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Health Coach vs Nutritionist: Which Certification to Pursue?

Reading Time: 4 minutes 49 seconds


Date: 2021-11-10T00:00:00-05:00

Pursuing additional certifications as a personal trainer enables you to expand your service offerings. It also allows you to specialize in certain areas. This can help you grow your fitness business. The question is: Which certification is right for you?

Two options offered by ISSA are health coaching and becoming a certified nutritionist. (There are several others, but these are two of the most popular.) What does each certification mean, how are they different, and how do you decide which one to pursue? Let’s answer each of these questions now.

What It Means to Be a Certified Health Coach

A health coach—sometimes referred to as a wellness coach or even a life coach—helps clients make lifestyle changes to improve their health and wellness. This might involve providing tips for healthy eating. It could also include coming up with healthy habits to reduce stress, sleep better, or become more physically active.

As a health coach, it’s common to work with clients who have been diagnosed with a chronic disease. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer face specific obstacles. Health coach training teaches you how each of these conditions impacts the human body. You also learn strategies for creating a healthy lifestyle that provides your clients with the highest level of wellness possible.

For example, someone with high blood pressure benefits from consuming less sodium. Regular exercise is also beneficial. So too is getting enough sleep as too little can cause blood pressure to rise. A health coach can help a client make changes in each of these areas.

Not only does a health coach educate clients during a wellness coaching session, but they also motivate. They encourage clients to keep moving toward their health goals, even when all they want to do is give up.

The Role of a Certified Nutrition Specialist

A certified nutritionist or nutrition coach provides clients dietary advice. If a client wants help with weight loss, for instance, the nutritionist might provide guidance about how to reduce calorie intake. Or they may provide a meal plan that is low in fat.

If the client wants to improve sports performance, a nutrition coach could educate them about fitness nutrition. They might talk about the importance of consuming adequate protein to support muscle growth. If the client participates in endurance sports, the coach may explain the connection between nutrition and endurance. As a nutrition expert, a nutritionist can also offer advice about dietary supplements.

Is a nutrition coach the same as a dietitian? Not exactly. Normally, you don’t need a certificate or license to provide services as a nutritionist. Conversely, a dietitian must typically have a bachelor’s degree to provide nutrition services. Some states require a dietitian to be registered. A registered dietitian is someone who has passed the credentialing exam offered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

Differences Between Health Coaching and Nutrition Coaching

Since both a health coach and nutritionist can provide nutrition advice, they may seem like similar certifications. In this regard, they are. Both are nutrition professionals with advanced training in diet and diet-related matters. This enables them to offer clients nutrition education and strategies for healthier eating. But they’re also very different.

For starters, a nutritionist has more advanced training in nutrition. They study macronutrients and micronutrients in depth. They are highly trained in deficiencies, dietary needs when certain medical conditions exist, and more. A health coach doesn’t go this far into nutrition. Their education is more basic. They know enough to offer foundational advice. However, if a client has specific dietary needs, a nutritionist is more suited to provide this advice.

A second difference is, while a nutritionist can provide dietary guidance, a health coach has a much broader scope of practice. Health coaching might involve finding ways to increase exercise, for instance. Or it might mean working with a client to reduce their stress. A health coach has the ability to offer advice in numerous areas of wellness that extend beyond nutrition.

Each health professional also approaches the coaching process a little differently. In some regards, a nutritionist is more focused on education and creating the right meal plan for a client. Conversely, a health coach typically spends more time motivating clients. A health coach may also be more focused on holding clients accountable.

Health Coach vs Nutritionist: Which Is Best for You?

Now that you have a better understanding, it might be completely clear whether a health coaching program or nutrition coaching program is the best option for you. If not, asking yourself a few key questions may help.

  • What are your career-related goals? Envision yourself 5, 10, or 20 years from now. What do you see yourself doing? What type of services do you provide clients? If those services include offering supplement advice or setting up meal plans, earning your certification as a nutritionist may be the best decision for you. You might also want to pursue nutrition certification if you like the idea of teaching clients how to grocery shop for healthier foods or cook healthier meals. Yet, if you see yourself providing guidance in other areas of health and wellness, becoming a health coach can help you achieve this goal.

  • Where do your passions lie? Do your eyes glaze over when someone talks about how relationships affect health, yet your ears perk up when the discussion turns to food? Choosing a certification that aligns with your passions can make learning more fun. Plus, your clients will be able to sense your excitement when talking about a certain topic. This makes them excited as well, which can further motivate them to make the changes they desire.

  • Who is your ideal client? If you could work with just one type of person, who would that person be? Try to picture this individual in your head. Consider all of their traits, as well as the health and wellness challenges they might face. If this person needs a very specialized diet, a nutritionist certification course can provide the knowledge needed to create this type of meal plan. If they have a chronic health condition—whether physical or mental—earning your certification as a health coach would enable you to help this demographic more.

  • What processes do you prefer to help your client reach their goals? Are you more interested in helping clients lose weight with diet and exercise? Or would you like the ability to delve into other factors that may be preventing them from achieving their weight loss goals? As a personal trainer with a nutrition certification, your coaching is limited to food and physical activity. Earn your health coach certification and you will learn additional tools. For instance, you’ll learn how to help clients become more stress-resilient. This can reduce their cortisol levels, increasing their body’s ability to let go of excess fat.

Answering these questions can help lead you to the certification that is best suited for you. Once you’ve made your decision, the next step is to enroll in a coach training program. ISSA offers both a Health Coach certification program and a Nutritionist certification program. Each one is available online, making them perfect for busy fitness professionals.

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By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.

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