sports nutritonist career

How to Become a Sports Nutritionist


Weekend warriors and serious athletes both need to have the right nutrition in order to excel in their sports. 

Learning how to become a sports nutritionist puts you in a position to help them maximize their potential in a career which is filled with meeting fun and interesting people.

The financial rewards of a sports nutritionist career are good and the personal rewards are even greater. 

Let’s spend a few minutes and explore the requirement to become a sports nutritionist and answer some of your other questions at the same time.

What is a Sports Nutritionist?

A sports nutritionist is a specialist in understanding an athlete’s body and their nutritional needs.  They must understand the biochemical and physiological requirements for providing optimal performance for an athlete.

National Association of Sports Nutrition

This is not a generic plan of nutrition as you find in many published diets.  A sports nutritionist must understand the demands of the training and sport an athlete participates in, plus the athlete’s metabolism and body type to start putting together a dietary plan for their client.

The plan for a strength athlete who works out with heavy weights is very different than the nutritional plan required for a long distance runner.  The sports nutritionist studies what combinations of foods, vitamins, and supplements have been shown to increase the performance levels of similar athletes and then creates a plan for their client.

What’s The Difference Between a Sports Nutritionist and Dietician?

Can a dietician do the same thing for athletes?  The debate of a sports nutritionist vs dietician really comes down to a case of specialization, educational requirements, and licensing.  In the USA, United Kingdom, and many other countries the title of dietician requires a college degree and either licensure or certification within the country or state.

Sports NutritionA sports nutritionist commonly does not have the same licensing requirement.  As you continue to read about how to become a sports nutritionist  you will notice it does not require a specialized degree in sports nutrition.

Sports nutritionists can come from many different areas of study.  Some are licensed dieticians who have gone on to specialize in sports nutrition and working with athletes.  Other people follow a path of studying sports training, or another sports medicine career path and then take additional training to begin a practice in sports nutrition.

The important dividing line is the specialization of understanding the dietary needs for peak performance, not for average living.

What to Expect in Your Sports Nutritionist Career

Where does a person work as the start their sports nutritionist career?  Sports nutritionist jobs can be found in many of the following locations:

Sports Nutritionist Career

  • Health Spas
  • Fitness Centers
  • Corporate Wellness Centers
  • Colleges
  • Professional Sports Teams
  • Private Practice  – Consulting individual athletes
  • Hospitals and Clinics
  • With Other Sports Medicine Specialists

The sports nutritionist job description will vary greatly depending on the type of employer, but in all cases you can expect to be required to have these basic skills:

  • Excellent Organizational SkillsRequired for maintaining records on individual athletes.
  • Good Research HabitsA sports nutritionist must keep up to date on the latest changes in supplements and nutritional findings for peak performance.
  • Outstanding Communication SkillsYour job as a sports nutritionist requires you to both create a nutritional plan and be able to communicate and motivate the athlete to follow the plan.

You will discover as you enter your career as a sports nutritionist that a large percentage of your time is spent on educating individuals about the advantages of changing their diet.

The Rewards of a Sports Nutritionist Career

The rewards in this career do not just include your sports nutritionist salary, but include all of the prestige and joy of working with athletes and individuals who are trying to improve their lives.  You will be working with people who have a positive life attitude which increases your enjoyment of your chosen career.

American Fitness Professionals & Associates

The salary you can earn as a sports nutritionist varies widely between types of positions, your education, and your years of experience.  Here are a few of the reported averages for a sports nutritionist salary:

  • $29,900/YearStarting wage with zero years experience.
  • $35,000 to $59,000/YearReported salary ranges for Sports Nutritionists with 2-3 years experience.
  • $80,000+/YearHigh end salaries for sports nutritionist in private practice or with 10+ years of experience.  Most nutritionists in this salary range are registered dietitians.

The wages for a sports nutritionist fall within the normal ranges of other sports medicine salary surveys and positions.  Two of the biggest factors which can affect your potential salary will include:

  • EducationDo you have a college degree as dietitian, sports trainer, or other associated area?
  • Private PracticeSome of the highest paid nutritionists has their own private practice and work on a consulting basis.

Your Educational Requirements for Sports Nutritionist Certification

There are many different ways to enter into the field of sports nutrition, but two of the most common are to attend a college which offers a sports nutritionist program, or to first become a dietician and then specialize in sports nutrition.

In both cases you may need to become certified to begin to practice in your state.  You will need to check with your state requirements before starting your own practice.

There are several organizations which offer certification examinations and programs in sports nutrition including:

ISSA Sports Nutritionist Certification

  • AFPA – American Fitness Professionals & Associates – Sports Nutrition Consultant Certification Course
  • National Association of Sports Nutrition – Licensed Sports Nutritionist – The NASN has the highest requirements and is recognized by most states.
  • ISSA – International Sports Sciences Association – Sports Nutritionist Certification

You can find sports medicine colleges which offer degree programs in Nutrition Science or Dietetics.  The colleges commonly offer a specialization path which includes courses on sports nutrition.

What you will discover as you continue your journey of discovering how to become a sports nutritionist that the paths are varied.  It can include studies in Health Science, Dietetics, or any other sports medicine career and then adding courses in sports nutrition.  Check with your local state and with your choice of licensing or certification boards to determine your exact needs.