Reading Time: 6 minutes 30 seconds
Before entering any career path, it’s important to check out its qualifications. This tells you whether you have the requirements needed to apply for your desired role. If you don’t, it also gives insight into the steps you must take to qualify.
Here we go into the qualifications to become a nutrition coach. We’ll talk about education, training, certification, and licensing. We even share a few skills that can increase your success in a nutrition coach role. But first, it’s important to be clear about what a nutrition coach does.
A nutrition coach is an educator, meal planner, advisor, and cheerleader all in one.
Educate: You might teach a nutrition client about the role of fat, protein, or carbs in the diet. Or you may increase their nutrition knowledge in other areas. An example of this would be to inform them about the pros and cons of plant based nutrition.
Meal plan: A nutrition coach can help clients learn how to create a healthy eating plan. This helps ensure that their nutritional needs are met. It also enables them to better meet their health and fitness goals. If your client is a bodybuilder, for instance, their meal plan will likely be higher in protein. If their goal is weight loss, the foods may be lower in fat or calories.
Advise: Nutrition isn’t only about what foods to eat or how much. It’s also about where we eat, how fast we eat, and more. A nutrition coach serves as an advisor for healthy eating habits. They guide positive lifestyle changes. This might include providing mindful eating tips. Or you may offer ways to separate emotions from food.
Cheerlead: One important function of nutrition coaching is keeping your clients motivated. It’s natural for motivation to dip at times. When this happens, your client relies on you to keep them going. (Being able to motivate is also key to retaining nutrition clients long-term.)
Let’s take this discussion one step further and talk about the different types of coaching. Nutrition coach, health coach, and wellness coach are often used interchangeably. But they’re not the same things.
As mentioned, a nutrition coach provides guidance of food-related topics. This may involve helping clients undo bad eating habits. Or it could involve teaching them how their bodies react to certain foods.
A health coach can delve into other areas related to mental and physical health. Maybe the client has a health condition. They have diabetes or high blood pressure and want to know how to better manage their disease. A health coach can assist with this. This may involve talking about nutrition. But it might also require developing positive health habits in other areas.
A wellness coach helps clients improve their overall well-being. This involves guiding clients on how to improve physical and mental health. It also encompasses ways to boost their behavioral and emotional health. A wellness professional may incorporate stress reduction techniques into their programs, for instance.
Now that we’ve established what a nutrition coach is, let’s talk about the reason you’re here. What qualifications do you need to offer nutrition coaching services? It depends because each state has its own requirements for the nutrition professional.
For example, let’s say you plan to work in Florida. This state requires a dietitian, nutritionist, and nutrition counselor to be licensed. However, a license isn’t required if you provide basic nutrition advice. That is, as long as you’re not acting under the supervision of a medical doctor. You also can’t intend to help treat a medical condition.
Now imagine that you want to provide nutrition coaching in Montana. The licensing requirements in this state are a bit different. You must have a license to provide nutrition care unless you provide general nutritional information. You just can’t represent yourself as a dietitian or nutritionist.
As you can see, there are no one-size-fits-all nutrition coaching qualifications. At least, not when it comes to licensing. It’s more a matter of identifying what type of services you will provide. Then you must determine if those services are regulated by your state.
To ensure that you don’t violate your state’s protocol, reach out to your local regulatory agency. To find this agency, search for your state’s nutrition regulation board. Ask them whether you need to be licensed. You may not need to be when acting as a nutrition coach. That is, as long as you don’t provide specific advice related to using nutrition for the treatment of medical conditions. And as long as you don’t market yourself as a dietitian or nutritionist.
The National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) also shares a summary of the requirements for each state. You can access them via its interactive map (1). This can give you a good place to start your research.
Whether you need a nutrition certification to work as a coach can vary as well. Certain states may require you to be a certified nutrition coach before you counsel others. Others have no such requirements. Or they have restrictions, such as not representing yourself as a dietitian or nutritionist.
What if there is no such requirement? It can still be beneficial to obtain your nutrition certification. One reason is that it increases your knowledge of nutrition topics. It also helps establish you as an authority in this space.
It’s like how a personal trainer benefits from obtaining certification. Being able to market themselves as a certified personal trainer sets them apart from a non-certified fitness professional. It also provides greater peace of mind for a potential client. Certification says that the trainer knows how to develop a safe, effective exercise program. Earning your nutrition certification provides similar advantages.
Earning your nutrition certification provides another benefit. It can help you qualify to work for employers that require it. If an employer will only accept an application if you are a certified nutrition coach, you will have met this requirement.
To work as a dietitian or nutritionist, you generally need a four-year degree. This degree may be in dietetics, health science, or a similar field. You’re also often required to engage in some type of supervised training.
But there is generally no educational requirement to provide basic nutrition coaching services. This doesn’t mean that you should provide nutrition coaching services without seeking education or training in this field. It only means that it is not mandated.
Taking a nutrition certification program can deepen your knowledge of nutrition. This can help when working with clients. You’re able to provide guidance based on proven nutrition science.
You’re also able to pass your knowledge of nutrition science on to your clients. Understanding why it’s important to do something increases the likelihood that they’ll make that action a priority.
Nutrition coaching is different from providing services as a registered dietitian or certified nutritionist. Yet, one could argue that each of these professionals benefits from having a similar skill set since they all provide nutrition advice.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shares that some of most important skills for nutrition professionals include (2):
being analytical, improving your ability to “translate nutrition science into practical guidance”
being able to solve problems, helping clients more effectively overcome their food-related challenges to improve their health and wellness
being organized so you properly maintain all your client and business files
having good speaking and listening skills, improving your ability to understand client’s goals and communicate effectively
having compassion and empathy when discussing a client’s emotions and concerns
If you’re ready to get certified as a nutrition coach, the first step is to select a certification program. Many certification program options exist. Take the time to review each one to ensure that it will work for you. Need help sifting through the options? PT Pioneer provides a detailed and experienced review of the top nutrition certifications.
For example, if you currently work full-time, you may prefer an online nutrition program. This enables you to earn your certification on the days and times that fit into your schedule best.
Or maybe you currently provide personal training services. In this case, you may want a certification from an agency that understands the interplay between nutrition and fitness. (This is often referred to as sports nutrition. It also helps prepare you to work as a certified sports nutrition coach or sports nutrition specialist.)
It’s also helpful to consider what type of nutrition coaching you want to provide. Do you want to focus on integrative nutrition, for instance, or holistic nutrition? Make sure the certification course covers these topic areas.
The certification program should also cover how to build and grow your coaching skills. These skills can make you more successful in any coaching role—whether nutrition coaching, health coaching, or another type.
Finally, also think about your long-term career goals too. Maybe you want to start a nutrition coaching business. In this case, look for a certification course that provides business advice. This can also be helpful if you want to work as a nutrition consultant. Find a nutritionist certification organization that provides the information you want and need when working in this role.
One option is to earn your Nutritionist Certification through International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). The ISSA nutrition certification course is provided in partnership with Precision Nutrition. Upon its completion, you will earn the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.
Legislative Affairs: National Association of Nutrition Professionals. National Association of Nutrition Professionals | Setting the standard for holistic nutrition. (2023, March 29). https://nanp.org/legislative-affairs/
Dietitians and nutritionists : Occupational outlook handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, September 30). https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm#tab-4