Career Path on How to become a Sports Nutritionist

More than ever, professional and college-level sports organizations are acknowledging the importance of exposing their athletes to more nutrition conscious lifestyles. In fact, recently the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has joined forces with the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) to more actively promote nutritious lifestyles among its athletes.

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As the sports community continues to advance athletic performance through nutrition education, the sports nutrition profession continues to gain greater recognition. Most sports nutritionists gain entry into the field by gaining a combination of formal education and training in nutrition-related disciplines. Often, the most successful sports nutritionists are certified, licensed or registered nutritionists with specialized training in athletic, fitness and sports settings.

Job Description

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the primary job responsibilities for sports nutritionists include:

  • Administering nutrition counseling for individuals
  • Engaging in menu development plans
  • Creating nutrition-rich food service initiatives
  • Spearheading nutrition education for teams, groups or wellness programs
  • Using nutrition to facilitate professional development

Education for Sports Nutritionists

Regulatory restrictions for sports nutritionists will inevitably vary from state to state. Most employers hire sports nutritionists that have proven occupational proficiency by completing an undergraduate degree in a career-related major such as nutrition, exercise science, sports nutrition, kinesiology, food science and dietetics. However, sports nutritionists that complete graduate or post-graduate education often attract a greater volume of employers and clients alike.

Students that are searching for degree programs in sports nutrition are encouraged to select one that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency such as the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). In addition, the program should prepare students to sit for the Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD).

Sports Nutritionist Certification and Licensing

Since the sports nutrition is not a federally regulated occupation, each state is free to set their own certification and licensing standards. Some states currently require sports nutritionists to obtain a license or certificate from their Board of Nutrition in order to practice, while other states do not. Even sports nutritionists that are not legally obligated to become certified or licensed professionals often earn credentials through a national credentialing agency such as the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) to establish professional competency in the field.


The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012 there were 67,400 dietitians and nutritionists employed throughout the country. By 2022, this number is expected to rise to 81,600, which equates to a 21% increase in just a decade. Top industries of employment for nutrition professionals include:

  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Local government
  • Special food services

As a result of this expanding job market, sports nutritionists finding positions in most settings that infuse physical activity with nutrition concepts. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, common workplaces include:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Sports organizations
  • Athletic clubs
  • Food corporations
  • Rehabilitation centers

Sports Nutritionists Salaries

In 2013, recent findings by the United States government indicate that the average annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $56,300 and the average annual wage was $27.07. A sport nutritionist’s salary is largely dependent on their level of formal education, experience, specialized training, industry of employment, and geographic location.  States with the highest salaries for nutritionists include:

  • California
  • Maryland
  • Hawaii
  • Connecticut
  • Nevada

Examples of high paying industries for nutritionists include:

  • Grantmaking and giving services
  • Federal executive branch
  • Office administrative services
  • Insurance carriers
  • Home health care services

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