How to Become a Nutritionist

Learn how to become a nutritionist. Practical steps, nutritionist requirements and experience you’ll need to become a Nutritionist.

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Nutritionists educate the public about healthy eating, design meal plans to address specific health concerns, and recommend nutritional strategies for athletes. This growing field offers many career paths depending on your education level and interests. Our guide walks you through how to become a nutritionist, from the education requirements to the licensure process.

How Long to Become
4 Years

Degree Required
MS (for certification)


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What is a Nutritionist?

A nutritionist applies their knowledge of food science to help clients improve their health and manage medical conditions. Nutritionists conduct assessments to determine each client’s nutritional needs, develop nutrition plans, and advise clients on healthy eating.

Within the broad field of nutrition, professionals specialize in several areas. Community nutritionists create nutritional programs for the public, which can include wellness education, oftentimes through programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Management dietitians manage food programs for cafeterias, schools, nursing homes, school systems, and military bases.

With graduate-level training, nutritionists can become clinical specialists. For example, advanced roles such as registered dietitian nutritionists or certified nutrition specialists often focus on medical nutrition, which can involve nutrition science research.

Nutritionists pursue diverse career paths depending on their education level and professional goals.

Nutritionist vs. Dietitian

Both nutritionists and dietitians design nutritional programs for clients, recommend dietary changes to improve health, and specialize in areas such as nutritional education or counseling. However, a dietitian brings specialized training, often at the graduate level, with a focus on medical nutrition therapy.

While nutritionists work with a broader range of clients, such as athletes looking to improve nutrition and people trying to eat healthier, dietitians help people manage nutritional factors that are related to chronic diseases. This is formally known as medical nutrition therapy and often occurs in a hospital, outpatient clinic, or doctor's office.

Steps to Becoming a Nutritionist

Want to become a nutritionist? With a bachelor's degree, you can become a nutritionist. However, you'll need a graduate degree to become a registered dietitian or a certified nutritionist. Here are the steps to become a nutritionist:

  1. 1

    Earn a Degree From an Accredited Program

    Nutritionists typically need a bachelor's degree plus supervised training to enter the profession. Most accredited dietetics and nutrition programs incorporate an internship to gain hands-on experience. Depending on your state, you may need to earn a degree from an accredited institution to qualify for licensure.
  2. 2

    Pass a National or State Exam to Receive Licensure/Become Certified

    Where you live matters. Depending on your location, you may need to pass an exam to work as a nutritionist. Reach out to your state's licensure board to learn more about the requirements. In addition to licensure, you can consider a professional credential to showcase your skills.
  3. 3

    Gain Experience as a Nutritionist

    Experience as a nutritionist will help you advance your career. Professional certification may also require a certain amount of experience. For example, the certified nutrition specialist credential requires at least 1,000 hours of supervised, relevant work experience. You can gain experience through an internship, clinical rotation, or clinical practice.
  4. 4

    (Optional) Complete Advanced Degree Program

    To earn certification as a nutritionist, you'll need a master's degree from an accredited program. Look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Nutrition Professional Education. Master's programs typically require two years and include experiential components such as an internship or practicum.

Nutritionist Education

You’ll need to complete a nutritionist education program to launch your career as a nutritionist. In fact, most employers want to hire nutritionists with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Specialized Nutritionist Program

Specialized programs provide foundational information about nutrition science, often with a focus on niche areas. For example, you can become a gut health nutrition specialist, certified nutrition coach, or sports nutrition specialist with a certification. While these programs offer quick training, they do not meet the requirements for licensure or certification.

Associate Degree

An associate degree gives you a solid foundation in human biology, nutrition, and health. You’ll take courses in nutrition science while also meeting general education requirements. With an associate degree, you can become a dietetic technician or wellness coach. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree for most nutritionist jobs.

Bachelor's Degree

As the entry-level education requirement for most nutritionists, a bachelor’s degree can help launch your career as a nutritionist. You’ll take nutrition science courses, with the option to specialize in areas like clinical dietetics or sports nutrition. A bachelor’s in nutrition also prepares you for graduate-level programs.

Master's Degree

With a master’s in nutrition, you can become a certified nutrition specialist or a registered dietician. Graduate coursework also helps you specialize your skills and stand out in the job market. You’ll explore research-based approaches to human health and nutrition, with some programs emphasizing nutrition in disease management or exercise science.

Nutritionist Licensure and Certification

Depending on your state, you may need to pursue licensure or register as a nutritionist. The licensure requirements may include passing an examination and meeting educational requirements. Your nutrition science program can help you meet the licensure requirements in your state.

In addition to licensure, nutritionists can pursue professional certifications. These voluntary certifications can help you on the job market. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who hold certifications, such as the certified nutrition specialist or registered dietitian nutritionist credential. Organizations such as the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists and the Commission on Dietetic Registration offer these credentials, which both require a master’s degree.

Working as a Nutritionist

Based on March 2024 Payscale data, nutritionists can expect to earn a median annual salary of $53,000.

The most common work settings for nutritionists include hospitals, government agencies, outpatient care centers, and residential care facilities. Around 8% of nutritionists are self-employed. Most nutritionists work full-time, with varying schedules depending on the workplace.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nutritionist

What is the difference between nutritionist and dietitian?

Nutritionists and dietitians both work in the food science field. However, nutritionist is a broader category which includes coaching and wellness roles. Dietitians are clinical specialists who typically work in healthcare settings.

Is it easier to become a dietitian or nutritionist?

You can become a nutritionist with a specialized program or bachelor's degree, while you'll need a master's degree to become a dietitian. However, several nutritionist careers also require or prefer candidates with a master's degree.

Do dietitians make more money than nutritionists?

Yes, dietitians typically earn more than nutritionists. Dietitians report a median salary of $60,000, according to March 2024 data from Payscale, while nutritionists earn a median of $53,000 based on March 2024 Payscale data. Dietitians need a master's degree, while some nutritionist jobs do not require a graduate degree.

Page last reviewed on June 27, 2024

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