How to Become a Sports Nutritionist

Overview

Sports nutritionists deal with issues involved in promoting optimal performance for athletes. They work with individuals to assess their nutritional requirements and advise them on what foods to eat to achieve their physical fitness and performance goals. A sports nutritionist works with athletes to develop meal plans, evaluate the results and make adjustments as necessary. Food recommendations are based on sound scientific findings, the client’s personal preferences and cost concerns. Sports nutritionists stay informed of the latest nutritional scientific research and incorporate new findings into their dietary recommendations. Like other nutritionists, sports nutritionists advise their clients on how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Educational, licensing and certification requirements are stringent, but the job outlook for sports nutritionists is positive compared to other fields. Sports nutritionists must earn a bachelor’s degree and receive supervised training in their coursework or through an internship program. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but most states require a specialized a specialized program on the graduate level. Aspiring sports nutritionists should also possess specific skills and personal characteristics, like organizational skills, an empathetic personality, and the ability to communicate clearly.

Work Environment

In private practice, sports nutritionists may act as personal consultants to professional athletes and others whose goal is to optimize their physical performance. They may also be employed by corporate wellness centers, colleges and universities, sports medical practices and sports teams. Sports nutritionists may become experts in their field and teach on the college level.

Requirements

Education

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, most nutritionists hold a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, food and nutrition, food service systems management or a related field. They complete a program of studies including topics like nutrition, physiology, chemistry and biology. After college graduation, aspiring sports nutritionists generally enter into an internship program to receive several hundred hours of supervised training. Some internship programs can last up to 12 months. Many colleges and universities offer graduate programs designed to give students the opportunity to specialize in sports nutrition.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree, students can apply for a program at the graduate level to specialize in sports nutrition. Prerequisites for entering a graduate program vary, with some schools requiring an undergraduate degree in a related field like general nutrition or exercise science. Coursework for a master’s degree in sports nutrition typically includes topics such as kinesiology, exercise physiology, exercise and aging, vitamins and minerals, health promotion and sports supplements.

Licensing and Certification

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that like other nutritionists and dieticians, sports nutritionists are required to obtain a license in most states. Requirements for a state license or certification include a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate field, supervised practice and passing an examination. Some employers prefer a Registered Dietitian (RD) credential, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The requirements for a Registered Dietitian are similar to licensing requirements. RD’s must complete continuing education courses to maintain their certification.

Salary

Half of nutritionists and dietitians earned more than $53,250 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor. The top ten percent of nutritionists and dieticians earned over $75,480, while the bottom ten percent earned under $33,330. Approximately 20 percent of dieticians and nutritionists work part time, and the others full time workers.

Job Outlook

With increased interest in the importance of diet in promoting health and wellness, the job outlook for nutritionists and dietitians is expected to increase by 20 percent in the ten years from 2010 to 2020. This rate of increase is greater than the average for all occupations. Research showing the critical role of diet in preventing and treating illnesses as part of a preventative healthcare program is expected to lead to an increase in demand for nutritionists.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Candidates should possess an array of skills and personal characteristics to achieve success as a sports nutritionist. To interpret new research, aspiring sports nutritionists must have strong analytical skills and become adept in interpreting scientific studies in order to transform scientific findings in the field of nutrition into practical dietary advice. Candidates should also display strong people skills to interpret clients’ concerns and athletic goals. The ability to empathize with a client’s dietary struggles is also important.

When clients understand the benefits of a particular diet, they are more likely to follow the regimen. Sports nutritionists often present complicated scientific topics in a simplified and understandable way so lay people can comprehend the concepts and become motivated to make a positive change in their lives. Organizational skills are also important to manage all aspects of their work in meeting sports nutrition needs, budgeting costs and encouraging clients to meet their goals.

Related Reading

Further Reading

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