Gold's Gym staff members across the country wear T-shirts that read: “Diets don't work. This does.”

The “this” is a program created by Gold's Gym called Body Success, which helps members balance their nutrition and reach their weight-loss and fitness goals more quickly by tracking their progress and recommending meals. The program was officially launched in July at the club company's national convention.

“We wanted to focus on a need and a piece that is lacking in the industry and was lacking in Gold's Gyms,” says Brian Rosenthal, who was hired 2 ½ years ago as director of nutrition services at Gold's to find a nutrition solution. Nutrition programming is especially important for weight loss because 70 percent to 80 percent of getting results comes from what clients eat, Rosenthal says.

Like Gold's Gym, more fitness facilities are starting nutrition-tracking programs — either through software or through the guidance of a registered dietitian, says Cynthia Sass, a New York-based registered dietitian.

“I think [tracking programs are becoming more popular] because it's another service clubs can offer,” she says. “It's something that people are interested in and value.”

Regardless of how it's provided, nutrition programming and tracking is a must, one manufacturer says.

“In order for smaller clubs to compete with the larger health clubs, they have to offer solutions that have to do with diet,” he says. “You have to have a full solution that's available beyond training. You have to have the education and resources to help with the other 23 hours of the day that they're not in the gym.”

Computerized Benefits

Since 1996, 24 Hour Fitness locations have used nutrition tracking software that is developed and maintained by registered dietitians. Barry Smith, district manager for 24 Hour Fitness in Dallas, says the software helps the club's fitness professionals give individualized dietary advice without going beyond their scope of practice. Like the majority of 24 Hour Fitness centers, Smith's 11 locations in the Dallas area do not have a registered dietitian on staff. The software offers a level of service similar to a licensed dietitian without the legal issues and responsibilities associated with not having dietitians on staff, he says.

“It allows the trainer, who may or may not have the education or experience, to give dietary recommendations in a safe manner,” Smith says.

The 24 Hour Fitness corporate office makes sure that registered dietitians keep the software current and compliant with all state regulations, Smith says. Giving out specific nutritional advice is governed by state law and varies from state to state.

Rosenthal and Gold's Gym also partnered with registered dietitians and nutritionists to develop Gold's computer-based program, which recommends what members and clients should eat based on their individualized preferences and needs. Fitness professionals input all of a member's fitness data, likes and dislikes, and the software creates a meal recommendation.

Nutritional software programs can be pricey, says one software program manufacturer. An initial investment usually runs from $2,000 to as much as $9,000. On top of that, most programs are licensed and require a yearly renewal fee. Those fees are usually much cheaper though. Depending on the services and products a club sells, yearly fees can range from nonexistent to just $200, he says.

However, software can still be less costly than hiring a full-time dietitian, especially if a club owner has many locations, Smith says. With more than 350 locations in the United States, 24 Hour Fitness saves millions each year by using software, he says.

“Even if you employ one [dietitian] per club — which probably wouldn't be adequate enough to serve my membership base — and assuming that they would make $50,000 to $70,000 a year, that's a lot,” Smith says.

Cost Vs. Benefits

For some club owners and managers, software isn't enough. They still prefer the personal touch of a dietitian — and the legal protection their presence provides. Glenn Kent, assistant director of fitness, wellness and group fitness campus recreation at the University of Cincinnati, has avoided paying a hefty salary by hiring two registered dietitians on a part-time, as-needed basis.

“We've had registered dietitians since February 2006 when we opened the facility,” Kent says. “When you have a dietitian, they're protecting you from liability because they're the experts. They all have their own liability insurance.”

Kent invested $15 in basic nutritional tracking software so his personal trainers could record what their clients eat. Specific diet information comes from the dietitians.

“It's not just about putting numbers in a computer,” Kent says. “It's about that interaction with somebody. Programs don't tell you how to do it — just what to eat. I'm more concerned with what [interaction] a dietitian gives rather than spending $2,000 on fancy computer software.”

As an auxiliary of the University of Cincinnati, the recreation center is expected to bring in revenue. Any offered program must at least break even, Kent says. The facility offers a nutrition-counseling package (a 1½-hour session plus a bi-weekly follow-up for two months) for $90 for members or $117 for nonmembers. A la cart consultations and follow-ups range from $25 to $59, depending on the service. The rec center pays the dietitians $18 an hour and $36 for an initial consultation.

“It really comes down to your market,” Kent says. “Students don't have a bunch of money, so we're not able to purchase expensive software.”

At 24 Hour Fitness in Dallas, the revenue the software produces more than covers the software's cost, Smith says. He credits the software and its accompanying wearable tracking device for about 10 percent of his revenue. Each month, the software and its accompanying sales, including supplements and other diet products, bring in $100,000.

Nutritional tracking software has also been worth the investment for Aspen Athletic Clubs in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, IA. Luke Aduddell, director of fitness at the clubs, has seen personal training revenue more than double over last year. Aduddell spent $8,000 in certifications for his trainers to use the software, plus licensing fees and upgrades to software and systems.

“It's a worthwhile investment as long as your department delivers on its promise,” he says. “It's the right thing for a member. You can train someone five days a week, but if there's no calorie deficit, it doesn't matter. It's huge for member retention.”

Gold's Body Success program did more than increase revenue in personal training. It also improved retention and usage, and increased group exercise participation. (When tracking exercise, a trainer can enter in the type of group exercise class a member attended and show him or her how many calories they burned in an average class.)

“Body Success is a comprehensive program,” Rosenthal says. “We integrate all components to get our members results.”

The Benefits of Both

There are pros and cons to both a registered dietitian and a computerized tracking program, Sass says.

“The pros are that in most cases these programs were developed by or at least in part by registered dietitians and tend to provide solid information,” she says. “The cons are there's only so much you can do via software. Many of these programs can't accommodate the special needs of certain individuals.”

It doesn't have to be either a registered dietitian or software, Sass says.

“Clubs can offer software for people who it fits and offer referrals for those who it won't fit,” she says, “or give the name and contact information of a registered dietitian along with the computerized printout for clients who need more individualization.”

Interaction is a must because most people know what they should be eating, but they don't know how to do it, Kent says.

“I want interaction between people,” he says. “Certainly, you can make your money back either way, and theoretically you could have both.”

No matter if it's through a dietitian or a computer, some kind of interactive, quality nutritional programming is a must nowadays, especially with the looming obesity epidemic, experts say.

In addition, what works for the member, usually works for the club, Aduddell says.

“I'm a firm believer that the right thing for the member leads to better member retention, which leads to more programs sold and more product sold,” Aduddell says.

For a list of manufacturers of nutritional tracking software, go to www.fitnessbusinessprobuyersguide.com.

Tips for Starting a Nutrition Program

  1. Best of both worlds

    If your facility doesn't have the budget for a full-time dietitian or your members won't spend the money for one-on-one sessions, consider referrals, says Cynthia Sass, registered dietitian in New York. Trainers and dietitians can also work together to provide mutual referrals and even develop programs together, she says.

  2. Sell it

    Many people think good nutrition is common sense and are reluctant to pay for sessions, says Glenn Kent, assistant director of fitness, wellness and group fitness campus recreation at the University of Cincinnati. Market your nutritional services by highlighting specialized services such as eating for sports, eating with allergies or eating for weight loss.

  3. Software shouldn't be cookie-cutter

    All software should make modifications for a client's lifestyle preferences or medical conditions, Sass says.

  4. Train and educate

    Clubs should make sure all their fitness professionals are trained on software and educated on basic nutrition principles, says Luke Aduddell, director of fitness at Aspen Athletic Clubs in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, IA. At his clubs, personal trainers must be certified to work with the software and attend quarterly courses on nutrition.