barbell Squat from 25kg to 120kg."

That nutrition advice changes according to your goals; Johns says: "Adding muscle requires adequate protein intake, while staying ripped means paying attention to overall energy intake."

A common mistake is protein deficiency.

"Most people don't eat adequate protein to support muscle growth. I start by having clients aim for at least 100g per day. Most clients love it when I say 'Go, eat more steak!'"

Tailored programs

Tracie Connor, however, offers more bespoke advice: "What works for one person won't often work for the next, and that's why seeing a nutritionist for tailored dietary advice is key. For some people, a low carb, high protein diet will work effectively to bulk, whereas others benefit more from balancing carbs, fats and proteins with intermittent fasting."

Connor cites as one example of good, thorough exercise habits being overruled by bad diet and habits: "One of my clients- an executive male, late 40's, enjoys regular exercise, but he wanted to shift unwanted fat. Through tailored dietary advice, he's now measuring less body fat through his midline, with noticeable toning across his body, and is stronger and more energetic."

The PT / nutritionist hybrid role

Should, then, all PTs train as nutritionists to properly advise their clients on that crucial 80 per cent segment of their body goals? For Tully Johns, it's a no-brainer: "By becoming a qualified nutritionist I can advise clients on what and how much to eat as well as how to move and exercise: it sees clients reaching their goal of becoming healthy, strong and happy."

But for Tracie Connor, important distinctions must be made.

"A qualified nutritionist requires a minimum of four years tertiary qualification and ongoing professional development. A qualified PT can qualify in as little as 12 months. Most PT courses offers very basic nutrition education already, however many of us feel that qualified PTs should focus on providing physical training aspects for a client and leave the tailored dietary advice to an accredited nutritionist."

If the nutritionists get their way, PTs will be encouraged to stick to their 20 per cent of the (sugar free) pie.