Sports nutrition is an essential aspect of the world of sports. It makes athletes stay healthy and wow spectators with sensational, improved athletic performances. Name any successful sportsman in any sports category; I will tell you how much discipline and commitment they put into their sports nutrition to remain at the top of their game. Many athletes who cannot keep performing at their peak for a long time have failed in sports nutrition.
Over the years, I have welcomed many young folks passionate about sport and fitness, asking me what they need to become a professional sports nutritionist. That’s very thoughtful! It’s good to know how to help athletes optimize their athletic performance with proper diets and exercise.
Being a sports nutritionist is a rewarding career for people who love nutrition and enjoy working with active people of all ages. As a sports nutritionist, you will have to work with several professional athletes, gym-goers, and recreational runners at all fitness levels.
Are you wondering how you can become a professional sports nutritionist? Read through this step-by-step guide with professional experiences to achieve your dream career.
Step 1: Enroll for a Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition
Your journey to becoming a professional sports nutritionist start with enrolling in a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) for a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. This is your first step in achieving your dream career.
Typically, it takes up to 4 – 5 years to complete a degree in nutrition and dietetics. Most people appreciate a sports nutritionist who has a certificate to back up his/her profession. Certified sports nutritionists have higher chances of easy employment compared to those without a certificate.
Typical nutrition coursework includes food science, medical nutrition therapy, counseling, and sports nutrition (as a course). Of course, several programs focus on sports nutrition; you can also enroll for any of them since it is accredited by ACEND. It is also good to get a bachelor’s degree from programs that double focus on nutrition and exercise science. Personally, I recommend that you enroll in such a program so that you can be certified with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Dietetics and Exercise Science.
Step 2: Get experience
Having a bachelor’s degree in sports nutrition will not qualify you to be a sports nutritionist, except you have gained the required experience. You can spend a lot of money getting a bachelor’s degree in sports nutrition, but you won’t be able to practice without the experience.
While you are studying, make sure you dedicate your time to intensive learning and take every opportunity to have full knowledge in dietetics and sports nutrition. It would be a great idea to volunteer your time to join the school sports team to know what it means to manage athletes’ health and performances. You can also volunteer to help in the athletic department to gain more knowledge and experience.
It will also help if you join organizations such as the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSA) or Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (SCAN).
As a professional sports nutritionist, I recommend that you start gaining experience while you are at your younger age (if you have decided to be a sports nutritionist on time).
Step 3: Apply for a dietetics internship
When you are at the helm of finishing your bachelor’s degree program, start applying for a dietetics internship program. Every nutrition student needs to apply for a dietetic internship program to become a registered nutritionist. While some programs include internships in their curriculum, others may ask you to apply for a separate internship program to complete your undergraduate degree.
During this program, you will have to rotate community nutrition, clinical nutrition, and foodservice administration. Some programs will allow you to work with nutritionists working in other fields aside from these three areas. Since you aim to become a professional sports nutritionist, you can ask to spend more time with sports RD.
Step 4: Write RD exam
After you have completed your internship program, the next step is to write the RD exams. This is the path to your ultimate goal of becoming a registered professional sports nutritionist.
The Commission for Dietician Registration (CDR) is the body that determines your eligibility requirements to write this exam. Once you write and pass the RD exam, you have successfully become a registered sports nutritionist, and you can start practicing professionally. Note that the requirements to get licensed as a nutritionist varies from one state to another. You might need to get other experiences or pay an additional fee to get licensed in some states.
Step 5: Apply for Job as a sport nutritionist
After you become a registered and licensed nutritionist, the next step is to put your knowledge and experience to work as a sports nutritionist. Getting a job as a fresh graduate might be somewhat challenging, but you will have a better chance at interviews if you gain the required knowledge while studying.
If you finish as an outstanding student, you can get a job immediately after completing your internship. Many newly registered nutritionists start their sports nutritionist careers in a clinic. That doesn’t sound right, but working with a sports team or organization may require joining some professional bodies.
Step 6: Gain experience and build networks
Becoming a sports nutritionist requires accruing experience in athletics and other sport-related endeavors. You can start by volunteering to join your local sports teams or find a way to be involved in sport and fitness communities at all levels. The idea is that you need to find an area that needs your sports nutrition expertise and work with them.
You also need to join several professional bodies to help you to secure a job in sports nutrition. Connect with other sports nutritionists, strength coaches, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other health professionals working with athletes at all levels.
Step 7: Get certified as a sport nutritionist
Once you become a registered nutritionist and have accrued up to 2,000 practice hours in sports nutrition, you are OK to apply to CDR to become a certified sports nutritionist. You can also become a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) when you write and pass a board exam covering sports nutrition-related topics.
It is not only your certificate that makes you a better professional sports nutritionists; it is much of what you carry as knowledge in the field that separates you from the rest. This is why you should never stop learning to upgrade your knowledge and experience in sports nutrition.