How To Become A Professional Sports Nutritionist

December 4, 2021
Diet and exercise — the dynamic duo that keeps the body healthy. People have preached this to us our whole lives. Did you know you could make a career doing it?

People have become more conscious of the status of their health — this was true even before the pandemic. They want to live healthier, happier, and longer lives. Scores of people have set resolutions and made promises to lose weight and eat healthier, all in vain. It’s hard work, and even harder to do alone. That’s where you, and other professional sports nutritionists, come in.

As a sports nutritionist, you will coach people as they follow a nutrition plan that will balance out their fitness goals. Read on to see how you can become a sports nutritionist.

What Does a Professional Sports Nutritionist Do?

A professional sports nutritionist offers advice on food and nutrition to people in an athletic context. This can range from recreational fitness to professional fitness.

You might have different types of clients who seek you out for different reasons. The main reasons someone hires a sports nutritionist are:

  • To improve activity and fitness levels. Some clients want to get in shape and lose that excess weight. You will assess their weight, eating habits, and their exercise habits. Together you will develop a plan for them to eat healthy so that they improve their fitness.
  • To improve as athletes. Some of your clients will play a sport — like football, soccer, or basketball. To enhance their performance, they need to adhere to a certain diet with specific nutritional requirements. There will be an optimal body weight and fat to muscle ratio they need to maintain. You’ll have to consider their body mass, muscle to fat ratio, age, and the sport they’re playing — as well as their exercise schedule, as their routine will affect their nutritional needs. Your job is to help the athlete achieve their goals by organizing a nutritional plan for them.
  • To improve health and well-being. Living with a chronic illness or a disease requires lifestyle changes. Because of new medicines or because of chemical imbalances in the body, a doctor probably will provide a food list for patients to follow. As a sports nutritionist, you can help these clients stay healthy by exercising and following a nutritional plan. Examples include clients with cancer or diabetes.

As a sports nutrition specialist, you will tailor a nutritional diet needed both to help your client maintain a healthy lifestyle and to aid in the performance of their sport. A sports nutritionist looks at each person as an individual and customizes a nutrition plan that leads to optimal performance. Additional duties depend on the type of sports nutritionist you are.

Individual Nutrition Counseling 

When you have a client, you will go through an introduction process to learn about them and their health so you can determine the optimal nutrition plan for them. Broadly, you will:

  • Learn their eating habits, dietary restrictions, and dietary requirements
  • Assess their body composition and body weight
  • Analyze their fitness lifestyle
  • Order a blood test to determine if they have any vitamin deficiencies
  • Brainstorm health goals with them
  • Research different nutrition options
  • Design health and diet plans for them
  • Supervise food preparation
  • Counsel them on the optimal nutritional plan that will yield optimal performance in sports and fitness
  • Keep track of their progress

Educational Nutritional Counseling

In addition to individual counseling, a sports nutritionist can also work in a larger setting, often overseeing multiple persons. A sports nutritionist can:

  • Coach regarding advantages and disadvantages of different nutrition and dietary choices
  • Conduct programs on nutrition and how to achieve optimal nutrition
  • Teach the impact of nutrition on sport performance
  • Create presentations about the importance of nutrition and fitness
  • Deliver educational content about the balance of nutrition and health

How Is a Sports Nutritionist Different From a Nutritionist or a Sports Dietitian?

A sports nutritionist is a specific type of nutritionist. Generally, a nutritionist helps to tailor a person’s diet and get the proper nutrition for them to be healthy or to lose weight.

A sports nutritionist does this, as well. However, the goal is not just to become healthy. Rather, the goal of a sports nutritionist is to customize a person’s diet and nutrition to enhance their athletic performance in sports or fitness. The objectives that create this goal may be different during parts of the year and depending on what season a sport is played. For example, a sports nutritionist will advise a football player differently during autumn and winter — football season — than in the spring and summer.

A sports dietitian is more heavily regulated than a nutritionist. All US states require dietitians to have a license and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Dietitians should complete a minimum of 1,200 hours of an internship under the supervision of a licensed professional. This is combined with undergraduate or graduate studies.

What Steps Does Someone Need To Take To Get Started in This Career?

First, what you need is the passion and will to work with others to configure a nutritional plan that will help their workout or sports performance. If you’ve got that, you’re halfway there.

Sports nutritionists don’t have one specific background. Requirements to become a sports nutritionist vary by state. Some states have specific criteria for education, experience, and examination before you can receive a license. Other states do not require a license and therefore anyone can be a sports nutritionist. Thus, it’s important to know the laws of the state you’re going to work in.

What Are the Education Requirements To Become a Sports Nutritionist?

As mentioned above, educational requirements to become a sports nutritionist vary from state to state. Usually, you must have at least an undergraduate degree. Even when no degree is mandated, it is difficult to become a sports nutritionist without at least a bachelor’s degree.

Some states require more education than a bachelor’s degree. You need to have a graduate degree, like a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in nutrition or a similar field. Popular degree programs include:

  • Human nutrition and foods
  • Nutrition sciences
  • Dietetics
  • Food systems management
  • Food and nutrition
  • Sports nutrition
  • Public health
  • Nutrition education

Education for a sports nutritionist is multidisciplinary. You’ll touch on chemistry, biology, physiology, nutrition, sports, different medical conditions, and ethics. Some states mandate a certain number of credits in specific topics. Common required courses — and ones to make sure your degree program has — include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Eating disorders
  • Obesity
  • Medical ethics
  • Sports and exercise
  • Biology
  • Nutritional needs during exercise
  • Chemistry
  • Nutrition and cancer
  • Nutrition and diabetes
  • Sports nutrition
  • Dietary deficiencies
  • Food and supply chains

You can complete your education at a university or a community college. Check to see what sports nutrition programs your local university or college has. In an increasingly technological world, there are many online nutrition degree programs. You can gain your degree in the comfort of your own home. This is perfect if you have young children at home.

Also, note whether your state mandates that your degree program be accredited by a certain body like the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Even if your state has no such requirement, choosing an accredited degree program will boost your recognition as a sports nutritionist.

Are There Required Secondary or Professional Licensing To Become a Sports Nutritionist?

Like education, each state governs its own sports nutrition certification and licensing requirements. Some states require a license to practice as a sports nutritionist, other states do not require a license.

States Requiring a License for Sports Nutritionists

Here is a list of states that require a license for sports nutritionists:

  • ‌Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington

How to Receive a Nutritionist License

Generally, you must prove the following to the state licensing agency to receive your nutritionist license:

  • Education. You must give proof of your education. This often involves transcripts of your degree program. In addition to your transcripts, you might have to show proof of specific courses taken if your state requires a certain number of course credits in any given subject area.
  • Experience. Generally, you must also show proof of practical experience. This is generally defined as work supervised by a registered dietitian or another licensed healthcare provider. Sometimes an internship is acceptable as experience. Each state has its set hours — but, usually, a total of 900 hours of experience is needed.
  • Examination. Next, you must pass an exam that tests your knowledge of the field of nutrition and dietetics. The exam must be recognized by your state’s board of nutrition and dietetics. Examples of examinations include the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) examination through the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (CBNS) and the Registered Dietitian (RD) examination through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). Examinations must be done through the American Clinical Board of Nutrition.
  • License. You will have to submit copies of your transcripts. You’ll also have to provide proof of your work experience, with your employer signing off on your hours. You must also show that you passed the nutrition and dietetics exam that your state required. You will have to pay a license fee.
  • Miscellaneous. These are the main steps required to attain your license to be a sports nutritionist. Some states have miscellaneous requirements, such as passing a background check or provide a reference attesting to your moral character.

‌License Renewal & Continuing Education

Some states require you to renew your license. Some mandate your license be renewed annually, biannually, or every five years. It’s important to see which rule your state follows so you do not lose your license.

In addition to renewing your license, you might have to complete some continuing education. This will ensure that your training is up-to-date, and you can refresh your skills to better help your clients. Sometimes, this license renewal requires a fee.


States Not Requiring a License for Sports Nutritionists

Here is a list of states that don’t require a license for sports nutritionists:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

For states that require no license for sports nutritionists, entry into the job market is simple. However, according to the country’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the general entry-level education needed is a bachelor’s degree.

Further, although the state does not require specific education, your employer most likely will. Thus, if you’re in a state where there are no specific requirements to become a sports nutritionist, you should think about attaining some education in the field or some experience. This will make you more marketable to an employer and also increase your prospective salary range.

Also, even though your state does not mandate that you be certified by a specific nutrition board, you can take the examination to get the certification. Just be cautious, as the exams have their requirements — such as education and experience — before you can take them.

Where Do Sports Nutritionists Work? 

Sports nutritionists can work in a variety of industries. Some of the most common are the following:

  • Colleges and universities. Many sports nutritionists find themselves working in a school setting. College athletics carries a huge employment opportunity for sports nutritionists. No matter the sport, a sports nutritionist can help the players stay healthy and reach optimal workout and sports performance.
  • Fitness centers and gyms. Many sports nutritionists roam the floors of fitness centers and gyms. It’s a great place to find clients. Many times, sports nutritionists are employed by the gym, and the gym offers members the chance to get the advice of a sports nutritionist.
  • Medical centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hospitals employ the most dietitians and nutritionists. About 31% of dietitians and nutritionists work at a state, local, or private hospital. As a sports nutritionist, you can also work at nursing homes, outpatient centers, and rehabilitation centers.
  • Professional sports or athletic organizations. Professional sports teams need their players in perfect shape. As a sports nutritionist, you can tailor a nutritional plan for each player to ensure that their diet compliments their body composition and exercise regimen. ‌
  • Government. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 13% of nutritionists and dietitians work for the government. This includes local public health authorities and members of the state health department.‌
  • Self-employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has also reported that 7% of nutritionists and dietitians are self-employed. You don’t have to be tied to an employer. You can be your boss. When you’re self-employed, you will be responsible for your marketing strategy. You’d be able to attain clients via word of mouth and also by maintaining a strong social media presence.

What’s the Job Market Outlook for Professional Sports Nutritionists?

The job market for a sports nutritionist is promising. The topic of health has found its place at the forefront of all of our minds these past eighteen months.

Diet and exercise keep us healthy. Even before the pandemic, people have become more conscientious about their lifestyle and health. As a result, this field is expected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030.

What’s the Salary Range for Professional Sports Nutritionists?

A sports dietetics salary can vary. Salaries for a professional sports nutritionist are based on your experience, education, and location. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2020 that the median salary for dietitians and nutritionists was $63,090 or about $30.33 per hour.

Experience and education, as with any job, can increase your salary potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that the lowest 10% earned less than $39,840 while the highest 10% earned more than $90,000.

A sports nutritionist with a master’s degree will probably — all else being equal — make more than a sports nutritionist with only a bachelor’s degree. The same can be said for experience. The more experience you have as a sports nutritionist, the higher your salary can be.

Further, in a big city like Los Angeles or New York City, a sports nutritionist will make more than a sports nutritionist in a small town in Idaho.

How Do Aspiring Sports Nutritionists Get Started in the Industry?

Once you’ve completed the pre-requisite steps on your path to becoming a sports nutritionist, how do you start working? You need to decide where you want to work and start applying to jobs.

All states have different professional associations for nutritionists to join. You’ll be able to take part in networking opportunities where you can meet other nutritionists, employers, and clients. This will be a great way to start marketing yourself and finding your niche.  Maybe you want to work in a hospital setting or maybe you would like to work at a fitness studio.

This is also a great opportunity to stay informed of current trends in the nutrition field at your state level and the national level. Further, many professional associations can provide information regarding any continuing education being offered so you don’t lose your license.

Start Your New Career, Today!

The field of dietetics will grow steadily over the next decade. Sports nutrition is an excellent career to help people be healthier and live longer with the proper nutritional diet and exercise. Learn more about it today and consider beginning the path to becoming a sports nutritionist soon.

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