Offering members sound nutritional counseling

Most people don't know much about proper nutrition. And who can blame them? Just check out all of the labels: low calorie, low sodium, reduced fat, fat free, organic, sugar free — the list goes on. The options can be overwhelming.

Not only do people face an overload of information when it comes to the content of food, they are also too busy to read up on the latest nutritional facts. Think about it: Most of your members (let alone nonmembers) can barely squeeze in a workout. They certainly don't have enough time to get a Ph.D. in nutrition.

Since most people could use some nutritional advice, why not help them improve their dietary habits? After all, most people join clubs to get in shape and lose weight, and they can't reach those goals without proper nutrition, points out Dorene Robinson, R.D., C.N., director of nutrition and health education for Beyond Fitness, a division of Peak Performance, in Bellevue, Wash. So if you teach your members how to exercise and eat properly, you will have happy, loyal customers eager to stay with your club.

Here's how you can improve retention through nutritional services.

  • One-stop shopping

    Members appreciate clubs that become resources for all types of health and fitness information — especially quick information that they can put into immediate practice.

    “People's lives revolve around food,” states Ronda Gates, owner of LifeStyles by Ronda Gates, Lake Oswego, Ore., “so understanding how to choose foods more wisely is usually something members are interested in. They aren't as interested in the nutritional concept. They want to know how to make healthy, tasty meals that are fast, nutritious and give them energy. But they don't want to take the time to read a book or take a course. [And your club] is the first place they want to look for the information.”

  • Know your limitations

    While clubs can't treat clinical problems associated with eating, they can go over nutritional basics for the typical member. “For example, clubs can teach their members how to read food labels, proper portion sizes, coaching for weight loss…basically any general nutrition concept,” Gates says.

  • Set yourself apart from the rest

    A dietitian on staff can add credibility to your club in the eyes of your members and neighboring physicians. Obesity is a growing epidemic in our society, and physicians are always looking for sound nutritional/exercise programs for their obese patients.

    If you don't have the budget to hire a nutrition/diet expert, contact local hospitals, the dairy or beef councils or the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (www.reeusda.gov), Gates suggests. They can often refer dietitians who provide services for free or at a minimal costs.

  • Tap your resources

    You don't need to hire someone to handle nutritional training. You can educate an existing staffer instead.

    “I personally like to see [nutritional services] incorporated into the personal training department,” Robinson says. “And in my opinion, there is no reason why personal trainers can't coach someone on weight loss and eating healthy. They just have to have some extra education.”

    This extra education may require an initial investment, but “it also has the potential to increase your personal training revenues,” Robinson says.

  • Determine what services are free and which ones carry a price

    By giving some nutritional information away, you can increase your club's value to members. For example, you can create a library of nutrition-related videotapes and books that members can borrow.

    You can also post a daily nutritional nugget or recipe on your Web site. This not only helps members (and prospects), it increases Web traffic and creates a possible profit center.

    “[If you offer a daily recipe], it is useful to cite the cookbook that the recipe came from,” Gates says. You can then display and sell the cookbook at your club.

    While members should be able to get general nutritional information from your Web site and library handouts for free, you should charge for individualized nutritional counseling. However, if the couseling is open to members and nonmembers, members should receive a discounted price.

    Gates offers a nutritional coaching service where people pay a flat fee. A 12-week counseling program, this one-on-one service teaches participants how to understand eating patterns; make wiser decisions; determine serving sizes; choose food in restaurants; reduce fat in meals, without reducing taste; and calculate calorie needs based on lean mass and physical activity.

  • Don't forget your core service

    While Gates' 12-week session doesn't include physical activity — participants come to the program to learn about healthy eating — that doesn't mean nutritional services should overlook exercise. All nutritional counseling should stress exercise, the core of the club business, as the key to achieving weight-loss goals.

  • “The underlying message of all the nutritional services is always that exercise is the most important part to keep your body working well and using the food/fuel the best way possible,” Gates notes.