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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Do You Have the Skills Needed to Be a Nutritionist?

Do You Have the Skills Needed to Be a Nutritionist?

Reading Time: 5 minutes


DATE: 2023-08-29

Working as a nutritionist might seem like an ideal career if you enjoy learning about how food affects your health. A passion for nutrition and wellness means you’re already on the right track, but is that enough? 

Find out more about this growing health career and what it takes to be successful in the role of a nutritionist. In addition to a credential, you must be organized, have good interpersonal skills, be a clear communicator, and more. 

What Is a Nutritionist? 

Before you decide if you have what it takes to work as a nutritionist, it’s important to understand exactly what it means. A nutritionist is a professional who educates and advises clients about their diet and nutrition. The term nutrition coach refers to a very similar professional and is often used interchangeably with nutritionist. 

For a taste of the kinds of topics a nutritionist is an expert in, read this post about what to eat for recovery on rest days

What Does a Nutritionist Do? 

A nutritionist works with clients to teach them about how their choices of foods affect their health and how they can make positive changes. Some of the typical duties of a nutritionist include:

  • Meeting with clients to assess their current nutrition and set goals 

  • Provide nutrition education about how foods affect health

  • Motivate clients to make positive nutrition and diet changes

  • Assess clients periodically to track progress toward goals

  • Changing plans as necessary to keep clients on track. 

Some nutritionists specialize. For instance, public health nutritionists work for communities or government agencies to assess the nutritional needs of larger populations. Fitness or athletic nutritionists often work with sports teams to help them develop dietary habits that support performance. 

Check out this post for even more information about what a nutritionist does on a daily basis. 

How is a Nutritionist Different from a Dietitian? 

Dietetics is the study of diet, food, and nutrition, how they impact health and can be used to prevent or treat disease and improve overall health. Dietitians have college degrees and hold special licensing that allows them to work with patients, diagnose conditions, and create food plants to treat those conditions. 

Nutritionists do not need a specific credential to work. They also cannot diagnose or treat conditions. Instead, they help clients develop healthier eating habits to promote overall health and to meet specific goals. 

What Are the Most Important Skills Needed to Be a Nutritionist? 

If you are interested in health, nutrition, and wellness, working as a nutritionist could be a dream career. But it takes more than a personal passion for the subject and good nutrition knowledge to be successful. These are some of the most important skills excellent nutritionists and nutrition coaches use on the job: 

1. Interpersonal Skills

It almost goes without saying that if you want to coach people, help them set and meet goals, and educate clients about nutrition, you need interpersonal skills. This is an absolute must for anyone who works with people, but especially when dealing with something as personal as health and diet. 

A good nutritionist is compassionate. They are patient with their clients, who may be stubborn or slow to make changes. They empathize with their clients and are able to understand how and why they make poor diet choices so they can motivate them to alter those behaviors. 

Another important interpersonal skill is the ability to work with and help people without judgement. Clients you encounter will make the kinds of choices you never would, but they still deserve compassionate guidance, not unhelpful judgement. 

2. Organization

As a nutritionist, it is essential that you keep important data on each client organized and secure. Clients will be relying on you to organize diet and nutrition information for them and keep them on track with their meal plan. If you cannot manage their details and information in an organized way, they won’t get as much out of your services as possible. 

Another important aspect of organization is privacy. Nutritionists collect personal and health information on their clients. You must keep that information secure and safe so that it cannot be accessed by anyone else. 

3. Communication

Nutritionists are guides, coaches, and perhaps most importantly, teachers. You don’t simply tell clients what to do. You educate them about nutrition, how food impacts their health, and how to make positive changes. 

To do this successfully, you must be good at communicating. This includes written and online communications, communicating through videos and social media, and talking in person. You need to be able to get your message across to clients clearly and succinctly. This is a foundation of instructing and educating people. It doesn’t matter how well you know your material if you cannot communicate it effectively. 

4. Time Management

In any career that involves working with clients and keeping appointments, time management is a must. Being punctual is mandatory. Being late can quickly get you fired, either from a job or from a client who has hired you independently. 

Being timely is an aspect of basic professionalism, but it is also one aspect of time management that will help you be successful in all areas of your career. Managing time well means you can set and stick with a schedule, get tasks done efficiently, and minimize wasted time. Time is money, as they say, so the more efficiently you can work, the more you earn. 

5. Problem Solving

Helping people with their nutrition requires problem solving skills and the ability to analyze a situation and make needed changes. You might start out with a client and have a clear goal and path to meet that goal. But nothing is ever that simple. Along the way, you will constantly need to adjust strategies and plans. 

Doing so takes patience, of course. It also requires that you to quickly analyze the problem and develop one or more solutions. A client might claim to be willing to make changes and then fall into bad habits. Or, another client might develop a health problem, requiring you to shift and change their nutrition strategies. 

6. Business Skills

Don’t make the mistake of assuming all you need to succeed in this career is knowledge of nutrition. As a nutritionist, you will also be a business person. As an independent nutritionist, you will be responsible for accounting, marketing, payroll, and more. 

Even if you land a job as an employee, you still need some of these skills, most importantly marketing. Many employed nutritionists are at least partly responsible for getting new clients. Online skills are particularly important. You should be able to build an online and social media presence to market yourself as a professional. 

Many personal training professionals get certified to offer nutrition coaching or health coaching as well. While this can be a smart pairing, you have to know how to put together a good business plan and market yourself effectively. 

How to Become a Nutritionist

Some of the above skills come naturally. Others can be learned and developed. If you think you have what it takes, the next step to becoming a nutritionist is to earn a certification. 

Certification is not legally required. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, which raises important credibility issues. Because there is no regulation, savvy clients and certainly employers will be wary of anyone claiming to be a nutrition professional without any credentials. 

A certified nutrition coach or nutritionist course not only gives you credibility, it also gives you the technical knowledge and coaching skills you need to be successful. With this information along with all the other characteristics of a good nutritionist, you have what you need to succeed. 

Are you ready to give it a try? Working as a nutritionist and helping clients meet health goals can be so rewarding. Get started today with classes in nutrition and a certification that communicates to potential clients that you are a serious professional. 

If working in nutrition is your dream, check out ISSA’s Nutritionist Certification course. It is a self-paced, online course that allows you to get certified on your schedule. 

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