How to become

How To Become A Certified Nutritionist

How To Become A Certified Nutritionist

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In many ways, the old saying “you are what you eat” holds true. Nutritionists, more than most, know this is the case. As their name implies, nutritionists are experts in nutrition who advise patients on how food and diet can impact their overall health. Nutritionists sometimes work with people who have medical conditions and those who want to improve their overall health. With specialized knowledge in physiology, metabolism, allergies and sensitivities, and the function of the gastrointestinal tract, nutritionists possess a unique perspective that allows them to guide clients in making healthy choices. Additionally, clinical nutritionists are able to educate their clients on how food and nutrition can help prevent and manage disease.

In light of America’s historically complicated relationship with food, it’s no surprise that the demand for nutritionists is on the rise. More nutritionists are being called to help patients battle ubiquitous conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. If helping patients develop healthy eating habits and guiding clients in their nutritional journey is of interest to you, you may want to consider a career as a nutritionist.


The History of Nutrition

Learn About the Evolution of Nutrition Careers and Dietitian Jobs

How To Become A Certified Nutritionist

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

~ La Rochefoucauld

The history of the study of food as medicine reveals centuries of discovery and development of nutrition careers.

Although modern science and the latest discoveries in biology, medicine, and health inform today’s field of nutrition and diet, people have been investigating the very real link between food and health for much longer than you may think.

Food and the History of Healing Through Nutrition

In 400 B.C. the Greek physician Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine” said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates realized that food impacts a person’s health, body and mind to help prevent illness as well as maintain wellness.

In Hippocrates’ Greece, as well as across pre-modern Europe and Asia since ancient times, foods were used to affect health. For instance, the juice of liver was squeezed on the eye to treat eye diseases, connected to Vitamin A deficiency. Garlic was used to cure an athlete’s foot, and eating ginger was thought to stimulate the metabolism.

In 1747, a British Navy physician, Dr. James Lind, saw that sailors were developing scurvy, a deadly bleeding disorder, on long voyages. He observed that they ate only nonperishable foods such as bread and meat.

Lind’s experiment fed one group of sailors salt water, one group vinegar, and one group limes. Those given limes didn’t develop scurvy. And although Vitamin C wasn’t discovered until the 1930s, this experiment changed the way physicians thought about food, creating a market for nutrition careers.

Scientific Developments in Nutrition

During the Enlightenment and into the Victorian age, scientific and medical development increased exponentially.

The concept of metabolism, the transfer of food and oxygen into heat and water in the body, creating energy, was discovered in 1770 by Antoine Lavoisier, the “Father of Nutrition and Chemistry.” And in the early 1800s, the elements of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen, the main components of food, were isolated and soon connected to health.

Work in the area of the chemical nature of foods—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—was done by Justus Liebig of Germany, and led to research in the area of vitamins in the early 20th century. In 1912, a Polish doctor, Casimir Funk, coined the term “vitamins” as essential factors in the diet. The term vitamin—first called “vitamine”—comes from “vital” and “amine,” because vitamins are required for life and they were originally thought to be amines—compounds derived from ammonia.

In 1912, E.V. McCollum, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher at the University of Wisconsin, began using rats instead of humans in his experiments rather than cows and sheep. He found the first fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin A, and discovered that rats were healthier when they were fed butter rather than lard, as butter contains more Vitamin A. Other diseases were linked to vitamin deficiencies, such as beri-beri, resulting from a lack of Vitamin B, and rickets, brought on by a lack of Vitamin D.

The Growth of the Health Products Industry

Many other vitamins were discovered and isolated in the early 20th century, and the concept of supplementing health with vitamins was born.

The first vitamin pills were marketed in the 1930s, and created a new industry around science-based health products. In October of 1994, the Dietary and Supplement Health and Education Act was approved by Congress. It sets forth what can and cannot be said about nutritional supplements without prior Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review, showing the impact of this industry.

Dietitians and nutritionists first worked in hospitals in the late 19th century as the role of good nutrition in health began to be accepted. In the United States, the Public Health Service began including dietitians in PHS Hospital staff in 1919 after World War I, to help monitor and improve the health of World War I veterans, and became increasingly involved in the nation’s health care system and beyond, into the private sector.

The rise of the nutrition-oriented professions

As nutrition and dietitian programs started to become more prevalent, nutrition careers and dietitian jobs became more popular. Dietitians are registered with the American Dietetic Association and are only able to use the title “dietitian” when they have met strict, specific educational and experiential prerequisites and passed a national registration examination. The title “nutritionist” is protected and designated by many but not all states in the United States.

Traditionally, dietitians work in hospitals, schools, and prisons, and nutritionists more often work in private practice, in education and research, although there is some overlap between the two.

As we become increasingly aware and concerned about how nutrition affects our health, the fields of nutrition and alternative medicine have seen unprecedented growth and expansion. This continuing demand has fueled increasing nutrition jobs growth and has provided more career opportunities than ever. College distance-learning and online nutrition programs are a great way to explore this unique field with a distinguished and ancient pedigree.

Becoming a Nutritionist Without a Degree

Are you interested in working in nutrition and dietetics, but maybe thinking to yourself, “I wonder if I can do this without earning a college degree?” Although many national certification agencies require nutritionists to have degrees, and state licensure usually requires a degree, it is possible to become a nutritionist without a college degree. If you want to become a nutritionist without a degree, you will not be able to call yourself a registered nutritionist, certified nutritionist, or licensed nutritionist. Let’s look at the avenues available to you if you wish to become a nutritionist without a degree.

What Do Nutritionists Do?

Before deciding if you want to work as a nutritionist without a degree, you should know exactly what a nutritionist does. Nutritionists value health above all else, and believe that food choice is the key to maintaining good health and even treating some illnesses or diseases. They assess a client’s dietary and nutritional needs, provide them with nutrition programs, counsel them on foods, and help them to make better food choices. Nutritionists work in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to long-term-care centers to schools to nonprofit agencies to private practice.

Nutritionists, therefore, should be well-versed in science, particularly human anatomy. If spending four to six years getting a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in nutrition doesn’t sound like something you want to do, it is possible to work as an unlicensed or unregulated nutritionist. 

How to Work as a Nutritionist Without a Degree

In the United States, in order to work as a registered dietitian nutritionist, you must be certified through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). This requires a degree (bachelor’s at this time, although that requirement is changing to a master’s degree in 2024) and passing the CDR Exam. There are nutritional certifications that you can pursue without a degree, however.

Where to Work as a Nutritionist Without a Degree

At this point, you might be wondering, if I do complete an online certification and become a nutritionist without a degree, where can I work? There are many options for employment of non-degreed nutritionists who are otherwise certified. Fitness centers, rehabilitation centers, gyms, schools, medical centers, and private practice are all viable employment settings for nutritionists who do not have a degree. If you decide to work as a private practice nutritionist, it is important to build relationships with healthcare professionals within your community. These practitioners should be able to provide client referrals to you.

Recently, the following jobs were posted online for nutritionists. A degree was not a requirement for any of these positions. If you hold one of the above-mentioned certifications, along with a bit of experience, that could supersede a “degree preferred” requirement:

  • Nutrition Coach – Design Your Body Academy, remote
    • Requirements: high school diploma and three years of nutrition coaching
  • WIC Nutritionist – FHCCP, Bloomsburg, PA
    • Requirements: bachelor’s degree preferred but not required
  • Nutritionist – Dow Bay Area Family YMCA, Bay City, MI
    • Requirements: bachelor’s degree preferred but not required
  • Nutritionist – Maternal & Family Health Services, Bristol, PA
    • Requirements: bachelor’s degree preferred but not required
  • Functional Medicine Nutritionist – Arthritis Care & Research Center, Inc., Poway, CA
    • Requirements: no degree required; three years of experience preferred

Licensed Nutritionist Career Overview

A Licensed Nutritionist has earned credentials from a nationally recognized nutrition licensing body, such as the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (CBNS) or the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB). Some states require licensure of nutritionists while others do not. A list of such state regulations is published by the CDR. Licensed Nutritionists are regulated by their certification board as well as by the state in which they practice. Once licensed to practice in a particular state, a Licensed Nutritionist may legally provide nutrition counseling, nutrition services and advice. Settings in which Licensed Nutritionists may work include hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, community programs and nonprofit organizations.

Licensed Nutritionist Job Description

Featured Nutritionist Programs

  • Purdue University Global’s Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Program is an approved holistic nutrition education program through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
  • UNC’s Online MPH With Nutrition Concentration. UNC’s top-ranked public health school offers an online MPH with Nutrition concentration. Complete in 20 months. Bachelor’s degree required. No GRE required. Enroll in our January or May 2022 cohort and receive a $12,000 scholarship..
  • Arizona State University’s Nutrition Bachelors and Masters level programs online prepare students for careers in Health Education, Community Health, Food Analysis and more.
  • George Washington University’s Online Master’s in Integrative Medicine with a Concentration in Nutrition specialize in promoting health and wellness through nutrition.
  • American University’s online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond.
  • Spring Hill College offers an Online Master’s in Public Health.

A Licensed Nutritionist has studied nutrition and all of its specialties. This training will enable the Licensed Nutritionist to work in various settings, each of which carries its own job duties. A Registered Dietitian may be considered a Licensed Nutritionist, depending upon a state’s licensing laws, but not all Licensed Nutritionists are Registered Dietitians. The general job description of a Licensed Nutritionist includes:

  • Evaluating a client’s nutritional needs
  • Providing nutritional counseling and advice to clients
  • Creating a clinical nutrition treatment plan for a client
  • Educating the public on nutrition issues
  • Researching the effects of nutrition on health and fitness
  • Consulting with a team of health care practitioners on nutritional management for a client

Specializations for Licensed Nutritionists, determining the settings in which they may work, include (but are not limited to):

  • Clinical Nutritionist – works in medical and long-term care facilities
  • Public Health Nutritionist – works in community and government organizations
  • Management Nutritionists– work in medical facilities and institutions in planning meals and dietary needs
  • Nutritional Consultant – works in private practice providing nutritional information to others through counseling, educational seminars, and working with corporations
  • Sports Nutritionist – works with clients who are trying to get healthy through diet and physical activity, at fitness centers, gyms and sports medicine clinics
  • Animal Nutritionists – work with the dietary needs of animals, in research, for pet food companies, zoos, and veterinarians

Skills Required

Skills that are necessary to be a good Licensed Nutritionist include:

  • Being an active listener
  • Possessing  good speaking skills
  • Being an effective writer
  • Having good reasoning, logic and critical thinking skills
  • Possessing good coordination skills
  • Possessing good reading comprehension skills
  • Being perceptive and understanding to others’ reactions
  • Being able to solve complex problems
  • Being able to teach others
  • Being able to use good judgment and make good decisions

Licensed Nutritionist Education Requirements

Most states that require licensure of nutritionists also mandate that they are registered or certified through a particular organization. Many states require that Licensed Nutritionists follow the educational requirements for Registered Dietitians (RD), set forth by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). This requires that all Licensed Nutritionists earn a minimum of a bachelor’s nutritionist degree from a university or college accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the ADA. Programs must include classroom coursework and a supervised internship.

Other states that require nutritionists to hold a license state that Licensed Nutritionists must hold at least a graduate degree.

Finally, some states require that students be certified through another organization, such as the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB). This entails earning at least a bachelor’s degree and coursework in the following areas (these courses are typically required of all Licensed Nutritionists, regardless of their certification status):

  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition and disease
  • Nutrition assessment
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Nutrition and aging
  • Nutrition and supplementation
  • Herbology

Licensure/Certification Qualifications

States vary in their licensure requirements for nutritionists. All Licensed Nutritionists must also fulfill the requirements of the body that certified them, whether it is the CDR, CNCB or another credentialing body.

The difference between nutritionists and dietitians

Although dietitians and nutritionists both help people find the best diets and foods to meet their health needs, they have different qualifications. In the United States, dietitians are certified to treat clinical conditions, whereas nutritionists are not always certified. This article outlines the differences between nutritionists and dietitians, including their training, what they do, and insurance coverage.

What is the difference?

All dietitians can treat clinical conditions, but not all nutritionists have certification.

In the U.S., dietitians must receive certification from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in order to practice. Dietitians can treat specific health conditions, such as eating disorders, by providing food recommendations.

Some organizations also certify nutritionists, such as the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). However, nutritionist training can vary. Some states do not require certification, so it is possible for anyone in those states to offer nutrition advice.

Nutritionists may also have different areas of focus to dietitians. For example, nutritionists can pursue advanced qualifications in specific health areas, such as sports nutrition, digestive disorders, and autoimmune conditions. The BCNS also offer Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist qualifications for those who want to understand the keto diet in more detail.

However, some nutritionists provide more general advice on healthful eating, weight loss, and reducing tiredness.


The following sections will cover the different qualifications a dietitian or nutritionist may have.

Registered dietitian nutritionists

Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) provide medical nutrition therapy (MNT) to people with certain health conditions.

This could be in a hospital setting or in a private practice. Sometimes, RDNs also provide nutritional education and expertise to schools, nursing homes, food-related businesses, or public health offices.

To become an RDN, a person must receive certification from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To earn this certification, they need to:

  • have a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification at a regionally accredited university or college in the U.S.
  • have the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics accredit or approve their coursework
  • complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice through an ACEND-accredited practice program
  • pass a national examination that the Commission on Dietetic Registration administer
  • complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration

Certified Clinical Nutritionist

A certified clinical nutritionist (CCN) is qualified to assess people’s nutritional needs based on their lifestyle and health goals. The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board offers this certification.

A CCN can provide personalized recommendations for diet, exercise, supplements, and stress relief. To become a CCN, a person must have one of the following nutrition degrees in order to begin training:

  • Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
  • Masters (M.S.)
  • Doctor of Philosophy
  • Doctor of Science (Sc.D.)

Alternatively, they might have an advanced professional degree in another licensed healthcare field.

The amount of training a person needs to become a certified CCN depends on their preexisting qualifications. For example, someone with a B.S. degree must spend a minimum of 3 course hours on a range of topics — such as human physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology — before they become certified.

Someone with a more advanced degree, such as an Sc.D. or nursing degree, may not need to complete as much training. However, all CCNs must pass an exam and need to maintain their certification with ongoing training every 2 years.

Certified nutrition specialist

The certified nutrition specialist (CNS) credential is a qualification that a nutritionist can earn in the U.S. The BCNS certified all CNSs.

People who apply for CNS training must have an M.S. or doctoral degree in nutrition or another related field. In addition to these degrees, all trainee CNSs must:

  • complete coursework from a regionally accredited institution
  • complete 1,000 hours of documented, supervised practice
  • pass an exam
  • recertify with continuing education credits every 5 years

The minimum number of hours a CNS must spend learning about the life sciences is higher than that of CCNs. They may also study topics such as pharmacology, drug interactions, and nutritional disorders.


Insurance providers often cover visits to RDNs for specific health conditions.

In 2020, the U.S. government recognized that MNT can help treat a range of chronic conditions that disproportionately affect Medicare beneficiaries. Two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries have more than one chronic health condition.

The Medical Nutrition Therapy Act of 2020 provides Medicare Part B coverage of MNT to people who have:

  • obesity
  • prediabetes
  • cancer
  • celiac disease
  • HIV or AIDS
  • hypertension
  • dyslipidemia
  • malnutrition
  • eating disorders
  • any other disease or condition that causes unintentional weight loss

In addition to doctors, the legislation also allows nurses and psychologists to refer people for MNT.

Other nutrition services 

Other nutrition services include nutrition coaches, health coaches, and fitness instructors in gyms. The level of training required among professionals with these job titles can vary.

In order to use titles such as RDN or CCN, a person must have proper certification. It is important to thoroughly check a practitioner’s qualifications and experience before working with them, as their expertise may vary.


RDNs provide nutrition guidance to people with specific conditions. A doctor, nurse, or psychologist can refer someone to a dietitian through Medicare if they have certain chronic health conditions.

Nutritionists’ qualifications and experience can be more variable, so people should check that a practitioner has adequate training for their needs before signing up for their services.

Although CSNs and CCNs are two of the most thorough nutritionist certifications, other nutritionist certifications are available. Additionally, some practitioners can call themselves a “nutritionist” without receiving formal training or certification.

Nutritionist: job description

Nutritionists help to advance an understanding of how diet affects the health and wellbeing of people and animals.

Nutritionists need to be able to relate to people from a variety of different backgrounds. Nutritionists provide information on food and healthy eating and can work in a range of areas, including in public health, in the private sector and in education and research. Unlike dietitians who primarily work with people who are ill or whose health is affected by conditions such as food allergies, malnutrition or diabetes, nutritionists mostly work with people who are healthy. They may be involved in educating individuals or groups or in forming policy to shape nutritional advice. The amount of direct contact they have with members of the public depends on the precise nature of the role.

Key responsibilities of the job include:

  • researching how the body’s functions are affected by nutrient supply
  • investigating the relationship between genes and nutrients
  • studying how diet affects metabolism
  • examining the process of nourishment and the association between diet, disease and health
  • providing health advice and promoting healthy eating
  • advising about special diets
  • educating health professionals and the public about nutrition
  • working as part of a multidisciplinary team/supporting the work of other health care professionals

Typical employers of nutritionists

  • National and local government (health and food departments)
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Colleges
  • Universities
  • Food and animal feed manufacturers and retailers
  • Sports and exercise industry

Nutritionists work in many different non-clinical settings. Some are employed within the NHS, where they work alongside dietitians. A nutritionist cannot work with acutely ill patients in hospital unless supervised by a dietitian.

A small number of vacancies arise for appropriately qualified and experienced nutritionists to work for emergency relief and development projects overseas.

Jobs are advertised online, by careers services and recruitment agencies, in newspapers and in specialist publications. The Nutrition Society also advertises vacancies on its website.

Qualifications and training required

There is no set entry route to becoming a nutritionist. However, in order to register with the professional association for nutritionists, the Association for Nutrition (AfN), you’ll usually need an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that’s approved by them. The AfN lists accredited degrees on its website, and also certifies short courses that provide an introduction to nutrition science for those who are not ready to undertake a degree.

The undergraduate degree courses accredited by the AfN cover areas such as human nutrition, public health, nutrition and food science, nutrition and exercise and animal nutrition. You will usually need two or three A levels or equivalent, often including biology.

You will need a relevant first degree in order to apply for an accredited postgraduate qualification. These include masters qualifications in areas such as international nutrition, public health nutrition and sport and exercise nutrition. Requirements vary, but a medical or science degree, particularly in a biological science, is likely to be an advantage.

Key skills for nutritionists

  • Team Working skills
  • Keen interest in the impact of diet on health
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills, including the ability to explain complex things simply
  • An understanding of science
  • Able to motivate others
  • Business skills for freelance work

Career Paths and Typical Workplaces

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts around 5,900 new jobs for nutritionists and dietitians by 2029. With so much growth, combined with the convenience of online nutrition degrees, the possible career opportunities and work environments are expanding.

Most nutritionists choose to work for an employer rather than be self-employed. The benefits of working in a hospital, doctor’s office or other facility are structured hours and medical benefits.

On the other hand, if you build a strong reputation for yourself, being self-employed can sometimes yield a greater salary and hours of your choosing. Nutritionists can be found in a wide variety of roles and workplaces:

  • Private practice: Many nutritionists have their own counseling practices. For an hourly consulting fee, you might offer counseling to clients whose goals align with your background and any specialty you might have such as holistic health or weight loss.
  • Hospitals: Nutritionists working in hospital settings work with other healthcare professionals to develop nutrition plans for patients to follow both during their stay and after discharge.
  • Physicians’ offices: You’ll collaborate with physicians to offer integrative services that combine traditional medicine with nutrition, counseling patients who have a chronic condition, have received a new diagnosis, or are undergoing a change such as pregnancy.
  • Holistic healthcare clinics: In these environments, nutritionists work alongside other professionals to combine the science of food with other methods to improve overall wellness. These could include counseling services on topics such as sleep, exercise, or relaxation, or alternative therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage.
  • Nursing care facilities: Patients in nursing care facilities often have chronic conditions that require specialized diets. In this setting, you’ll work with both the nursing and kitchen staff to ensure patients get the meals that fit their needs.
  • Outpatient care facilities: You’ll work with patients who are recovering from hospital stays, certain procedures, or eating disorders. Patients in this setting might need to have their progress continuously monitored and have changes made to their diet plans as they continue to heal.
  • Natural pharmacies, herbalist shops, or health food stores: At a health-focused retail shop, customers are likely to be looking for specialized diets and holistic wellness alternatives. As a nutritionist in this setting, you’d advise these customers on the foods that can help them meet their goals. You might also offer recipe suggestions or host nutrition education workshops.
  • Corporations: Large companies sometimes hire nutritionists to work as wellness consultants. These professionals help employees use nutrition to meet their personal goals and support their activities at work.
  • Food service management: Nutritionists could also go into food service management, overseeing the food and beverage options at a hotel, restaurant spa, wellness retreat, or dorms to help students living away from home for the first time and making independent food choices.
  • Food manufacturers: Nutritionists can also serve on staff or as consultants to food and beverage manufacturers, ranging from national food producers to locally sourced meal prep delivery kits. Some nutritionists find work ensuring that food manufacturers are following standards for quality and safety. In this role, you can help ensure that the food that reaches consumers meets their needs.
  • Sports facilities: Nutritionists are often needed to help athletes ensure they get all the proper nutrients they need to maintain their strength, working either with individual athletes or entire teams.

Subscribing to a newsletter, such as The American Nutrition Association’s ‘Nutrition Digest’ and other professional resources for aspiring and active nutritionists can shed a lot of light on what it’s really like to be a nutritionist in various fields.

What Specialties Can a Nutritionist Have?

Being an expert in a specific type of nutrition can help you grow your career and find a job tailored to your area or population of interest. Some common specialties for nutritionists include:

Weight management

A weight management nutritionist works with clients to develop meal plans that will help them meet their weight goals. Depending on the client, this might include plans that ensure that low calorie diets still provide adequate nutrition, or that high calorie diets will not cause unwanted effects such as spikes in cholesterol.


As an oncology nutritionist you’ll work directly with cancer patients to help them get the nutrients they need during treatment and recovery. You’ll also work with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals as part of a team to provide well-rounded care. Note, however, that to become a board certified specialist in this area, you will first need to be a registered dietitian, not a nutritionist.

Eating disorders

Patients with eating disorders need a nutritionist to be a partner in their recovery. An eating disorder nutritionist needs to be sensitive to the needs of the patients who often have a very unhealthy relationship with food. This role will involve not only meal planning, but working directly with patients to help them feel better about their bodies and food choices. It’s a good idea to take classes focused on psychology and eating disorders in addition to nutrition courses if you want to pursue this specialty.

Plant-based nutrition

Plant-based nutrition is one of the newest nutrition fields. In this emerging specialty, you’ll help clients make the transition to a vegan diet and lifestyle. Generally, you’ll need to gain a certification in plant-based nutrition in addition to your nutrition degree program. You can earn certification in as little as 6 weeks and many programs can be completed entirely online.

Sports nutritionist

A sports nutritionist works with athletes or teams who have specific caloric and nutrient needs to support their athletic activities. Sports nutritionists might also be trainers who can help clients develop eating plans in conjunction with muscle building or weight loss exercise routines.

Pediatric or geriatric nutritionist

As a pediatric nutritionist, you’ll work with children to make sure the food they’re eating is helping them hit developmental milestones, as well as special needs for chronic conditions and more. Similarly, geriatric nutritionists work with the elderly to make sure they’re getting the nutrients they need to support the aging process.

Nutritionist Career Overview

Not all states require nutritionists to be licensed in order to practice legally. According to the Commission on Dietetic Re Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the following states do not require formal certification, licensure or occupational regulation for nutritionists:

ArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutGeorgiaHawaiiIdahoIndianaIowaKansasLouisianaMichiganNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyOklahomaOregonSouth CarolinaTexasUtahVermontWest VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

Keep in mind, however, that even in states without licensure requirements for nutritionists, some employers require nutritionists to be certified or registered through organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) or the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB). This career page will focus strictly on Non-Licensed Nutritionists who are not required to be registered or certified with any organization. Non-Licensed Nutritionists usually work in non-clinical settings, such as holistic and alternative medicine clinics and centers.

Nutritionist Education Requirements

Because Non-Licensed Nutritionists are not regulated by any certifying body or state agency, there are no prescribed educational mandates for the profession. It is necessary for a prospective Non-Licensed Nutritionist to have a thorough knowledge of nutrition and foods. Some employers of Non-Licensed Nutritionists may require that they have a minimum of an associate’s degree. Other Non-Licensed Nutritionists jobs call for a master’s degree.

Courses for Non-Licensed Nutritionists may be available at traditional colleges and universities, as well as at specialized trade schools and alternative medicine centers. Classes that aspiring Non-Licensed Nutritionists should take include:

  • Sciences (chemistry, biology, microbiology, anatomy)
  • Nutrition along the lifespan
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Organic herbs and potions
  • Body systems and functions
  • Medical terminology
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Biopsychology

Much of the knowledge that Non-Licensed Nutritionists have is gained through experience. Some alternative medicine schools and clinics offer students the opportunity to work in a practicum or internship setting. This can provide students with valuable real-life work experience that can be very beneficial when seeking work as a Non-Licensed Nutritionist as opposed to a nutritionist degree.

Nutritionist Job Description

Non-Licensed Nutritionists may work in traditional or alternative settings. Usually, their jobs entail providing advice and counseling to clients on nutritional and dietary matters. Job duties may be tailored to the job setting for a Non-Licensed Nutritionist. Sites in which one may find a Non-Licensed Nutritionist, in states not requiring licensure for nutritionists, include:

  • Alternative medicine practice
  • Holistic health center
  • Private practice
  • Community centers
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Fitness and beauty centers
  • Retail and industry

Duties for a Non-Licensed Nutritionist may include:

  • Assessing the nutritional needs of clients
  • Offering nutritional advice and counseling to clients
  • Creating individualized nutrition plans for clients
  • Public education on nutrition, both traditional and alternative/holistic
  • Consulting with other health professionals for the good of the client

Nutritionist Skills Required

The skills that a Non-Licensed Nutritionist should have include:

  • Public speaking
  • Listening
  • Writing
  • Critical thinking and reasoning
  • Reading comprehension
  • Sensitivity to others’ feelings, actions and reactions
  • Problem-solving
  • Teaching/instructing
  • Decision-making
  • Judgment
  • Flexibility in thinking and open-mindedness


9 Questions About Online Nutritionist Degrees

As you think about becoming a nutritionist, there are many directions you can take in your studies. With the right education and certification, you can specialize as a holistic nutritionist, sports nutritionist, pediatric nutritionist, and more.

Likewise, you’ll have plenty to think about regarding the type of educational experience you want to have. For example, if you have a full-time job and need to fit your studies into an already busy schedule, getting your degree online may be a good choice.

But before you settle on a program, make sure you’ve considered answers to the common questions that can help you decide what’s right for you and your goals.

1. What Types of Degrees Can I Get Online?

While many science and healthcare programs require students to learn on campus in a traditional program, you’ll have numerous options if you want to earn a nutritionist degree online. Nutrition programs are offered by many institutions and can be found at all levels.

Depending on the qualification you’re seeking, your program could take as little as a few months or as long as several years. 

Nutrition certificates

Time to complete: 3–12 months

If you’re looking to start your nutrition career quickly, you can earn an entry-level certificate online. In most cases, these only require a high school diploma or GED in order to get started. By earning your certificate, you can gain a general knowledge base and qualify for some roles in the field, though you may need to work under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. Earning a certificate can also be a great first step if you’re still deciding if becoming a nutritionist is for you. Some certificates you can earn include:

  • Nutrition consulting
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Holistic nutrition
  • Health coaching
  • Sports nutrition

Keep in mind, however, that a certificate is not a certification. Certificates indicate that you’ve completed a certain course of study, while certification shows that you’ve not only completed a required level of education, but also have the experience and/or have completed testing requirements that are necessary to earn a particular title. In many cases, a certificate will not be enough to lead to certification, nor will it qualify you to earn any licensing requirements in your state.

Associate’s degree in nutrition

Time to complete: 2–3 years

You’ll generally need a high school diploma or GED to get started, and some programs might have a few prerequisites like basic algebra, biology, or chemistry. An associate’s program will be more in-depth than a certificate, and you’ll take science-based classes such as anatomy and physiology in addition to nutrition-specific classes. In some programs, you might also take culinary arts classes alongside your nutrition coursework. These classes can broaden your knowledge of food preparation, ingredients, and techniques.

Bachelor’s degree in nutrition

Time to complete: Around 4 years

You’ll need to decide the type of nutrition career you want before you can pick a bachelor’s level program. At the bachelor’s level, you’ll expect to focus on science-heavy coursework, sports nutrition, holistic methods, and other specializations. You might see degree programs for aspiring nutritionists as bachelor’s in:

  • Applied nutrition
  • Clinical nutrition
  • Dietetics
  • Food or nutrition science
  • Holistic nutrition

It’ll typically take around four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, although some online programs will allow you to move at an accelerated pace. You’ll need at least a high school diploma or GED, and there will likely be other admission requirements, such as SAT scores, a minimum GPA, and a personal essay.

Master’s degree in nutrition

Time to complete: 2–3 years, after receiving a bachelor’s

A master’s program in nutrition is generally intended for students who already have a bachelor’s in nutrition or another healthcare or science-related field. You’ll study advanced coursework such as management, program creation, and nutrition theory. You might also study nutrition as it relates to large societal issues, such as the obesity epidemic. These programs can also be very competitive, and you’ll likely need to meet GPA, GRE, and other admission requirements.

PhD in nutrition

Time to complete: 4–8 years, after receiving a bachelor’s or master’s

Though less common, some nutritionists opt to earn the highest level of the degree—the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). To enter one of these programs, you’ll likely need a master’s degree in a nutrition-related field, though some programs may accept students with only a bachelor’s. PhD programs are designed for nutritionists who wish to teach or conduct research at the university level or go into government or other public policy positions.

2. How Do Online and On-Campus Programs Differ?

An online and on-campus program will cover the same information and prepare you for the same roles, but they differ mainly in the way the material is delivered. On-campus programs might offer more hands-on options in areas such as food preparation or kitchen management, while also allowing you to have more in-person interaction with your teachers and fellow students.

Online programs, on the other hand, give you the flexibility to fit coursework into your own schedule. You’ll read the same material and take tests online, though you might be able to enjoy the benefit of rewatching lectures or having them transcribed for you.

You should still be able to have access to your teachers via email or video calls, and some may even ask for the occasional in-person check-in. You’ll likely be able to communicate with other students in online discussion boards, and might have the chance to attend off-campus study sessions with other remote students if you choose.

3. What Will I Study?

The exact courses you take will depend on your specific program, but there are some general areas you can expect to cover. You’ll likely study biology, anatomy, and psychology to get a scientific foundation for your degree. Your nutrition coursework will teach you the foundations of nutrition, and you’ll learn about how nutritional needs can vary greatly from person to person or for differing populations.

4. Do I Need to Be Physically Present for Anything?

It depends. Your program might have some in-person requirements such as internships or practicums, but not all of them do. However, if you’re seeking a professional certification or license in nutrition, you’ll most likely need in-person experience under the supervision of a licensed nutritionist or similar practitioner.

The amount of experience required will depend on the credential you’re pursuing and the regulations of your state. Our guide breaks down the various certifications available and the laws regarding nutritionists in each state. 

Some online schools also require that you take tests in a supervised, proctored environment (a service many local tutoring and learning center businesses offer), which can sometimes cost a small fee.

5. What Should I Look for in an Online School?

One of the most important things to look for in any school and program is accreditation. Accreditation verifies that the level of education has met current quality standards, while also affecting your ability to apply for federal financial aid, earn certification, and qualify for certain jobs.

Beyond accreditation, some important questions to ask as you search for a program include:

  • What kinds of jobs do graduates of this program find?
  • What qualifications do the faculty have?
  • What is the format of online class delivery?
  • Do I need to take tests in person?
  • Does this program require an internship or practicum?
  • Does this program meet the requirements of the certification I’m seeking?
  • Can I take classes part-time with this program?
  • Does this program offer job placement or academic counseling services?
  • Is there financial aid available?

6. How Much Do Online Programs Cost?

Your online program costs will depend on factors such as the school, location, and level of degree. For example, it will generally be much cheaper to earn an associate’s degree from a college based in your state than to earn a master’s degree from an out-of-state school.

A benefit of attending college online is that it can allow you to reduce many of the expenses associated with an on-campus program. The College Board breaks down the expenses associated with earning a degree into five categories:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies
  • Personal expenses
  • Transportation

An online program will eliminate the fees for room and board, though obviously there will still be costs associated with your food and housing off-campus. By not having to travel to school, online programs can also eliminate the cost of transportation and, in many cases, reduce the cost of textbooks and supplies. Additionally, as an online student, your personal expenses are unlikely to change significantly once you start school.

7. Is Financial Aid Available?

Yes. As long as you attend an accredited program, you can apply for federal financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Filling out the FAFSA will let you know what federal loans and grants you’re eligible for based on your current financial situation. Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA, you can look into other sources of aid, such as work-study programs through your school.

There are also scholarships and aid available specifically for students of nutrition. Many of these are specific to students who meet certain requirements, such as: 

  • Being part of a specific minority group
  • Living in a certain state or region
  • Having a minimum GPA
  • Having done community service or healthcare work
  • Being in certain types of degree programs

A good place to start looking is the list of awards maintained by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.

8. What Can I Do with an Online Degree?

Your online degree will prepare you for the same roles as a traditional on-campus degree. There are a wide range of job roles you might be able to find once you earn your degree, though some of these roles will require a certain specialization or certification. Some common job duties for nutritionists include:

  • Seeing patients in private practice for nutritional counseling
  • Seeing patients in a hospital or healthcare setting
  • Consulting for food or wellness companies
  • Working with patients with eating disorders
  • Working in a community-based setting to educate people on nutrition
  • Working with athletes and others seeking sports nutrition

The best way for aspiring and current nutritionists to stay up to date with the happenings of the industry and evolving career paths, is a subscription to the various professional organizations, journals, podcasts, blogs, and more.

9. How Much Can I Make with an Online Degree?

The amount of money you can earn as a nutritionist will depend on your degree, employer, location, and level of experience. You can search by state below for the median salary in your location.

StateMedian SalaryBottom 10%Top 10%
District of Columbia$77,810$47,150$101,220
North Carolina$60,040$37,310$78,230
North Dakota$60,490$47,020$77,670
New Hampshire$63,650$46,710$89,150
New Jersey$76,270$59,280$94,880
New Mexico$61,090$45,200$80,200
New York$75,000$48,000$98,540
Rhode Island$74,970$38,160$100,650
South Carolina$59,280$27,050$77,560
South Dakota$59,320$47,020$97,720
West Virginia$61,940$42,090$87,820

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

And those who receive online education shouldn’t expect to make less just because they earned their degree remotely. In a recent study by the Online Learning Consortium, enrollment in online courses has continued to grow rapidly, with the learning method increasingly becoming more and more the norm.

In order to ensure that your salary won’t be negatively affected by having an online degree, make sure that your school is accredited, has a long-standing good reputation, and can vouch for the quality of its graduates.

A Sports Nutritionist

More than ever, professional and college-level sports organizations are acknowledging the importance of exposing their athletes to more nutrition conscious lifestyles. In fact, recently the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has joined forces with the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) to more actively promote nutritious lifestyles among its athletes.

As the sports community continues to advance athletic performance through nutrition education, the sports nutrition profession continues to gain greater recognition. Most sports nutritionists gain entry into the field by gaining a combination of formal education and training in nutrition-related disciplines. Often, the most successful sports nutritionists are certified, licensed or registered nutritionists with specialized training in athletic, fitness and sports settings.

Job Description Of A Sports Nutritionists

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the primary job responsibilities for sports nutritionists include:

  • Administering nutrition counseling for individuals
  • Engaging in menu development plans
  • Creating nutrition-rich food service initiatives
  • Spearheading nutrition education for teams, groups or wellness programs
  • Using nutrition to facilitate professional development

Education for Sports Nutritionists

Regulatory restrictions for sports nutritionists will inevitably vary from state to state. Most employers hire sports nutritionists that have proven occupational proficiency by completing an undergraduate degree in a career-related major such as nutrition, exercise science, sports nutrition, kinesiology, food science and dietetics. However, sports nutritionists that complete graduate or postgraduate education often attract a greater volume of employers and clients alike.

Students that are searching for degree programs in sports nutrition are encouraged to select one that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency such as the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). In addition, the program should prepare students to sit for the Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD).

Sports Nutritionist Certification and Licensing

Since sports nutrition is not a federally regulated occupation, each state is free to set their own certification and licensing standards. Some states currently require sports nutritionists to obtain a license or certificate from their Board of Nutrition in order to practice, while other states do not. Even sports nutritionists that are not legally obligated to become certified or licensed professionals often earn credentials through a national credentialing agency such as the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) to establish professional competency in the field.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2021, the average salary for nutritionists was $65,620. Early career professionals earned about $49,490, while those with extensive experience earned about $93,640 during this time.*

A sport nutritionist’s salary is largely dependent on their level of formal education, experience, specialized training, industry in which they work, and geographic location. As of May 2021, the states with the highest average salary for nutritionists included:

  • California
  • Washington DC
  • Hawaii
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island

The top-paying industries for nutritionists included:

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
  • Nondurable goods merchant wholesalers
  • Home healthcare services
  • Federal agencies (e.g., CDC, FDA, CMS)
  • Scientific research and development services

*2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for dietitians and nutritionists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Salary statistics representing entry-level/early career = 25th percentile; mid-level= 50th percentile; senior-level/highly experienced = 90th percentile. Data accessed April 2022.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2021, there were 66,690 dietitians and nutritionists employed throughout the country. By 2030, this number is expected to rise to 80,800 employees. During the ten-year period between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects about 5,900 annual job openings due to a blend of new job growth, retirements, and natural job turnover.*

The following industries reported the highest employment levels of dietitians and nutritionists as of May 2021:

  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Skilled nursing care facilities
  • Special food services

A Holistic Nutritionist

Holistic nutritionists are helping to quell preventive health problems, such as obesity, that continue to negatively affect American adolescents. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of youth people throughout the nation:

  • Do not eat the daily recommended 2.5 to 6.5 cups of fruits and vegetables
  • Do not eat the daily recommended 2 to 3 ounces of whole grains
  • Eat more than the daily recommended 1,500 to 2,300 mg of sodium

Since “holistic nutritionist” is still an emerging profession, many states do not regulate health care providers that use this title. However, many holistic nutritionists successful careers completing the following steps:

  • Complete an educational program in holistic nutrition that is approved by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP)
  • Acquire at least 500 hours of work experience in holistic nutrition
  • Pass examination by the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board to become board certified in holistic nutrition

Job Description for Holistic Nutritionists

Holistic nutritionists are specialized nutritionists that heal patients using natural foods and products instead of conventional medical treatments. They also seek to remedy the entire or “whole” person (mind, body, and soul) as opposed to curing isolated symptoms. Holistic nutritionists typically perform the following services:

  • Evaluating a patient’s lifestyle
  • Introducing healthy eating habits
  • Creating customized meal plans
  • Developing stress management skills
  • Educating the public on holistic wellness

Education for Holistic Nutritionists

Featured Nutritionist Programs

  • Purdue University Global’s Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Program is an approved holistic nutrition education program through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
  • UNC’s Online MPH With Nutrition Concentration. UNC’s top-ranked public health school offers an online MPH with Nutrition concentration. Complete in 20 months. Bachelor’s degree required. No GRE required. Enroll in our January or May 2022 cohort and receive a $12,000 scholarship..
  • Arizona State University’s Nutrition Bachelors and Masters level programs online prepare students for careers in Health Education, Community Health, Food Analysis and more.
  • George Washington University’s Online Master’s in Integrative Medicine with a Concentration in Nutrition specialize in promoting health and wellness through nutrition.
  • American University’s online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond.
  • Spring Hill College offers an Online Master’s in Public Health.

Find Schools

Students that are looking for a career-related education are advised to complete a NANP-approved holistic nutrition education program. These programs are offered by colleges, universities, health institutes, and professional associations nationwide and instruct in field-related subjects including:

  • Nutrition & Pathophysiology
  • Introductory Herbology
  • Nutritional Counseling
  • Comparative Dietary Systems
  • Nutrition Supplementation

Students that complete a NANP-approved educational program in holistic nutrition could earn one of the following undergraduate or graduate degrees:

  • Associate of Applied Science in Complementary Alternative Medicine
  • Associate of Applied Science in Health & Wellness
  • Bachelor of Science in Health Science
  • Master of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Holistic Nutrition

Holistic Nutritionist Certification

Many holistic nutritionists opt to become certified to stay current with professional standards in the industry, demonstrate credibility to future patients, and generate trust within the medical and business communities. The premier certification agency for holistic nutritionists is the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board (HNCB). Individuals that successfully pass examinations by the HNCB are granted the distinction of “Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition.”

Employment for Holistic Nutritionists

Holistic nutritionist can anticipate a positive occupational outlook. Between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates employment among nutritionists and dietitians will increase by 11 percent, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations during this time.* As of May 2021, the BLS reports that the following industries employ the largest number of nutritionists:

  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Special food services
  • Local government

Salary Expectations for Holistic Nutritionists

As of May 2021, the BLS reported an average salary of $65,620 for dietitians and nutritionists. The salary earning potential for nutritionists are heavily influenced by a professional’s level of education, experience, training, and certification status. Early career professionals earned about $49,490, while highly experienced pros earned about $93,640 during this time.*

According to the BLS, the highest-paying industries include:

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
  • Merchant wholesalers of nondurable goods
  • Home healthcare services
  • Federal agencies (e.g., CDC, FDA, CMS)
  • Scientific research and development services

*2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for dietitians and nutritionists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Salary statistics representing entry-level/early career = 25th percentile; mid-level= 50th percentile; senior-level/highly experienced = 90th percentile. Data accessed April 2022.



There has been a growing interest in personal fitness over the past few decades, and with high-speed access to information, images, and other people at our fingertips, this comes as no surprise.

Since the dawn of the fitness industry in the 1970s, we’ve come a long way from having to travel to a gym to seek advice from fitness and nutrition “experts.” Every other Facebook post seems to be a check-in at the gym by our old high school friend, you can find a handful of 15-minute workouts on Pinterest within seconds, and Instagram is full of fitness influencers claiming to have the best dieting tips or fat loss products.

This abundance of information can make for a very confused consumer. It is why I believe that if you are a professional in the fitness industry (or are striving to be one), it’s essential never to stop learning and acquiring knowledge related to your craft and your client’s needs. With nutrition, in particular, there is a vast market of people who have health and fitness goals but are unsure of where to start.

If you are on the fence about whether or not you should take the leap and enroll in a nutrition certification program, here are six reasons why I believe it’s worth the investment:


As I mentioned above, there is a plethora of information out there, but not all of it is sound information that the consumer can trust. It can be challenging to differentiate between what is trustworthy information and what is not, and this goes not only for the majority of the population who has no background in nutrition but also for those individuals looking to expand their knowledge in the field.

There may be some people in the industry who look the part and look like they have the credentials to provide sound advice, but the information they’re offering may be incorrect. By acquiring a certification through a reputable organization, you can rest assured that the information has been vetted and supported by legitimate science.


The information in a nutrition course is compiled in an easy-to-explore manner, so you’re learning from the fundamentals first. Starting from point A and working your way down to point Z can save you a lot of time and money rather than jumping from topic to topic.


Reputable organizations hire the best experts out there with experience and knowledge in the different aspects of nutrition, so you don’t have just one person behind the scenes providing all of your information. In addition to the editors and authors, there is a lot of time and money that goes into ensuring you’re receiving quality information.


Getting certified through an accredited organization can help you stand out as a professional and add credibility to your brand. Getting a certification can help you feel more confident in your ability to help your clients reach their goals. You will not only gain new information and facts, but you’ll also learn methods and strategies so that you can be more productive with your clients.


When you associate yourself with a certifying body such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine, you’re not just receiving textbook materials and a piece of paper saying you’re qualified to help others. Not only do you have more opportunities to expand your knowledge with other certifications, but you also have access to blogs, research, news, magazines, special events, and more.


With your nutrition certification, you can build an in-person or online business around guiding your clients through their diet, or you can add a service onto an already existing business in the fitness industry.

While I believe a nutrition certification shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of your career, it can open up a lot of doors for you. Think of it as having another tool in your toolbox.

It’s another way to bridge the gap between where your client is today and where they want to be. With nutrition being the most critical aspect of most people’s fitness goals, why not be the professional that your clients can go to to see the results that they want to see?

Certification and Licensing: What It Takes to Earn Nutritionist Credentials

As a nutritionist, you’ll take countless steps to help your clients navigate their way through the confusing and often conflicting information that’s out there about food. But your first step to starting a career in nutrition should be getting the education you need to understand the science behind food and how it affects our health.

You’ll also want to consider earning a professional certification through a nationally recognized board or association. Having these credentials can set you up for better job opportunities by meeting certain guidelines and requirements—and that means giving potential clients and employers greater confidence in your knowledge and dedication to the field.

There’s a wide range of certifications available, on-campus as well as online nutrition programs; each requiring a different degree of work to earn them. Keep in mind, however, that even if you have a certification through a national board, it may not necessarily be enough to become licensed or certified in your state, if that’s indeed a requirement.

National Certifications for Nutritionists

When talking about certification, it’s important to first clarify that it’s not the same as a certificate.

Certificates are proof that you’ve successfully taken a class or series of courses and can sometimes be completed in as little as a few weeks. Certificate programs are often designed for those who have already earned a degree and want to gain a deeper knowledge of a particular subtopic.

In the field of nutrition, these could be specializations such as sports nutrition, weight management, or nutrition for children or the elderly. Depending on the coursework, earning a certificate might help you meet certain requirements for certification.

National certification, on the other hand, is a credential given by a regulated professional organization that verifies you’ve completed a certain level of education, gained a designated amount of professional experience, and in most cases, have passed a specific exam.

What’s more, the certifications with the highest requirements often align with the prerequisites for becoming licensed or certified by your state. Many states require a licensing exam offered by one of these organizations, meaning that you can pursue your state credentials and optional certification at the same time.

National certifications are optional credentials (unlike state requirements) but can give you greater authority as you begin your career.

As if that doesn’t sound confusing enough, making things even more complicated is the fact that some companies that offer “certifications” may really just be offering certificate programs.

To sort through the credentials, we’ve outlined the most common certifications, starting with those that have the least requirements and leading up to those that offer the most prestigious titles, the highest earning potential as a nutritionist, and can open the door to top job prospects.

  • Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC)
  • NASM Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC)
  • American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) Certifications
  • Board Certification in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN)
  • Certified Nutritional Professional (CNP)
  • Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
  • Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist (CKNS)
  • Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN) and Board-Certified

State Requirements for Nutritionist Licensing or Certification

Beyond the optional national certifications, you may be required to become either licensed or certified by your state to practice with the title of nutritionist. In general, a license allows you to legally promote yourself to the public as a nutritionist, and provide services that are within the scope of practice as defined by your state board. Holding a license also ensures that a nutritionist is being held to the established standards of the profession.

Similar to having a license, being certified allows you to legally use the title of nutritionist and demonstrates that you’re qualified to practice and are held to certain standards. That said, in states that offer this credential instead of a license, uncertified individuals can still provide the services of the profession, so long as they don’t promote themselves with any protected title. Because they’re not being regulated by the board and therefore aren’t held to the established standards, clients should be careful to receive services from uncertified individuals.

While the majority of U.S. states impose regulations specifically for dietitians, more than half of the states have no requirements for nutritionists, meaning that anyone can promote themselves as such regardless of their education or experience. As of 2019, only nine states and Washington, D.C. require licensing or certification for nutritionists specifically. An additional 14 states require a dual dietitian/nutritionist credential, which allows you to use either or both titles as you wish. The good news is that earning a dual title shouldn’t require additional work. In fact, in most states, the educational requirements are less than for those that have separate credentials for nutritionists.

What Nutritionist Degrees or Certificates Are Available?

Certificate programs
Time to Complete: Around 6–12 months


If you live in a state that doesn’t require a license in order to practice, a certificate program could be enough to get you working as a nutritionist in just a few months. In these courses, which are often online and are offered by a variety of educational institutions as well as independent companies that focus solely on these types of certificates, you’ll study the basics of how nutrition affects our overall health and learn how to counsel clients to improve their eating and exercise habits.

Once you have a certificate, you might choose to open your own practice, or you could find roles in settings such as spas, fitness centers, and holistic healthcare clinics. Keep in mind, however, that most employers, particularly more clinical settings, require at least a bachelor’s degree. With these, certificates can still be beneficial by helping you expand upon the general knowledge you gained through your previous education. You could increase your career opportunities by completing tailored training in specializations such as eating disorders, child nutrition, or sports and fitness.

Associate’s degrees

Time to Complete: About 2 years

An associate’s degree could also set you on the path towards starting an entry-level career. However, these are typically designed for those who plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree but want to complete some coursework at a more affordable community college. You’ll study the basics of nutrition and might get more hands-on experience with menu planning and cooking.

Bachelor’s degrees

Time to Complete: 4 years

If you want to be competitive in the job field, a bachelor’s degree is the best place to start. With a bachelor’s degree, you’ll gain greater experience in science-centric subjects such as biology, anatomy, and biochemistry, along with focusing on the nutritional needs of specific populations like children, the elderly, or athletes. About a third of U.S. states require a bachelor’s degree in order to legally practice with the title of nutritionist.

Master’s degrees

Time to Complete: 2–3 years, after earning a bachelor’s degree

By pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition, you’ll go beyond the basics and likely improve your earning potential. You’ll conduct research-focused studies, learn more about using food as a way to prevent and treat disease, and take management classes that can help you take on higher-level roles or run your own private practice. Master’s degrees also give you the chance to specialize your education and career with common concentrations including topics such as clinical health psychology, human development, women’s health, sports nutrition, and herbal medicine, just to name a few. As of 2019, eight U.S. states require a master’s degree to be legally licensed as a nutritionist.

Doctoral degrees

Time to Complete: 4–8 years, after earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree

A doctoral degree in nutrition is designed for those who wish to take on leadership roles in academia and research, industry, or the government. These programs dive deeper into the relationship between nutrition and health in a wide range of populations, and set students up to apply their knowledge to the implementation of public health programs and policies.

How to become a certified nutritionist

Becoming a certified nutritionist requires education, experience and licensure. Here’s how to become a certified nutritionist in four steps: 

1. Earn a degree in nutrition or a related field 

While you can earn a certificate to practice as a food prep aide or other junior role, entry-level nutritionists generally hold at least a four-year degree in a field related to health or nutrition. Some earn an associate degree in nutrition, gain experience in a junior role, and then complete a four-year degree. Some examples of undergraduate majors that can lead to a nutritionist career are:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Clinical nutritional care
  • Community nutrition
  • Dietetics
  • Food science
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology

These major programs can teach students about human biology, nutrition, chemistry and factors that contribute to dietary issues. During their four-year undergraduate training, students may be required to complete an internship as part of completing their program.

2. Obtain the required licensing for your state

After you’ve completed your degree, you can begin earning the certifications you need to practice in your state. As you gain experience, you can earn more senior qualifications, which can make you eligible for management or leadership roles.

The Commission on Dietetic Registration administers the Registered Dietitian and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist credentials, which meet some states’ licensing requirements. Here’s how to earn these credentials: 

  1. Complete a supervised practice program for dietitians/nutritionists.
  2. Pass the culminating examination.
  3. Earn continuing education requirements.
3. Earn additional certifications, if necessary

If it’s necessary for your career goals, you can also earn additional certifications, such as:

Certified nutritional consultant

This certification is granted upon successful completion of an open-book exam administered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants.

Certified nutritionist

This certification can be earned through the completion of a two-year associate-level degree program or a six-course distance-learning program, followed by successfully passing a supervised exam.

Certified clinical nutritionist

This certification, administered by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board, can be obtained by completing the following steps:

  1. Earn an undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited university.
  2. Complete a 900-hour internship.
  3. Complete 56 postgraduate hours in clinical nutrition studies.
  4. Pass an exam, administered by the CNCB.
  5. Complete 40 continuing education hours biannually to maintain certification.
  6. Recertify every five years by passing a recertification exam.
4. Earn a graduate degree

Though it’s not typically required to earn an advanced degree to work as a nutritionist, some nutritionists decide to pursue one to become educators and researchers in the field of nutrition. They might also earn advanced degrees to work for large hospitals or government agencies.

Earning a master’s degree takes approximately two additional years of full-time schooling. Often, graduate programs offer concentrations, which allow you to focus on a specific area of nutritional studies. For example, a nutritionist who wants to become a senior policy-maker for a school district might study nutrition education or juvenile nutrition.

5. Choose an area of specialty

As you progress in your career, you can complete additional education and training programs to become a specialized certified nutritionist. Gaining expert knowledge in a specialized area can make you eligible for senior-level positions or can allow you to become a researcher or professor of nutrition. Here are some specializations you might pursue:

Certified Nutrition Specialist

Nutrition specialists might focus on a specific area of nutrition studies, like geriatric nutrition or obesity prevention. You can get this certification from the National Association of Sports Medicine by completing the following requirements:

  • Earn a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition from an accredited university.
  • Complete an internship of at least 1,000 hours in a supervised setting.
  • Pass the required 200-question exam, administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists.
  • Maintain certification by earning 75 continuing education credits every five years.
Board certification in holistic nutrition

This designation, administered by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, can be earned by those who hold a degree in holistic nutrition ranging from post-secondary to Ph.D. level, as well as completing the following requirements:

  • Successful completion of a NANP-approved holistic nutrition program OR providing documentation of an approved certification, degree or diploma
  • Professional membership in the NANP
  • 500 hours of professional experience in holistic nutrition, including at least 250 direct contact hours and up to 250 indirect contact hours
Certified nutritionist average salary

According to Indeed Salaries, certified nutritionists make an average of $44,715 per year. A certified nutritionist’s salary might depend on a variety of factors, including the professional’s level of education and the industry they support. These professionals often earn additional benefits, like paid time off and 401(k) matching. Nutritionists who work for large health care organizations and government agencies might have more robust benefits.

Skills of a Nutritionist

Examples of nutritionist skills
The following skills are common for nutritionists to have and apply on the job:
Communication skills

Nutritionists work with diverse professionals and individuals and must possess effective communication skills. Both written and verbal communication are necessary for nutritionists and dietitians, since these professionals educate and present written information to clients and collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals in developing nutrition plans. Additionally, the ability to listen actively is also necessary for nutritionists’ success on the job.

Interpersonal skills

Compassion, patience, empathy and the ability to build relationships with others are examples of interpersonal skills nutritionists often possess. Patients and colleagues interact with nutritionists on a daily basis, so developing the ability to relate to others’ needs and provide compassionate support in professional relationships are important qualities for nutritionists to have.

Organizational skills

Nutritionists manage client files and various other paperwork and must have effective organizational skills to ensure documents remain confidential and easily accessible. Time management and attention to detail are also aspects of a nutritionist’s organizational skills that they depend on to perform in their roles efficiently.

Management skills

Nutritionists in leadership and management roles depend on their knowledge of techniques and methodologies for collaborating with teams, delegating tasks and allocating resources to achieve goals. For instance, a nutritionist who works in a management role may direct nutritionists under their supervision in the development and integration of client diet and nutrition plans.

Instructional skills

Many nutritionists educate their clients on various aspects of diet and nutrition. Instructional skills are necessary to effectively inform clients about diet plans and methods and the importance of their specific nutritional requirements. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for dietitians and nutritionists to visit schools and other organizations to educate the community on adequate nutrition and dietary needs.


Nutritionists also use calculations in their daily work to determine the appropriate nutrient intake for their clients. Several common math applications nutritionists use include calculating caloric intake, measuring body mass index (BMI) and other key metrics that help these professionals better develop individualized plans for clients.

Scientific knowledge

Scientific applications such as knowledge of biological processes related to proteins, vitamins, fats and other nutrients are also common on the job. Nutritionists rely on their knowledge of these types of scientific concepts to better evaluate and support clients in their diet and health goals.

How to improve nutritionist skills

As a nutritionist, it’s important to commit to regular development so you can continue to advance in your career. The following steps provide insight into how you can continue to improve your skills:

1. Identify skills you need for success on the job

Evaluate your current skills and determine what skills and expertise you need on the job. For instance, if you plan to advance into a leadership role, identify the new skills you’ll need to be successful on the job. This can include understanding where you need to improve, such as in giving feedback to team members or organizing and delegating tasks. Once you understand what you need to improve, you can take steps to further develop your skills.

2. Take part in development workshops

Participate in training programs and professional development workshops for healthcare and nutrition professionals. Events and programs like these can help you learn new skills and improve your current skill set. For example, consider professional development workshops for learning new assessment techniques that you can use to better connect with clients you work with.

3. Ask for feedback from your supervisors

Request feedback from managers or your team leaders so you understand which areas of your expertise you’re strongest and which areas you need to improve. Apply feedback by creating a plan for several skills or credentials that your supervisor suggests you improve and take steps to strengthen your weaker areas, including through training or coursework.

4. Learn new techniques for performing your work

Stay updated on nutrition and diet topics and trends so you can better educate your clients about innovative methods for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Develop new ways of applying your skills, including techniques for communication, strategic planning and other aspects of your work that can benefit your clients and help you advance in your career.

5. Apply what you learn on the job

As you develop your skills and improve in weaker areas, continuously apply what you learn. For example, if you complete a training program in communication techniques, apply your new skill at work. The communication techniques that you develop can mean you’re able to provide more comprehensive guidance to your clients. When you learn a new skill or strengthen your abilities in another area of your skill set, use what you learn on the job right away to continue developing in your career.

Nutritionist skills in the workplace

Consider the following tips for effectively applying your nutritionist skills in the workplace:

  • Provide assistance. Be supportive of teammates and offer your assistance when you can. For instance, if a colleague needs extra help developing a nutrition plan for a client, offer to assist them in developing and creating a unique nutrition program.
  • Collaborate effectively. Use effective communication to share ideas with colleagues, understand clients’ concerns and ensure your efforts meet client needs and nutrition goals.
  • Research new methods. Look for new methods for incorporating diet and meal plans and instructing clients on effectively maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Your ability to demonstrate initiative to learn about and apply new approaches to helping clients can show your supervisors your motivation to achieve results.
  • Communicate important information. Convey information effectively through appropriate outlets. For example, demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively through writing by presenting documents, plans and reports that detail your work.
  • Offer to lead. Find ways to provide your support in leadership roles. For example, offer to lead team meetings or serve as a guest speaker for a community event. When you make yourself available to take on additional roles at work, you show your employer you’re motivated to advance in your career.
How to highlight nutritionist skills

If you’re getting ready to enter your career as a nutritionist, here are several ways to effectively make your skills and qualifications stand out to potential employers:

On your resume

Highlight your skills on your resume by including specific examples of your accomplishments in past roles. For instance, if you helped several clients set nutrition goals, create meal and diet plans and successfully lose unhealthy weight, give details in the job history section of your resume. Additionally, unique skills you have that support your career success are most effective at the top of your resume or within a professional profile.

In a cover letter

When you write a cover letter, show employers your skills by describing how your expertise can contribute to the organization. In addition, connect your values as a nutritionist with the values of the organization you’re applying to. This ensures potential employers understand your qualifications and how your skills fit the job requirements.

During a job interview

Discuss ways that your skills and unique expertise helped you succeed in your last organization. Show interviewers you’re the best fit for their organization by giving specific examples of tasks you completed on the job, the results and how you can achieve similar outcomes in your new position.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a licensed nutritionist

Here are some of the most-asked questions related to becoming a licensed nutritionist:

What are the state requirements for practicing nutrition?

Requirements vary depending on the state. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 30 U.S. states require licensure, 15 require certification and one requires registration with the state. Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and New Jersey do not have regulations regarding the practice of nutrition.

What sorts of subjects are covered in credentialing exams?

While the exact content of a credentialing exam might vary, most of these exams cover the following topics: 

  • Diagnosis
  • Education and communication
  • Food Science and nutrient composition of foods
  • Menu development
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Nutrition and supporting sciences
  • Planning and intervention
  • Quality improvement
  • Research
  • Sanitation and safety
  • Screening and assessment
  • Sustainability
How long does it take to become a nutritionist?

Depending on your specific path and schedule, becoming a licensed nutritionist can take around five years. This takes into account the four years to complete a bachelor’s degree and one additional year to complete an internship. More advanced licensure will take more time, as a graduate degree may be required.

Where do certified nutritionists work?

Nutritionists can work in the following environments:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Schools
  • Clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Foodservice management

They often participate as part of public health, social service or community welfare programs. They can choose to take a different path, depending on their interests and level of education, and work in food and health-related companies, where their services are in high demand, or open a private consulting firm. Certified nutritionists generally work full time, with some irregular hours during evenings and on weekends, depending on the needs of the clients.

Do I need a degree to be a nutritionist?

Typically, entry-level nutritionists have either an associate or bachelor’s degree, while senior professionals in the field have a graduate degree in the subject.  To get started in the field before completing a degree, you may consider obtaining either a nutritionist certificate, which you can get by taking about a year of online courses, or a certificate of completion in clinical nutrition, which typically takes only 56 hours of online instruction.

Do I need to have a degree specifically focused on nutrition?

State certification boards typically require candidates to have a degree in a field related to nutrition, like biology or public health. If you’ve already earned an undergraduate degree in a different subject, you might complete additional coursework to get a relevant associate or bachelor’s degree. Contact your state board to ask about educational requirements so you know what type of degree you need. 

What other jobs are similar to being a certified nutritionist? 

If you’re interested in the nutrition industry, there are many positions that you can consider. Here is a list of 10 jobs that are similar to certified nutritionists:

  1. Nutrition consultant
  2. Nutrition coach
  3. Nutrition assistant
  4. Dietetic assistant
  5. Dietetic technician
  6. Dietary aide
  7. Dietary manager
  8. Chef
  9. Nutrition salesperson
  10. Dietitian