What is a Sports Nutritionist?

Sports NutritionistIf you have a passion for fitness and nutrition, you may want to consider becoming a professional sports nutritionist. What is a sports nutritionist?  As a sports nutrition professional, you will teach body builders, sports athletes and other fitness enthusiasts how to optimize their performance on the field or the court while they improve their health with nutrition. As more and more of the population is becoming interested in preventative care techniques to optimize their quality of life, the demand for sports nutritionists has risen. Read on, and find out about the role of the nutritionist and what settings these highly trained professionals typically work in.

What is the Role of the Sports Nutrition Specialist?

A sports and fitness nutritionist works with clients to:

  • assess their lifestyle
  • identify their goals
  • create a plan where they will be able to attain their goals

Typically, sports nutritionists will work with a variety of clients including:

  • professional athletes
  • school athletes
  • competition athletes
  • sports models
  • fitness enthusiasts

A sports nutritionist can be a great asset to both individuals and groups.  They can provide nutrition recommendations and offer advice on tracking the outcomes.  They can also be a food and nutrition resource for coaches and parents.  Sometimes they are asked to provide sports nutrition education to athletic teams or community organizations.  They can also help create a nutrition plan to help their clients increase their endurance and stamina.  A science-based nutrition plan has the added benefit of helping the client recover as quickly as possible following a game, competition or workout.

In order to create an effective nutrition plan, a sports nutritionist must first take a look at a typical day in the life of the athlete. Before creating a customized program, they will:

  • ask about their lifestyle
  • watch their eating habits
  • get familiar with their training schedule
  • ask about the supplements or medications that they take 
  • ask about any food allergies

The athlete may set their own short-term and long-term goals.   A respectable sports nutritionist or fitness nutrition specialist will let them know which goals are attainable and which are out of reach. It is the nutritionist’s job to make practical sports nutrition recommendations that are medically safe.

Is a Sports Nutritionist the Same as a Sports Dietitian?

A sports nutritionist and a sports dietician are not the same thing.  A sports dietician is a sports nutritionist, but a sports nutritionist is not necessarily a sports dietician.  A sports dietician has completed an undergraduate degree in dietetics along with an internship.  They must pass a national exam to become a Registered Dietician through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  Beginning in 2024, students will need master’s degree to be able to sit for the RDN exam.  Once they are eligible, they can apply to the Commission on Dietetic Registration to take the exam to earn a credential as a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.  Once they have earned their credential, they are able to provide medical nutrition therapy.    Sports nutritionist requirements are much less stringent.

What is the Difference Between a Sports and a General Nutritionist?

General nutritionists work with the average person who does not spend their day being physically active. A general nutritionist may teach their clients how to eat healthy and to maintain their weight or lose weight in a safe manner. A sports nutrition specialist, on the other hand, will design plans that specifically increase stamina and help repair muscles and tendons following a strenuous workout.  By providing sports nutrition education, these health professionals keep athletes in top physical shape.  To work in this field, you will need a specialized knowledge in physiology.

How Can You Become a Sports or Fitness Nutritionist?

Sports nutrition education programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  In most states, sports nutritionists must be licensed to offer their professional recommendations. To earn licensure, you must complete a degree program in sports nutrition or something similar like dietetics. You will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree before you can sit for a licensing exam in any state. Once you are licensed, you should consider getting certified through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can become a Registered Dietitian with a bachelor’s degree and at least 1200 hours of supervised training. This is a voluntary credential, but once that proves you have the knowledge to do nutrition planning.

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It is always a great feeling when you can turn something you are passionate about into a career. Sports nutritionist career opportunities are available in a variety of settings including:

  • sport organizations
  • health and wellness facilities
  • consulting firms
  • hospitals and sports enhancement centers

If you have a passion for nutrition and living a healthy and active life, why not study to become a sports nutritionist and do something that you love everyday of your life?

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