For the human body, every cell depends on a continuous supply of calories and nutrients coming from food. That’s why eating is so important as it helps us sustain everyday life and keep our bodies nourished.

Eating food can also have deeper meanings related to love, comfort, and act as stress reducers as well as give a sense of security for some people.

Are you interested in leading a healthier lifestyle but not sure where to start? Would you like to have a healthier diet to reduce your risk of getting chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer? Are you considered medically obese and would like to change this?

In the United States, a nutritionist can provide you with the guidance and help you need to overcome obstacles such as these. Not only will provide you with encouragement and tips to change your diet, but they can also provide you with the information you need to choose healthier foods like how to read the food nutrition label from something you buy on your next grocery shopping trip.

Fruits sitting behind a cup of pink smoothie.
A nutritionist can provide you with the guidance and help you need to change your diet. (source: unsplash)

Understanding the Role of a Nutritionist

Dietetics and nutrition science is the study of dietary issues and general health concerns related to the consumption of food, nutrition programs, nutrition therapy, and food systems.

One of the earliest discoveries of human nutrition science is the link between scurvy and vitamin C deficiencies. These discoveries led to a simple cure for scurvy which improved the lives of many sailors at the time.

Today, taking nutrition courses at any level requires a basic understanding of the science of biology and chemistry. Nutrition and food science students can also specialize in many areas within their nutrition course study programs such as food and wellness, sports nutrition, and community nutrition.

As working professionals, nutritionists can work as clinical nutritionists and consultants working to advise people on how to make better food choices to meet their nutritional needs. Those with advanced degrees can also work as researchers for governments or food companies, keeping up to date on the latest nutrition and food research and news.

The nutritionists working inside schools and community centers work to promote health and wellness programs for students and community residents. Some also become government policy-makers, like those working for the HHS and the USDA.

They will contribute to the publication of an updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. This guide is the country’s go-to source to get their nutritional information and serves as a foundation for making healthier eating and drinking choices.

Qualifications for Nutritionists Working in the USA

If you are thinking of working as a nutritionist, it’s good to do some basic research on the profession before you start pursuing it full-time. To start off, understand that nutritionists can be registered or unregistered.

Registered nutritionists have completed a series of nutrition courses through an accredited university or program and also passed a professional licensure exam. This allows them to have the RD title next to their name.

Nutritionists who do not have an RD or RDN title next to their name have not completed a formal nutritionist education where they took structured nutrition courses. It’s also possible that they are in the process of getting their RD title but have yet to meet the requirements like passing the licensure exam.

The easiest way and the most common way for people to become a nutritionist is through years of dedication toward an education program beyond the high school level. There are several options and education levels available to work in the field of nutrition science. They are the Associate of Science in Nutrition, Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, and the Master of Science in Nutrition.

The most basic nutritional degree is the Associate of Science in Nutrition which is a two-year degree that includes foundational science courses as well as basic nutrition courses. A Bachelor of Science in Nutrition is the next step for those already with an associate degree. It requires four years of intensive nutrition science courses at the university level.

Getting a Master of Science in Nutrition is an advanced graduate degree for those who are interested in learning more about nutrition and dietary science.

This is a two-year program designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree as well as professionals who are already working as registered dietitians (RD/RDN), registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals. These programs often include a research component that allows the student to focus their studies on an area of interest in nutrition science.

Girl working out in the gym lifting weights)
There are several options and education levels available to work in the field of nutrition science. (source: unsplash)

Want to Become a Sports Nutritionist?

Sports nutritionists focus on a very specific area in the nutritionist field. They work with active clients to develop nutrition plans to go with their athletic lifestyles.

Their daily scope of work includes counseling their clients in healthy eating practices, promoting a healthy lifestyle for individuals in sports, and keeping themselves updated on current nutritional research.

To become a sports nutritionists, you should have proper training as well as strong verbal and written communication skills and active listening skills. The first step to becoming a sports nutritionist is to earn a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, ideally with a focus in sports nutrition through a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).

Once you have completed your coursework which covers topics such as nutrition through the life cycle, food science, nutrition counseling, sports nutrition, you will also need to complete a 1,200-hour, ACEND-approved supervised dietetic internship program. This will give you the necessary qualifications to become a registered dietician.

Since most U.S. states also require that nutritionists and dieticians be licensed, you should start looking into getting licensed as a professional sports nutritionist.

Licenses are issued based on training and experience, and you can earn your license through the American Dietetic Association. Licensing for sports nutritionists also vary by state so make sure to research the state you would like to work in for more information.

For sports nutritionists, you can also choose to get certified by The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) to give yourself an edge in your professional sports nutritionist career. To apply for this certification, you must first be part of Registered Dieticians with 1,500 hours of specialty practice experience in sports nutrition.

If you pass an exam covering topics such as energy metabolism, macronutrients, micronutrients, and others, you can also get this certification without any work experience.

A bowl of red strawberries and cherries, sitting in a blue bowl.
Sports nutritionists focus on a very specific area in the nutritionist field. (source: unsplash)

How to Find Clients as a Sports Nutritionist

Would you like to have more freedom and control over the hours of your work? Are you interested in starting your own sports nutrition services? Do you enjoy helping people design their very own individualized sports nutrition and health program? Then consider becoming a self-employed sports nutritionist.

Start by finding enough clients to sustain your business full-time, which can be quite a daunting task if you are new to the profession.

To start off, try actively searching for your own clients by identifying where you would most likely find them. Ask yourself these questions - what are some places people who seek sports nutrition advice would like to gather on a daily basis? An obvious answer would be the gym, so you can definitely try that as your starting point.

Once you identify specific locations, like gyms, athletic clubs, and sports schools, start conversations with your potential clients. Educate them on sports nutrition and provide them with valuable advice.

The goal here is to build budding relationships and established yourself as a sports nutrition specialist. After that, it’ll be easy to spread the word for your business and make it grow.

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Former high-school tutor with a passion for science and technology, I now work in the software industry and enjoy reading and learning about all kinds of topics.