Discover how to become a nutrition coach – a rewarding career where you make money while also changing people’s lives. This guide will show you how.
So You Want to Become a Nutrition Coach?
You’re probably here because you see value in nutrition. Eating a healthy diet probably made a positive impact on your life, and you want to share that satisfaction with others. So you are wondering how to turn that into a career.
It’s a good idea. Nutrition is definitely where people need the most help. (Our obesity epidemic keeps reaching record highs every passing year!)
Even better, nutrition and eating habits are where people will see the most results. (Exercise is great, but remember the saying – “you can’t out-train a bad diet.”)
Yet, nutrition coaches are few and far between. There are personal trainers at every gym, but nutrition coaches? They’re elusive.
It’s a great time to be a certified nutrition coach.
You should learn nutrition. But studying nutrition is only half the battle. You also need to learn the art of coaching: change psychology, behavior change, counseling, etc.
Because in almost no circumstance do you have someone thinking, “this candy bar and two-liter of Mountain Dew is a healthier choice than this chicken breast and broccoli.” Most people have a basic understanding of what they should be doing. Yet we are obese population. So there’s clearly more to it than knowing what food is (or isn’t) healthy.
We’ll cover everything you need to know in this six-part guide.
You will learn:
- How to Choose Your Career Path
- The Necessary Educational Requirements
- Is Nutrition Coaching Right for Me?
- How to Get Certified
- Fast Track Your Way to Success
- How to Start a Nutrition Coaching Business
Choose Your Career Path
Because a “nutrition coach” isn’t really a recognized job (yet), first let’s make sure we’re on the same page. There’s a big difference between certain careers within the field of nutrition.
Potential nutrition careers include:
- Registered Dietitian (RD)
- Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)
- Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
- Nutrition consultant or nutrition coach
RD? RDN? How are you supposed to know the difference, let alone which one makes sense for you?
Let’s compare RD vs RDN vs CNS vs ‘nutrition coach’
These are all great careers with lots of opportunity, but they are quite different, so you only want to pursue the one you’ll really like.
Become a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)
For starters, you need a 4-year college degree in nutrition. That will involve a lot of science courses such as biology, physiology, organic chemistry, etc. You must also complete an accredited dietetic internship. Then you have to sit for an exam, pass it, and meet the continuing education requirements each year. That’s a lot of time and a lot of money.
It’s impractical for most people looking at becoming a coach!
What do you do as an RD/RDN? Most likely, you’ll work in a hospital or some other type of medical facility or health center. Perhaps you’ll work in the food industry. Occasionally an R.D. will have a private practice, but that’s less common.
If you want to become an RDN, you’ll want to visit www.eatrightpro.org to learn more.
Become a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
This is the gold standard credential for advanced nutrition professionals. As a CNS, you may engage in science-based advanced medical nutrition therapy, research, education, and more, in settings such as clinics, private practice, hospitals and other institutions, industry, academia, and the community.
If you want to become a CNS, you’ll want to visit nutritionspecialists.org to learn more.
Become a nutrition consultant or nutrition coach
Compared to the previous options, this is easy and accessible! Because it is not a regulated profession, you can choose your own path.
Basically it’s the personal trainer of the diet/nutrition world. You get to work directly with people and help them make their lives better. It’s very rewarding.
You will want training in nutrition science as well as training in coaching. Yes, you need to learn how to be a good coach!
We’ll cover this in the next section.
Educational Requirements and Prerequisites
Good news – just about anyone can become a nutrition coach. If you have the desire to help people and a passion for nutrition, you can do it!
You don’t need to be a mathematical genius or go to school for years and years.
For most certifications, you don’t need to hold a bachelor’s degree in a nutrition-related field. Usually you don’t need a degree at all.
Nutrition coaching is not a traditional job.
In this day and age, the value of a college degree is diminishing. Plenty of coaches/professionals are out there without the standardized formal training. Because nutrition coaching allows you to create your own path.
If you want to be lawyer, you get a degree, then go to law school, pass the bar exam, do a clerkship, then you can practice law. It’s standard.
Want to be a doctor? Same thing: years of med school, intern, residency, etc. Same with nursing. Same with becoming an RD.
Again, plenty of areas where there is a pre-defined path. But beyond that, like in personal training and coaching nutrition, there is a lot of leeway.
Outside of being one step toward becoming an RD, a college degree does virtually nothing here.
But you still have to put the work in.
Not requiring a college degree is not to say you don’t have to put the work in. Because you do.
If you want to earn any of the available nutrition certifications, it’s helpful to have science and nutrition knowledge (e.g. biology, chemistry, and physiology). This background will help you to grasp new information more easily.
It’s simply good to be informed. In no way would I suggest trying to take shortcuts or deceive people about your (lack of) knowledge.
And you have to learn how to be a good coach.
Learning and understanding the science of nutrition is only half of it. The other half is being a good coach.
You need to learn psychology.
You need to learn about human behavior.
And you need to learn about counseling.
You have to be able to get your clients to take action. Help that build habits that allow them to succeed.
You can’t just hand them a meal plan and expect it to work.
Seriously, most people know they should eat their vegetables. They know they shouldn’t stop at McDonald’s or Taco Bell for each meal. But those things are easy, and without a coach, it’s very common to give in.
As a coach, you provide the support and accountability to help people make the right choices and turn those choices into habits. That’s the sort of thing that provides long-lasting change.
Want an intro to change psychology? Read this: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/effective-coach-talk
Is Nutrition Coaching Right for Me?
Before you quit your job and dive right in to nutrition coaching, you want to be sure you’re making the right decision.
It sounds fun, but it’s still hard work!
Here’s what you might do as a nutrition coach:
- Build rapport with clients. You need them to trust you, so you have to build a relationship with each person.
- Send encouraging comments and messages. You’ll be their biggest cheerleader.
- Hold weekly/monthly calls or video chats. Instead of office hours, you typically hold virtual meetings with clients.
- Help clients choose the best foods at their local stores. As the expert, you might be tapped for all sorts of questions where you have to apply your knowledge.
- Monitor progress. Keep a close eye on each client’s progress by reviewing your notes and monitoring all submitted data.
- Hold clients accountable for their actions. You also have a provide some tough love now and then.
Sound like fun?
Then get your certification!
Get Certified as a Nutrition Coach
Once you have decided to become a nutrition coach, the most important decision is which certification to get.
Consider the following:
- Reputation of the company/organization issuing the certification
- What you’ll learn in the coursework
- Flexibility of the coursework and exam
- Total price (including continuing education and renewal fees)
- Other professional benefits included
Let’s look at these in detail.
Reputation of the company/organization issuing the certification
Some organizations are well-known and respected. Some are not. If you want your credential to mean something, you should look for a highly-regarded organization behind it.
What you’ll learn in the coursework
Some courses teach only nutrition science. Some teach a mix of nutrition and coaching/counseling skills.
Make sure you choose the one that teaches you everything you need to know.
Flexibility of the coursework and exam
Consider the amount of time required to earn the certificate and how it’s going to fit into your schedule.
Can you complete the course and exam at your own pace? Is it 100% online?
Most courses are offered online and are self-paced, allowing you to complete them despite a busy work schedule. Exams are usually online and open book. You usually have up to 12 months to complete the course (and take the exam) once you start the program, so you can do a little at a time, or dedicate serious time to it and complete it quickly.
Exact times and requirements vary, though.
Total price (including continuing education and renewal fees)
Certification courses typically fall within the range of $350-1000 for the course + examination.
But you must also watch out for other expenses. Sometimes you have to pay a fee every year or two re-certify, in order to maintain your certification. You may be also be responsible for earning continuing education credits, which add to the total cost.
Other professional benefits included
There are added bonuses in some cases. Some organizations maintain a directory of certified professionals; being listed in such a directory may help you find clients. Some will even provide you with an exclusive website.
Sometimes you can join a professional group, sort of like an alumni society, consisting solely of others who have earned the same certification.
There may also be discounts available to you through the organization’s partnerships.
Here are links to all our certification reviews:
- ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist
- AFPA Nutrition
- ISSA Nutrition
- NASM Nutrition
- NESTA Fitness Nutrition Coach
- Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coaching
We have a comparison chart to help you choose, and you can find that by clicking here.
Short on time? Here are our favorites:
What’s the most respected certification?
In general, ACE and NASM are some of the most respected organizations in fitness and nutrition. By pure name value, those are going to be great to have on your resume.
The CISSN is a highly-regarded credential – and the only one that requires you to have a 4-year undergraduate college degree in order to receive the certification – but that’s a sports nutrition thing. It’s also an exam, not a course, so it’s not going to teach you anything.
If your goal is notoriety among colleagues, check into those. The real question is, do your clients care about your credential?
What’s the most useful, practical certification?
Your clients probably won’t know which certification is the most respected, so they’re not going to care if you have it. They’re going to care about getting results.
If you help them get results, and they like working with you, that’s what counts.
If that’s what you want, then consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. You’ll learn both the science of nutrition and the art and science of coaching psychology. It’s the best balance of nutrition and coaching advice, and the most likely to help your career.
How to Start a Business (And Launch Your Career!)
You have the knowledge. You have the skills. You have the credentials.
There are many paths you can take. Your aim should be to gain experience quickly, in any way possible.
The typical way is to find a job.
Getting a job in a gym setting is usually the quickest way to start and gain experience, even if you eventually plan to open your own business.
This can provide very valuable experience – it will allow you to determine if you like to work with people 1:1.
Unfortunately, it’s rare that any company is hiring nutrition coaches. The nutrition aspect is not so much a job as it is an add-on to personal training.
Unless… you take it upon yourself to do marketing, position yourself as an expert, and start your own business.
You don’t need to get an MBA. Just talk to an accountant, fill out some paperwork, and get insurance. You’re in business!
==> Check out this article to learn the basics of this business: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/personal-training-business
The question is, how can you get good at business, fast?
Since you won’t have any on-the-job training, you need to find a way around that.
Just be careful because that can lead to information overload and actually increase procrastination.
Another option is to practice.
Practice coaching friends, family, anyone willing!
This allows you to build up your experience and put your new skills to the test.
If you don’t personally know anyone that would be interested, maybe you can find a place to volunteer. An independent personal trainer or an R.D. with a private practice would be ideal. You probably have a local gym, so you might also be able to shadow a personal trainer for a day.
Not only do you gain experience, you may gain some professional contacts – perhaps even a mentor.
You can also learn by example. In other words, see what the experts are doing, and then just do that.
This is a commonplace business practice. For example, Wal-Mart executives regularly shop at other retail stores to learn what they’re doing.
What this means for you is finding a nutrition coach and signing-up for coaching. It’s a great deal for you because not only will you be able to learn the ins and outs of the business, you’ll improve your health at the same time! (Because even a coach needs a coach!)
If you can find a really good, well-known coach locally, great. If not, the easy choice is to sign up for Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program. All of their coaches are trained using the time-tested, proven methods that Precision Nutrition has used to coach 100,000+ clients.
Ready to get on your way to becoming a nutrition coach? Excellent!
Just make sure you:
- Study nutrition
- Study coaching
- Practice, practice, practice
- Earn a certification (so everyone knows you are legit)
- Start your business
A lot of people need to get healthier. Nutrition coaches can help. No wonder the job opportunities look good. Go for it!
This is not legal advice. This guide is provided for informational purposes only. Be sure to review any applicable laws in your location. As an overview, this may be helpful.