How to Become a Nutritionist

April 25, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Thinking about taking a bite out of the world of nutrition? Keep reading to find out how to become a nutritionist!

Eating may seem like a simple task, but it plays a vital role in providing our bodies with the necessary nutrients it needs to survive. To keep yourself healthy, it's crucial to have a good understanding of what you should and shouldn’t eat. This is where nutritionists come in; they are the experts who help us navigate the complexities of nutrition.

Are you interested in nutrition? Does offering health advice to others sound appealing? If so, this article will go over everything you need to know about how to become a nutritionist.

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Nutritionist vs. Dietitian

When it comes to food and nutrition, you may be confused about the difference between nutritionists and dietitians. While both professions focus on helping individuals achieve optimal health through proper nutrition, there are some distinct differences you need to be aware of.


Nutritionists are professionals who give advice on diet and nutrition to promote healthy habits and manage medical conditions. Nutritionists assess an individual’s needs and requirements based on factors such as their age, gender, lifestyle, and medical history. 

Many nutritionists also work closely with healthcare professionals to develop and implement comprehensive treatment plans for conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Nutritionists also promote public health by advocating for nutrition policies within organizations like the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP).

Aside from health clinics, private practices, and government agencies, nutritionists can also work in a variety of other settings including:

  • Group homes
  • Fitness centers
  • Research institutions
  • Schools and universities
  • Food manufacturing companies

Some nutritionists have formal education in the field, such as a degree in food science or public health, while others may not. The term “nutritionist” isn’t regulated, so the education and qualification of nutritionists can vary widely. 


Dietitians, on the other hand, are board-certified experts who have completed formal education and training in nutrition and dietetics, and are often licensed or registered to practice. They work with individuals, families, and communities to develop healthy eating plans, manage medical conditions, and promote healthy lifestyle choices.

Dietitians have a more regulated and structured education and training process compared to nutritionists. They have typically earned a bachelor's or graduate degree in dietetics, completed a supervised practice program, and passed a national examination to become registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN).

Dietitians can work in a variety of settings, including: 

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Government agencies
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Food service organizations

Like nutritionists, they may also collaborate with healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive treatment plans for medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, Dietitians have a broader scope of practice and are able to diagnose and treat nutrition-related health conditions, while nutritionists are limited to providing nutrition education and recommendations.

The primary difference between the two professions is that dietitians have a higher level of education and training, as well as recognition through licensing or registration. This makes them a preferred choice for nutritional advice and treatment in most cases.

Steps to Become a Nutritionist

Let’s take a look at the steps you need to follow to practice as a nutritionist.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition or a Related Field

The first step to becoming a nutritionist is to obtain a four-year bachelor's degree, typically in a nutrition-related field. This degree serves as a prerequisite for licensure and certification, if you decide to pursue them later on. 

Here are a list of recommended fields of study:

  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Health Care
  • Human Biology
  • Dietetics
  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Food science
  • Microbiology

You should use your undergraduate studies as an opportunity to learn the basics of nutrition, dietary sciences, health studies, and other related fields. To help you get ahead, it's also a good idea to participate in internships related to nutrition during your final years of college. These internships will give you valuable experience for your future career.

2. Get Certified

Becoming a certified nutritionist requires you to complete a number of hours of supervised training, which may be done through internships or specific training programs. The exact number of hours will depend on the type of certification you're seeking. You could be required to complete anywhere between 500 and 1200 hours of practice in a nutrition-related environment.

After you’ve completed the required training, experience, and educational qualification, it’s time to get certificated. While each state has its own requirements, in general, you can expect to do the following: 

Once you get the required credentials, you are eligible to get licensure to practice in the state you plan to work in! While you do not need licensure to work as a nutritionist, becoming a licensed nutritionist can give you credibility, the authority to diagnose and treat nutrition-related health conditions, and access to more job opportunities.

To become a licensed nutritionist, you need to apply for licensure at a recognized licensing authority, such as the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). 

To become a licensed nutritionist, you must fulfill certain requirements, which may vary by state. It is recommended to obtain certification first, as some requirements may be similar. It is important not to let too much time pass between obtaining certification and acquiring your license to practice.

Once you’ve gained all the credentials and documents needed to practice as a nutritionist, you are ready to start working! 

3. Earn a Graduate Degree (Optional)

While a graduate degree in a field related to nutrition isn’t required for many certifications, it provides many advantages, including specialized knowledge, research opportunities, or further training for some more advanced skills. Moreover, many graduate programs offer a range of concentrations, allowing you to focus your studies on a particular area of interest within the field of nutrition.

In fact, many nutritionists get a Master’s degree or Doctorate in Nutrition if they’re aiming for advanced positions or planning to work for large hospitals, schools, or government agencies. If you want to pursue an advanced nutritionist position, a graduate degree can be a hefty boost if you find the time and monetary costs worth it.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nutritionist?

So, how long does it take to become a nutritionist? Well, the answer is that it varies widely; it all depends on which path you’d like to take. In general, becoming a licensed nutritionist can take at least six years, with the bachelor’s degree taking four years, and the internship requirement taking an additional two years. 

Depending on the level of certification and licensure you are pursuing, completing all the necessary requirements and examinations can take between one and three years.

Types of Nutritionists

As a profession, nutritionists have many different types and specialties. Your path to becoming a nutritionist also includes figuring out what specific position you want to pursue. Here are some of the more noteworthy specialties you can consider:.

Clinical Nutritionist

As the name suggests, clinical nutritionists work with patients in hospitals, clinics, or private practices. While many work independently, clinical nutritionists also collaborate with medical and healthcare teams to address health problems like cancer and diabetes. 

Certification is often required in many states to work in hospitals and clinics, and a master’s degree may be necessary to be a certified clinical nutritionist. 

Gerontological Nutritionist

A gerontological nutritionist specializes in working with the elderly and often works in hospitals, nursing homes, and community health centers. Gerontological nutritionists play a critical role in ensuring that the elderly receive adequate nutrition to maintain their health and wellbeing.

They take into consideration the specific nutritional needs of the elderly, such as those with chronic conditions or decreased appetites, and design individualized meal plans to meet those needs. They also advise families and caregivers on how to provide proper nutrition to elderly loved ones and monitor their progress to ensure they are receiving the necessary nutrients.

Nutrition Consultant

Nutrition consultants offer professional nutrition-based advice, but may not have the same educational or licensing requirements as certified nutritionists. In fact, you can be a nutrition consultant with a high school diploma or GED, but you must be credentialed by the American Association of Nutrition Consultants. 

Most nutrition consultants work in more informal settings; they can work as private consultants, health coaches, or write articles or conduct seminars. Sometimes, nutritional consultants also get hired by corporations, hospitals, schools, and retirement centers.

Management Nutritionist

Management nutritionists are responsible for overseeing the dietary needs of large groups of people, such as those in schools, hospitals, or retirement communities. They work to ensure that the meals provided meet the nutritional requirements of their clients and are also cost-effective.

This can involve menu planning, food purchasing and preparation, and tracking and reporting on food and nutrition-related expenses. In addition to these administrative tasks, management nutritionists also play a key role in promoting healthy eating habits and educating their clients on the importance of good nutrition. 

This can involve providing nutrition education and training to staff, creating and distributing informational materials, and organizing community events and outreach programs.

Sports Nutritionist

Sports nutritionists  are specialized nutritionists who focus on providing personalized nutrition guidance to athletes. They help athletes improve their performance by creating customized meal plans that take into account the athlete's unique training schedule, body type, expected total daily energy expenditure, and goals.

When calculating total daily energy expenditure, sports nutritionists factor in the number of calories an athlete burns during workouts and competitions as well as their basal metabolic rate. This helps them determine the optimal number of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients the athlete needs to consume each day.

They can provide recommendations on supplements, hydration, and recovery nutrition, to help athletes achieve their full potential. These nutritionists work closely with athletes, coaches, and trainers to create nutrition programs that meet the specific needs of each athlete and to track progress and make any necessary adjustments.

Sports nutritionists can be found working in various settings such as professional sports leagues, fitness centers, sports clinics, gyms, schools, universities, and even for private athletes.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Registered dietitian nutritionists are experts in food and nutrition who work in higher-level positions and address more complex problems. They have to meet the specific educational and credential requirements to practice as a licensed dietitian and nutritionist.

They work in professional settings such as hospitals, health care centers, extended-care facilities, or nursing homes. To become a registered dietitian nutritionist, one must meet the requirements and pass an exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

To become a registered dietitian nutritionist, you must contact the Commission on Dietetic Registration and fulfill the necessary requirements to earn the credentials to be registered, which includes passing an exam administered by them.

Nutritionist Salaries

So, how well do nutritionist jobs pay? The median hourly wage is $29.64 per hour. In the table below, you’ll find the top-10 highest paying states for Nutritionists.

State Annual Salary Hourly Wage
Wisconsin $79,582 $38.26
Nevada $76,576 $36.82
Minnesota $76,185 $36.63
Massachusetts $76,031 $36.55
Oregon $75,290 $36.20
Hawaii $74,150 $35.65
Washington $72,963 $35.08
Iowa $72,847 $35.02
Alaska $72,428 $34.82
New York $72,408 $34.81

As a nutritionist, you can earn a substantial income in many locations, with Wisconsin, Nevada, and Minnesota paying over $35 per hour!

Career Outlook for Nutritionists

As of now, nutritionists have a decent outlook. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for dietitians and nutritionists is expected to grow at a steady rate of 7% within the next decade. On average, there will be about 5,600 new job opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists each year during the decade.

One possible explanation for this growth is a growing interest in the use of food and nutrition for promoting wellness and preventative care, especially in medical settings.

FAQs: How to Become a Nutritionist

Are you still hungry for information on how to become a nutritionist? Maybe our FAQs will provide the information you need!

1. How Hard Is It to Become a Nutritionist?

Although the requirements for becoming a nutritionist are relatively lenient, the path still has a lot of challenges. While the educational requirements are not so rigorous, you need to go through many hours of intensive internship and supervised training before you can practice as a professional nutritionist. The exams for getting certified and/or licensed are also quite strict. 

Being a nutritionist requires a very firm knowledge base on nutrition and the ability to reliably apply the knowledge to actual practice. Working as a certified or licensed nutritionist is especially demanding of this.

2. How Do I Start a Career as a Nutritionist?

Based on the state you will work in, and the position you aim for, you must earn any required certifications and licensure. Usually, this is done by obtaining an educational degree, completing an amount of internship hours, and passing the necessary exams. Once you’ve earned all the required credentials and have the license for practicing, you are good to begin your career!

3. Is Being A Nutritionist a Good career?

Yes. Nutritionists have decent salaries and good employment demands. They also have a wide variety of possible work environments, from government facilities to hospitals, to care centers and university campuses. In general, they also have one of the more flexible work schedules in medical professions.

If you are passionate about the field of nutrition, optimizing food choices and eating habits, and improving people’s health, being a nutritionist is an excellent option for you. 

4. Do Nutritionists Have Residency?

Yes. Residency and fellowship programs are both parts of supervised training that nutritionists need prior to practicing. They are also often required for nutritionists to be certified or to get a license.

5. What Are Some Skills Needed by Nutritionists?

Here are a few skills and abilities that every nutritionist should have:

Hard Skills:

  • Knowledge on science, nutrition, and medical principles
  • Ability to administer care
  • Consultancy 
  • Researching

Soft Skills:

  • Interpersonal communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Analytical thinking
  • Organization
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Learning and adapting

Your education will equip you with a wealth of knowledge and skills, but it is also important to have the ability to work in a professional setting. To be successful, a nutritionist must continually develop and improve themselves.

Final Thoughts

Nutrition plays a vital role in both physiological and psychological health. And by extension, so do nutritionists. Health is a universal importance for everyone. People are looking for ways to stay healthy, so there will always be a demand for newer and better dietetic and nutrition services. 

Now that you know all about becoming a nutritionist, it is never too early to start your journey! Best wishes for your future.

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