How Can I Become a Sports Nutritionist?

Research what it takes to become a sports nutritionist. Learn about the education and credentialing requirements, job duties and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Sports Nutritionist?

A sports nutritionist is a nutritionist who specializes in working with athletes to help them use food and nutrition to support their athletic performance. They begin with an assessment of the athlete's needs. For instance, some athletes may be looking to achieve specific goals, like muscle gain or weight loss, or they may be looking to use diet to recover from an injury or manage a chronic condition like celiac disease or lactose intolerance without affecting their overall performance. From there, the nutritionist creates a meal plan that can keep them healthy, energized and in peak physical condition. Nutritionists may also offer advice on post-workout fueling and game-day eating strategies. In addition to working with individual athletes, sports nutritionists may also design meal plans for groups of athletes, like sports teams at training camps.

The following table provides a variety of information for this career:

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nutrition, sports nutrition
Key Responsibilities Take physical measurements, monitor client progress and recovery, develop diet strategies, food plans and menus
Licensure/Certification Licensure required in some states; voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2014-24) 16%* (dietitians and nutritionists)
Median Salary (2015) $57,910* (dietitians and nutritionists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Work as a Sports Nutritionist?

If you're interested in becoming a sports nutritionist, high school courses in the life and physical sciences can give you a solid foundation. You can find undergraduate programs in sports nutrition accredited by the American Dietetic Association's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE). Bachelor's degree programs for aspiring sports nutritionists typically focus on nutrition and dietetics as a whole, offering sport nutrition and exercise science courses as electives or specializations.

Completing an accredited program allows you to pursue internships and qualify for the Registered Dietitian (RD) examination. Becoming a RD, though not always necessary, is a qualification frequently sought in sports nutritionists and will often fulfill at least part of many states' requirements for practicing dietitians.

Do I Need Certification?

Depending on your state, further requirements vary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most states require a license to practice as a dietitian. Some require certification or registration and there are a handful without any regulation at all ( RD status, a state exam, successful completion of a volunteer program and continued education are normal requirements for obtaining a state license. Where a license is mandated, you cannot work without one; however, where it is not, you may work as a sports nutritionist, but without using stipulated official titles.

How Do I Prepare Myself to Advance?

The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the ADA offers further certification as a sports dietetics specialist. You can apply for this credential after 2-5 years working as a RD with 1,500 documented hours of specialty experience. Additionally, a Master of Science in Sports Nutrition and extensive knowledge of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and National Collegiate Athletic Association sports supplement rules will help keep you in high demand.

What Tasks Will I Typically Be Performing?

As a sports nutritionist, you measure body, fat and muscle mass and hydration and iron levels. You also monitor how well your athlete-clients recover from activity and progress in their fitness goals. You will also develop diet strategies, food plans and menus. Menu planning involves tracking carbohydrates, calories, dietary supplements and other nutritional requirements an athlete needs, depending on his or her particular sport. Working with family members, coaches and doctors will also be fairly common. Some sports nutritionists travel and work nights, weekends and holidays.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of specializing in sports, nutritionists can focus their practice in a clinical setting. For instance, as a clinical dietitian or nutritionist you could work in a medical facility where you would incorporate diet as part of a broader treatment plan for illnesses and disorders. Within this field, you may become an expert in treating a specific disease, like diabetes. The job requires both a bachelor's degree and a license. Alternatively, if you know you want to work with athletes, you could become a sports coach, where you would advise athletes on a wide range of performance-related topics, including training, strategy, nutrition and motivation. Most sports coaches have at least a bachelor's degree.

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