How To Begin A Career As A Nutritionist

Have you ever considered starting a career as a nutritionist? These professionals are in higher demand than ever before. Consumers worldwide turn to them for advice on how to lose weight, prevent heart disease, or manage existing conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, heartburn, or gluten intolerance (via U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics). This trend is also fueled by the rising obesity rates, the ongoing health crisis, and the growing interest in food as medicine (via Obesity Medicine Association).

Nutritionists use their knowledge to create custom diet plans, help people make smarter food choices, and educate patients. Their day-to-day responsibilities depend largely on the job. For example, those who work in hospitals may help with meal planning for patients undergoing surgery. Others offer their services online or operate their own practice. There's also the option to specialize in one or more areas, such as weight management, pediatric nutrition, or sports nutrition.

This career path is ideal for those who enjoy working with others and want a flexible schedule. Plus, you don't need a college degree to get started, notes the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). Another advantage is that you can work on your own and turn your passion for health into a lucrative business. Many nutritionists also publish books and articles or team up with personal trainers to create multiple income streams. 

Choose a career path that aligns with your goals

There is no single path to becoming a nutritionist. It all comes down to how much time you're willing to spend in school, what services you want to provide, and your career goals. For example, registered dietician-nutritionists (RDNs) need a bachelor's degree to enter the profession. They must also complete a practice program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), pass an exam, and earn continuing education credits.

Another option is to become a nutrition and dietetics technician, registered (NDTR). With this credential, you may work under the guidance of an RDN if you're employed at a hospital, retirement center, or clinic. However, you can work independently for health clubs, food companies, schools, and other non-clinical settings, explains the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This career path requires at least an associate's degree along with completion of an accredited dietetic technician program that includes at least 450 hours of practice.

You may also choose to work as a registered dietician (RN). This option requires the completion of a dietitian nutritionist program or a bachelor's degree and additional training, notes the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Alternatively, you can apply for a nutrition certification, regardless of your educational background. The National Academy of Sports Medicine, the American Nutrition AssociationISSA, and other organizations offer such programs. If you go this route, you'll become a certified nutrition coach, nutrition consultant, or nutrition specialist, which is different from an RN or RDN. 

Decide on a practice area based on your interests

As mentioned earlier, some nutritionists specialize in a particular area, which allows them to work with certain groups. For example, a sports nutritionist may assist athletes, gym-goers, or professional sports leagues. In this role, you'll educate your clients on pre- and post-workout nutrition, hydration, sports supplements, carb cycling, and other related topics. Most employers require a bachelor's degree in sports nutrition, exercise science, dietetics, or similar areas. Apart from that, you may also need to acquire work experience or complete an internship to get licensed.

If you love animals and want to make a difference in their lives, consider studying animal nutrition. First, you'll have to earn a bachelor's degree in animal health and behavior, animal science, or a related area, according to Unity College. Later, you can complete further training to specialize in canine nutrition, equine nutrition, or other areas. Those who pursue this career path may work at zoos, research labs, animal hospitals, or veterinary facilities, and some are employed by pet food companies.

There's also the option to become a holistic nutrition professional. This career path is ideal for those who believe in the healing power of food and want to help people lead healthier lives, not just eat better. If that sounds like you, take the steps needed to earn a bachelor's degree in a nutrition-related field and get certified by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals

How to find work as a nutritionist

About one-third of nutritionists work at hospitals, while 12% are employed by the government, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 8% work on their own, but this might be the option for those who value flexibility. As far as salary goes, expect to earn around $61,650 per year. Depending on your experience, location, and work environment, you could make up to $93,000 or higher.

Finding work can be tricky if you're just starting your career. Your best bet is to look beyond traditional jobs and focus on gaining real-world experience. For starters, consider setting up a website or blog to showcase your services. Publish content on nutrition-related topics and share your work on social media. You can also team up with food bloggers and health magazines to get your content published on third-party platforms and gain exposure. Meanwhile, engage in relevant conversations on Quora, Reddit, and Facebook groups to share your knowledge and connect with potential clients.

Go one step further and offer your services via Skype, Zoom, or other online platforms. Alternatively, you may join a telehealth platform like American Well, OnPoint Nutrition, or Teladoc and work with clients from all over the world. Another option is to start a private practice, but the outcome depends largely on where you live. However, you can always apply for jobs at local hospitals, clinics, gym chains, wellness centers, or other facilities to gain experience and build your customer base.