Published:
March 5, 2021
Last Updated:
March 8, 2021

How to Become a Certified Nutritionist

The field of health and wellness is rapidly expanding as people focus more on their own health and well-being and seek out all the information available on how to best feed themselves and others. If you find yourself passionate about living your best, healthiest life and enjoy helping others do the same, becoming a certified nutritionist might be a good career choice.

What a Certified Nutritionist Does

At the core of their job description, certified nutritionists are individuals who help others reach their health goals as they relate to food and nutrition. They often help people who are dealing with chronic or long-term illness or disease, like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Nutritionists work with clients to make specific, nutrition-based diet plans to address their specific health and wellness concerns. Doctors will typically refer patients to certified nutritionists to address concerns before pursuing medication or surgery. They can also:

  • Assess clients’ current diet and eating habits
  • Educate clients on healthy eating habits
  • Prescribe diets and plan meals for clients to implement

Where Certified Nutritionists Work

Depending on their specialty or desire, certified nutritionists can work in a variety of settings. Most work in public health, social service, or government agencies, but some also work in hospital settings. Others work in outpatient care centers, rehab facilities, nursing homes, or schools, and some choose to open their own practices or work within a group of doctors and nutrition specialists.

How to Become a Certified Nutritionist

There are several ways to begin your journey of becoming a certified nutritionist, but the first step is ensuring you have a passion for wellness and nutrition!

Initial Education

Many nutritionists receive their bachelor’s in health, nutrition, food science, or nutrition-adjacent fields, like biology and psychology. While these are typical, anyone can get into the field of health and wellness if they have a passion for it! Taking a certified nutritionist career path often requires prerequisite coursework in fields related to nutrition, so be sure to read up on the requirements of the program(s) you’re interested in pursuing.

Certifications

To become a certified nutritionist, you need to pass the Certification Examination for Nutrition Specialists (CENS) administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). Some states also require further certifications, so be sure to check the requirements of your state or country.

Internships

After completely coursework, BCNS certification requires applicants to complete 1,000 hours of supervised work experience obtaining. Plus, completing an internship helps new nutritionists break into the field, figure out what they want to specialize in, and learn on the job.

Work Experience

The wellness industry is expanding rapidly due to an increased emphasis on living well through optimizing diet and lifestyle. There are many types of work that people seeking to become a nutritionist can do, both in the public and private sectors.

Continuing Education

For certified nutritionists, continuing education hours are required to maintain certification. The frequency of recertification as well as completion of new courses varies, but the average is the completion of around 75 hours every five years.

Different Types of Nutritionist Certifications

Other than passing the CENS and maintaining your certification, there are no standard requirements for nutritionists, so be sure to check what, if any, requirements your state or country has. The practice areas for different types of nutritionists may overlap as they all focus on nutrition and wellness, but some require different levels of certification for focus areas.

Registered dietitian nutritionist

Registered dietitians or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are the most advanced roles in the nutritionist field. They undergo rigorous training that meets national practice standards.

RDNs must:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from an accredited institution.
  • Complete a supervised dietetic internship that is 6–12 months and accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
  • Get a state license and certification by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Weight-management specialists

While certified nutritionists typically work with people from all walks of life, weight-management specialists work with individuals whose specific concerns include those related to weight and weight loss. They build safe and effective weight-management plans with clients, which usually include both nutrition and workout plans.

Weight-management specialists must:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, psychology, or a related field from an accredited institution.
  • Complete a weight-management certification or health coaching program.
  • Stay up to date on all certifications as required by state law.

Sports nutritionist

These specialists assist athletes in nutrition education, helping them reach peak performance in their respective sport. They may create a weight-loss or even a bulking plan, depending on the sport and particular athlete. Sports nutritionists may focus more on macronutrient and micronutrient intake than someone working with the general population.

Sports nutritionists must:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in sports nutrition or dietetics.
  • Complete a 1,200-hour internship, supervised by the ACEND.
  • Get a state license as well as a RDN certification.
  • Become a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD).

Nutrition and dietetic technician, registered (NDTR)

This specialist works closely with RDNs to provide patients and clients with medical nutrition therapy, which uses diet to address existing medical concerns and lower the risk of new issues. NDTRs are nationally accredited by the ACEND. They may work within community health programs, weight-management clinics, or hospitals.

NDTRs must:

  • Complete at least a bachelor’s degree in food science, chemistry, or a related field from an accredited institution.
  • Complete a dietetic technician program that is accredited by the ACEND.
  • Complete 450 hours of supervised practice experience in various community-based programs.

 

 

Average Nutritionist Salary

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, nutritionists earned an average of $61,270 (or about $29.46 per hour) in 2019. The field of wellness and nutrition is growing rapidly – much faster than the average for all jobs – so job prospects continue to increase.

Alternatives to a Nutritionist Certification

Want to focus on more than strictly nutrition? If you are interested in holistic health, expanded career flexibility, and the other aspects of a healthy life besides nutrition, there are a variety of career alternatives you can explore.

1. Health Coach

A Health Coach focuses on a holistic approach to health, working with clients to help them develop strategies to live more healthfully. They provide guidance and accountability and can assist in all aspects of life, from exercise and nutrition to career advice. If you’re interested in becoming a Health Coach, you will want to find a credible program that meets your needs.

2. Food or wellness blogger

Even just a few years ago, blogging was seen as only a hobby, but it’s become a lucrative business for many in the wellness field. This is a great career path to infuse your creativity with a love for health and wellness, and it’s best for anyone interested in writing, advertising, marketing, or design.

3. Life coach

Life coaches predominantly assist clients in everyday solutions for smaller issues. Life coaches cannot treat mental health conditions; they can, however, support clients in all aspects of life, including career, health and wellness, relationships, finances, and spirituality.

Starting Your Journey

There’s never been a better time to join the health and wellness field. Whether you think you’d be interested in pursuing a degree in nutrition, opening your own weight-management clinic, or becoming a Health Coach, IIN’s Health Coach Training Program can help you start your journey. Check out our Curriculum Guide to learn more about what IIN can offer you.

Author Biography
Katy Weniger
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IIN Content Writer

Katy holds a bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing and advertising from Rider University. After jobs in the field of finance, she wanted to transition to an industry that focused on helping others be their best selves, and discovered IIN.

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