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How to Become a Nutritionist | Complete Requirements & Salary Information

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Interested in starting a career as someone who understands food and creates healthy meal plans for others? Check out the nutritionist career path! 

So, you might be thinking, where should I start?

Don’t worry; that’s typically most people’s first concern when considering this career. Luckily, it isn’t overly complicated or impossible to achieve.

We crafted this article to serve as a complete guide on how to become a nutritionist. We’ll review everything you need to know, from requirements to salary and more! 

An Overview of Nutritionists: A Primer

Nutritionists are food experts who understand the best eating plans and patterns for optimal health conditions. Their primary job is to assess each client’s dietary needs and provide evidence-based nutrition counseling.

They’re involved with meal planning, creating nutritious diets, and helping people form healthy eating habits. Becoming a nutritionist is a great career choice for people interested in food, health, and wellness. 

Before we go deeper into this career path, let’s define and differentiate dieticians and nutritionists. 

You might see these terms used interchangeably, but you’ll notice that they have different credentials—RD for registered dietitian and RDN for registered dietitian nutritionist.

Technically, both are masters in the field of food and nutrition. However, their degrees, training, and licenses are the primary difference.

Anyone with a degree in nutrition can be called a nutritionist, while dietitians need verification from the Didactic Program in Dietetics.

The distinction is subtle, but it’s good to know them before you start.

How Much Do Nutritionists Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that nutritionists and dietitians have an average annual wage of $61,650. Those who work in outpatient care centers have the highest yearly salary at $71,640.

Other top industries with high-earning dietitians and nutritionists include government, nursing and residential facilities, and state, local, and private hospitals. 

A smiling male nutritionist in his clinic

What You’ll Need to Become a Nutritionist & Associated Costs

Before starting with the step-by-step walkthrough, let’s outline the requirements for this career path. Below is a short list and a brief explanation for each one.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition or Related Fields: You need a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition, dietetics, or any field relating to human sciences. A degree in nutrition and dietetics can cost anywhere between $12,000 to $45,000
  • Internship Programs: As part of your coursework, you may be required to finish an internship program. 
  • License & Certification: This varies from state to state, but most places require graduates to take a licensure exam before they can practice as a nutritionist. License fees can range from $80 to $100.
  • Great Listening Skills: Before providing nutritional advice to any client, you have to assess their current status. This requires great listening skills so you can understand your clients. 
  • Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills: As a nutritionist, you need to be up to date on all of that and be able to put theoretical knowledge into practical and real-life applications.
  • Compassion and Empathy: Every client will have different needs and circumstances; you should always come from an empathetic and compassionate standpoint when giving diet recommendations.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Nutritionist?

Be prepared to spend somewhere around $30,000 to 80,000. The costs heavily depend on where you choose to pursue your degree since that’s where the bulk of the expenses will be.

We know this is a sizable amount, but investing in your education is invaluable. This is where you’ll get most of your understanding of nutrition and the technical skills you’ll use in practice. 

On top of tuition, you’ll also need to pay for textbooks, health insurance, and other extra fees. 

Is It Hard to Become a Nutritionist?

Becoming a nutritionist is definitely not a “fake it ‘til you make it” journey. 

This career path requires a science-based degree—which comes with its challenges! You need to at least be good at math or science to pass all your bachelor’s degree courses and strive for that license.

Since becoming a nutritionist would take a while, you’ll notice that it’s an uncommon side hustle. When people choose this career, it usually becomes their primary source of income. Most nutritionists and dietitians work full-time.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nutritionist?

It can take up to six years to become a nutritionist, depending on how quickly you finish your bachelor’s degree. Most programs take four years, plus internships and supervised training.

We also factored in how long aspiring nutritionists can take the licensure exam and the time it’ll take to review these exams.

How to Become a Nutritionist in 5 Simple Steps

image showing how to become a nutritionist post on gigworker.com

Time to get to the nitty-gritty! Let’s take you through this 5-step walkthrough on how to become a nutritionist.

Step 1: Get Your Bachelor’s or Graduate Degree

The first and arguably the most important step is to get your bachelor’s or graduate degree. 

Aside from nutrition and dietetics, you can also enroll in public health, health science, and nutrition science programs.

Your degree will teach you all the theoretical information and the core skills you need as a nutritionist. This is where you’ll learn about the nutritional value of food, the ins and outs of human nutrition, and the chemistry behind it all.

Step 2: Finish Your Internship Program and Required Supervised Training

Most degree programs in nutrition will require students to participate in supervised training, such as a dietetic internship program. Some states also require you to clock in a specific number of supervised practices before trying to get a license.

Through a dietetic internship, you can get a taste of what it’s like to work in the field. This is a great way to try and apply everything you learned during your undergraduate degree.

While you learn all of the theoretical stuff during your coursework, internship programs encourage discovering the practical applications of your knowledge. 

In addition, supervised training will allow aspiring nutritionists to gain insights from actual clinical nutritionists working in the field.

Step 3: Obtain a License

After getting your degree and finishing your required hours, your next goal is to obtain a license so you can practice as a nutritionist. The first step toward this goal is to pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam.

Let CDR, the accreditation council for registered dietitians and registered dietitian nutritionists, validate your eligibility. Then, prepare for the credentialing exam.

Take this exam seriously, as it can dictate whether you’re eligible for a license or not. Note that some states, like Arizona and Colorado, don’t require licenses and consider becoming an RD or RDN enough to practice as a nutritionist or dietitian. 

Step 4: Gain Experience in the Field

Research on food and nutrition is constantly evolving. After obtaining the proper credentials, work on gaining experience in the field.

This is also a great time to further explore your career specialties. If you’re into sports nutrition, look for positions you can apply to in hospitals, fitness clubs, and private practices.

Step 5: Aim for Higher Credentials

The Certified Nutrition Specialist credential (CNS) from the American Nutrition Association is the highest certification you can get as a practicing nutritionist.

Aiming for this credential is a great idea because a certified nutritionist would have more opportunities in the field.

In addition, this credential also opens up more options in terms of where you can practice. It’s a testament to your advanced skill, expertise, and experience in the field. 

To become a certified clinical nutritionist, you need to take an exam on top of passing all required documents, like your CV, transcripts, and recommendation letters. 

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Nutritionist

Close-up of a patient consulting a nutritionist in a clinic

Becoming a nutritionist comes with many advantages! Aside from better understanding how food can impact every aspect of our life, below are four more reasons why you should consider becoming a nutritionist.

  • Work-Life Balance: Most dietitians and nutritionists work full-time, but if you have your own practice, you can benefit from flexible scheduling to achieve a work-life balance.
  • Many Areas of Specialty: You can choose a specialty that resonates with where you want your career to go—you can explore outside of clinical nutrition. Some examples include a sports nutritionist, a pediatric nutritionist, and a weight management nutritionist.
  • Rewarding: Helping clients reach their goal of becoming healthy and having a good relationship with food is a rewarding process, not just for them but also for you!
  • Applying Your Knowledge Outside of the Practice: You can use your knowledge of food and nutrition outside of work. Apply the principles you know in your personal life to stay healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Do Nutritionists Study?

Nutritionists study food science, chemistry, nutrition, dietetics, and other similar subjects. They have to understand the inner workings of developing a healthy lifestyle through food and nutrition.

What Test is Required for a Nutritionist?

Aside from all of the exams you need to pass during your undergraduate degree, you also need to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians Test given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).

Then, you can take the licensure exam to get a state license to practice as a nutritionist.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Maybe becoming a nutritionist doesn’t suit your fancy. What other gigs should you look into?

Here’s a short list of other career paths you should check out. 

Wrapping Up

In summary, the journey of becoming a nutritionist isn’t easy. However, it’s as rewarding as it is challenging.

Working in health care allows you to help people develop better relationships with food. As a nutritionist, you’ll be helping clients live healthier lives, one diet at a time.

We’d love to hear from you! If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, leave a comment.

We hope this guide on how to become a nutritionist has helped you. If it did, consider sharing it with those who might also be interested in this field! 

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