Are you interested in working with athletes to optimize their performance using food and nutrition? If so, consider becoming a sports nutritionist. Getting a sports nutritionist certification will give you the education and credibility to start working with professional athletes, school athletes, and fitness enthusiasts to help them identify and reach their goals.
What Does a Sports Nutritionist Do?
Is pursuing a sports nutritionist certification the right step forward for you?
That ultimately comes down to how you feel about what a certified sports nutritionist does.
Sports nutritionists are fitness professionals who work with athletes and exercise enthusiasts to develop nutrition programs to suit their needs and help them achieve their goals. This includes, but is not limited to:
Helping clients understand the recommended macronutrient (i.e., protein, carbohydrate, and fat) and micronutrient (i.e., vitamins and minerals) intake for athletes based on current research.
Presenting clients with a balanced nutritional strategy that will guide them in meal planning and achieving their goals—be it to improve overall health, optimize sports performance, lose weight, or improve body composition.
Assisting clients in understanding the importance of meal and nutrient timing for optimal sports performance.
Educating clients on the pros and cons of performance enhancers and various supplement strategies, so they can make informed decisions on what they use to boost athletic performance.
Are you excited by the prospect of all of that? Then pursuing a sports nutrition course may be right for you.
Are Sports Nutritionists in Demand?
When making a career choice, how fulfilling you’ll find it is just one deciding factor. You’ll also need to think about financial aspects.
What would becoming a sports nutrition specialist mean to your bank account, your way of life, and your family? Would you have to make major lifestyle changes? To answer that, let’s look at three things:
The overall growth of the sports nutrition industry: According to a market analysis report by Grand View Research, the global sports nutrition market size was valued at US$42.9 billion in 2022 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.4% from 2023 to 2030. This suggests that the demand for fitness professionals knowledgeable in sports nutrition will increase as well.
The employment statistics for sports nutritionists: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of nutritionists is projected to grow 7% (roughly as fast as the average for all occupations) from 2021 to 2031. A sports nutritionist’s annual salary in the United States can vary quite a bit, from $51,392 to $62,040, with an average of $56,460.
Your monthly expenses and retirement needs: Market and employment trends show that there is—and will continue to be—a strong, healthy demand for fitness professionals adept in nutrition coaching. While that’s good news, you’ll still need to take a careful look at your current financial standing. For example, what are your monthly expenses? Do you foresee any problems staying on track with your retirement goals when earning the income of a sports nutrition specialist?
There’s No Limit to Your Earning Potential as a Nutrition Coach
A quick disclaimer: the average annual salary of $56,460 is just that—an average. If it’s not enough to cover your living expenses, take comfort in the fact that your earning potential is likely to increase significantly when you:
Gain more experience in nutrition coaching.
Pick a specialty within sports nutrition (e.g., rehabilitation nutrition for injury recovery in pro athletes).
Commit to continuous professional development (e.g., keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in the industry through continuing education units and other related coursework, like a personal trainer certification).
Where Do Certified Sports Nutritionists Work?
Find employment at various facilities: Examples include gyms, fitness clubs, private studios, cruise ships, athletic training centers, universities, and corporations. The pros and cons of this may include the following:
Pros: In most cases, you will not have to worry about fluctuating income. If you’re employed as a full-time sports nutritionist, you’ll enjoy the typical “employee perks”, like paid vacations, sick days, health and life insurance, social security, and more.
Cons: You don’t necessarily get the final say on the type of services you do and don’t provide. You also don’t get to choose your clients.
Start your own business: Many sports nutrition coaches take an entrepreneurial approach to their new careers. You could choose to work one-on-one with fitness enthusiasts or athletes on their nutrition plans. Or, you could partner with other fitness professionals, host events or workshops, or build your nutrition consulting business online. There are endless opportunities to keep expanding your revenue sources and business offerings. Of course, this approach also has pros and cons:
Pros: You have the flexibility to decide where and when you work. You also have the final say on the services you do and don’t provide.
Cons: You’ll need to work to find your own clients. Working for yourself will also mean you might not receive a steady paycheck.
Ultimately, which path you take comes down to your preferences. But before you can begin your life as a sports nutritionist, you’ll need to gain the necessary knowledge on nutrition coaching.
How to Become a Sports Nutritionist
There are a couple ways you could become a sports nutritionist.
#1: Get a Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics
What’s the difference between a sports nutritionist and a sports dietician?
There are many, but the main one is that depending on the state in which you practice, you can call yourself a sports nutritionist without any formal nutritional education, training, licensing, or certification, but it’s illegal to call yourself a dietitian without proper credentials.
To earn the title “Registered Dietitian (RD)”, an individual must:
Complete a bachelor’s degree in nutrition education
Log 1,200 hours in an ACEND-accredited internship
Meet several licensing requirements
This rigorous process qualifies sports dietitians to offer medical nutritional therapy (MNT) to all demographics, including athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
So, back to how you can become a sports dietitian.
First, you must do everything required to become a registered dietitian. That means earning a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, completing a dietetic internship, and taking the RD exam.
Then, once you’ve been a registered dietitian for a minimum of two years, you can apply to become a certified sports dietitian from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
To become board-certified in sports dietetics, you must pass an exam covering various sports nutrition-related topics.
#2: Complete a Sports Nutritionist Certification Program
You can think of a sports nutritionist certification program—which can be held online, in-person, or in a hybrid manner—as somewhere between the average unregulated sports nutrition course and the extensive sports dietitian route.
A certification provides evidence of your experience, knowledge, and skills to potential employers and clients without costing you as much time or money when compared to a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nutrition.
Is a Sports Nutrition Certification Worth It?
When considering a sports nutrition certification program, you may find asking yourself the following questions helpful:
Will I enjoy the day-to-day life of a sports nutritionist?
How passionate am I about helping fitness enthusiasts and athletes achieve optimal performance through nutritional strategies?
Am I willing to go through the sports dietitian route?
Do I have the financial means to pay for the certification program?
Does my schedule allow me to study?
Can I cope without stable income for a few months as I establish myself as a certified sports nutritionist?
How to Choose the Best Sports Nutritionist Program for You
Not all sports nutritionist certification programs are created equal. To choose the best program for you, consider:
Curriculum: Is it comprehensive? Consider your target client: will they be fitness enthusiasts or pro athletes? How old are they (e.g., youths or seniors)? What issues do they need the most help with (e.g., improvement in athletic performance, weight management, injury rehabilitation)? Check out the course preview of your selected certification program. It should equip you with the expertise and knowledge to provide nutrition coaching to your target client.
Teaching methodology and style: How will the course materials be delivered? Ideally, the delivery format of your certification program should align with your learning preference. For example, if you learn best through self-study and hands-on experience, nutrition certification programs that provide “follow-along” worksheets filled with practice questions are a good idea.
Certification procedures: How are the lessons conducted? Online, in-person, or a hybrid of both? What is the process for class participation, homework, and exams?
Time availability: What does your schedule look like? Would you be able to carve out fixed times to attend live classes regularly, or would self-study and working through the materials at your own pace be a better fit?
Payment options: Beyond looking at a certification program’s overall cost, you may wish to check if the organization offers flexible payment options.
About AFPA’s Sports Nutrition Certification Program
AFPA’s Sports Nutrition Certification is an online certification program that you can complete at your own pace in less than 6 months.
Science-backed and up-to-date: Every AFPA program is developed by trusted, knowledgeable professionals with subject matter expertise to ensure the most accurate, up-to-date education available.
Wallet-friendly investment: Our certification costs significantly less than comparable certification and degree programs. Sweeter still, you can break up your payments over a 3-, 6-, or 12-month period with as low as 0% APR financing.
Flexible, self-paced study schedules: Once enrolled in the program, you will get instant digital access to all your course materials. Move through the program on your own time, at your own pace, from anywhere in the world.
Start Your Online Sports Nutrition Certification Program Today
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