Creating solid nutrition programming within your health club can have its challenges. We know that it is important to the overall goals of our membership base, but not every fitness facility has mastered a strong structure for this area. Understanding the framework of this under-utilized department can mean dramatic enhanced revenue for your business.

Nutrition is dissimilar from personal training and should be treated as its own entity. Sessions are content-based versus action-based, and occur weekly or even bi-weekly rather than two or three times per week. Output also varies from a physical training session—rather than being sweaty and sore, participants in a nutrition session do more psychological exercises to enhance knowledge, set realistic goals and create a personalized plan for healthy eating.

Here are tips for starting a successful nutrition program at your club:

Make the investment in the expert. A registered dietitian (RD) must be at the helm of your nutrition program. When identifying the leader of this department, consider passion, presence, energy and the ability to network as key criteria. Success for a nutrition program lies not only in the level of education and expertise of the RD, but also in his or her ability to motivate both the staff and your members. The RD also brings personalized, hands-on experience to changing your members’ lives, which cannot be found simply by reviewing the Internet or following a popular diet book. You can find potential candidates using the local chapter of the American Dietetic Association.

Evaluate the needs of your membership base. Provide program offerings that are consistent with what your members want. Weight loss, sports nutrition, family/child-driven programs, geriatric features, “hot” nutrition topics and disease-specific nutrition management are all popular areas of interest. Your RD should be well versed in all areas, but the main focus for promotion should lie in the area most desired by your customers.

Diversify your offerings. Personalized one-on-one nutrition counseling and group programming allow you to offer private and group options and various price points. These options also allow you to cater to multiple learning styles. Weight loss is the most common goal within our industry, but you also will identify other goals, such as general wellness assessments, sports nutrition and disease management (heart disease, diabetes and various gastrointestinal disorders.)

Awaken your staff. When you think of working with a dietitian, many people assume they’ll have to give up favorite foods or that restrictions will be placed on their eating habits. This can be intimidating and overwhelming, not only for your members, but also for your staff to sell. It requires continued training, explanation, role playing and ongoing relationship building to succeed in helping the sales, personal training and management staff to understand nutrition programming. During a personal training session, members get an effective physical workout. During a nutrition session, however, participants perform mental exercises that make their lifestyles more effective. Dietitians can actually make eating easier, provide healthy recipes, gear meal plans towards an individual’s lifestyle, family life, food preferences and health goals all while complementing their personal training programs.

Provide consistent programming. Once you have diversified your offerings, you can easily track successful promotions, programs and workshops. Strengthen those options by providing them consistently. Members should know when a weight-loss group commences, as well as when a regular schedule of healthy cooking classes begins, in addition to options available for private counseling. Success stories, referrals and momentum from previous programming will continue to build your nutrition department.

Provide attention-grabbing marketing. Move away from scientific, information-based flyers to market your nutrition program. Instead, bring some life and energy to your product. You will not have members running through the door for a session called, “Evaluating the Food Guide Pyramid.” Shoot instead for “Busting Belly Fat” or “Want to Look Ten Years Younger?” in your promotional materials. Your marketing should be specific to draw the interest of your captive audience.

Incorporate creative visibility. Add healthy cooking demonstrations with take-away seasonal recipes or create displays that draw interest with visual appeal as an invitation for upcoming nutrition programs. Use talking pieces, such as tubes of sugar or fat, new food products on the market and easy-to-prepare recipes to start conversations with members walking through your doors. Allow your RD to be the visible expert for all nutrition questions and challenges.

Because nutrition is an essential key to overall health and wellness, do not allow your facility to be one that misses the mark with this area of programming and member experience. These easy guidelines can help you build the infrastructure for a successful programming model—both for you and your members.

Heather King, registered dietitian, is the nutrition programs manager for 11 Spectrum Athletic Clubs in San Antonio. Heather also has been the nutrition expert for NBC affiliate WOAI’s “San Antonio Living Show” for more than 12 years. She specializes in weight loss, sports nutrition, healthy cooking and overall wellness. You can reach her at hking@spectrumclubs.com.