State Requirements for Nutrition and Dietitian Fields

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Can I Become a Nutritionist Without a Degree?

Are you interested in working in nutrition and dietetics, but maybe thinking to yourself, “I wonder if I can do this without earning a college degree?” Although many national certification agencies require nutritionists to have degrees, and state licensure usually requires a degree, it is possible to become a nutritionist without a college degree. If you want to become a nutritionist without a degree, you will not be able to call yourself a registered nutritionist, certified nutritionist, or licensed nutritionist. Let’s look at the avenues available to you if you wish to become a nutritionist without a degree.

What Do Nutritionists Do?

Before deciding if you want to work as a nutritionist without a degree, you should know exactly what a nutritionist does. Nutritionists value health above all else, and believe that food choice is the key to maintaining good health and even treating some illnesses or diseases. They assess a client’s dietary and nutritional needs, provide them with nutrition programs, counsel them on foods, and help them to make better food choices. Nutritionists work in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to long-term-care centers to schools to nonprofit agencies to private practice.

Nutritionists, therefore, should be well-versed in science, particularly human anatomy. If spending four to six years getting a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in nutrition doesn’t sound like something you want to do, it is possible to work as an unlicensed or unregulated nutritionist. Other nutritionist certification agencies will train you online, as you will see below, to earn nutritionist credentials.

Reasons for Becoming a Nutritionist

Why do you want to be a nutritionist? If you truly want to help people choose their foods more wisely and live a healthier lifestyle, this is a great motivating factor. If you simply want to market a product that you are selling with a claim that it will improve health, this is not a good reason to become a nutritionist. Working to help people become healthier is the number one reason most nutritionists have entered the field, and they have a passion for changing people’s lives.

How to Work as a Nutritionist Without a Degree

In the United States, in order to work as a registered dietitian nutritionist, you must be certified through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). This requires a degree (bachelor’s at this time, although that requirement is changing to a master’s degree in 2024) and passing the CDR Exam.  There are nutritional certifications that you can pursue without a degree, however.

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Nutritionist Certification

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) offers nutritionist certification that can be completed online. The coursework will teach you the basics of nutrition, dietary guidelines and applications, lifestyle changes, setting goals, macronutrients, micronutrients, trending diets and myths, supplementation, and the business of nutrition coaching. After completing the coursework, you must pass an exam to earn certification, and can then call yourself an ISSA-certified nutritionist.

National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC)

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) offers its Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC) program online as well. Their curriculum includes information on how to change behavior, implement changes in behavior in clients, and coach clients with advice on nutrition.  You must pass an examination before you can call yourself a NASM-CNC. You must recertify every two years to maintain your certification.

National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) Sports Nutrition Specialist

The National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) offers its Sports Nutrition Specialist certification through online training and an online exam. Its courses emphasize the role that nutrition plays in exercise and sports, and the importance of energy requirements of clients, including hydration and electrolyte balances. Passing their examination earns you the title NESTA Certified Sports Nutrition Specialist.

Precision Nutrition Certification Level 1 (PN1)

Precision Nutrition offers its Level 1 Certification (PN1) program to a select few students annually. It only opens enrollment to new students a few times a year, however. The program is designed for nutritionists at any level, from beginner to advanced. Once again, this program can be completed online. Passing their exam allows you to use the PN1 Nutritionist credential.

American Fitness Professional Association (AFPA) Nutrition and Wellness Certification

The American Fitness Professional Association (AFPA) offers a Nutrition and Wellness certification online. This program will teach you how to apply nutrition information to fitness performance, weight management, and health enhancement of clients. They also offer other nutrition specializations, including Holistic Nutritionist, Weight Management Specialist, Youth Nutrition Specialist, and Senior Nutrition Specialist. 

Fitness Mentors Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)

Fitness Mentors offers its Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) certification that can be completely virtually as well. In addition to teaching nutritional and dietary issues, they also instruct you on starting and growing your own nutritionist business. Once you have completed their course and passed the certification exam, you will be a FM-CNS.

National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF) Sport Nutrition Specialist (SNS)

The National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF) offers a Sport Nutrition Specialist (SNS) certification. Their online program emphasizes behavioral change, and includes topics such as macronutrients, micronutrients, dietary supplements and ergogenic aids, and nutritional analysis and weight management. After passing their exam, you will be a NCSF-SNS.

Where to Work as a Nutritionist Without a Degree

At this point, you might be wondering, if I do complete an online certification and become a nutritionist without a degree, where can I work? There are many options for employment of non-degreed nutritionists who are otherwise certified. Fitness centers, rehabilitation centers, gyms, schools, medical centers, and private practice are all viable employment settings for nutritionists who do not have a degree. If you decide to work as a private practice nutritionist, it is important to build relationships with healthcare professionals within your community. These practitioners should be able to provide client referrals to you.

Recently, the following jobs were posted online for nutritionists. A degree was not a requirement for any of these positions. If you hold one of the above-mentioned certifications, along with a bit of experience, that could supersede a “degree preferred” requirement:

  • Nutrition Coach – Design Your Body Academy, remote – Salary $40 to $65/hour
    • Requirements: high school diploma and three years of nutrition coaching
  • WIC Nutritionist – FHCCP, Bloomsburg, PA – Salary $20 to $23/hour
    • Requirements: bachelor’s degree preferred but not required
  • Nutritionist – Dow Bay Area Family YMCA, Bay City, MI – Salary $20/hour
    • Requirements: bachelor’s degree preferred but not required
  • Nutritionist – Maternal & Family Health Services, Bristol, PA – Salary not given
    • Requirements: bachelor’s degree preferred but not required
  • Functional Medicine Nutritionist – Arthritis Care & Research Center, Inc., Poway, CA – Salary $20 to $25/hour
    • Requirements: no degree required; three years of experience preferred
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