The first step in becoming a nutritionist should start in high school by taking all the math and science classes that are offered. After high school, it is time to choose a college. Nutrition degrees are available from associate to a master degree. You could also get a doctoral degree, but these are not that common. Usually, a nutritionist will only need a bachelor’s degree that is related to nutrition or food science to work as a nutritionist. These undergraduate programs involve doing an internship, which will provide you with the clinical training that is needed to work in this particular career.
The coursework that you will be required to take will depend on the health and nutrition science major that you choose, but most of them are science-based. Some of the topics you might learn about can include:
- Food science
- Nutrition counseling or education
- Community nutrition
- Medical nutrition therapy
- Anatomy and physiology
- Basics of nutrition
This degree is designed to prepare you for entry-level careers like being a dietitian’s assistant or food service assistant. It can also prepare you to go on to get your bachelor’s degree. In this program, you will take coursework in food service management, nutrition, and food service. The prerequisite for this degree is a high school diploma. Normally it takes two years to get this degree.
With this degree, you will be able to prepare for a career as a nutritionist. You can also gain internship experience and extra education to qualify for certification as a Registered Dietitian. The prerequisite for this program is the same as for an associate’s degree. There are some colleges that do require that you have an associate’s degree before getting this degree. With a bachelor’s degree, some of the course work can include food handling safety, food science, metabolism, and advanced nutrition. For this degree, it will normally take four years.
With a master’s degree, the door opens for careers such as a nutrition teacher, nutritional consultant, or food service manager. The prerequisite is to have a bachelor’s degree. Many times a master’s degree program will offer more flexibility in coursework to permit students to design a program that will fit their professional career choice. Some of the classes that you might take an include diabetes and nutrition, cardiovascular nutrition, energy and metabolizing proteins, and eating disorders and nutritional therapy.
You may also want to pursue certification as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RND). To get this certification, you are required to complete a state exam and a bachelor’s degree. It is also recommended that you get professional accreditation through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It is not required, but it can lead to more desirable jobs and a better salary. To become an RDN, you will be required to complete a Dietetic Internship (DI) that is equivalent to 1,200 hours of training that is supervised.
Even if you have your master’s degree by continuing your education, it can offer more career opportunities. One example is membership in the National Association of Sports Nutrition (NASN). This will offer you the opportunity to become a licensed specialist in sports nutrition.
There are types of credentials that a nutritionist can have, which are:
- Licensing—this is the strictest for of regulation that is imposed by the state in which you are a nutritionist, and if a license is required, you cannot practice without one. Licensure requirements vary by state, but most of them require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition from an accredited university, supervised internship, current certification, and a satisfactory completion of continuing education coursework.
- Certification—this still has requirements, but you can still practice as a nutritionist without it. There are many different certifications, and each has their own requirements. One certification you can receive is Certified Nutritionist (CN), and for this, you will need to have completed a two-year associate degree program and pass an exam.
- Registration—this is the least restrictive and has lower standards for practicing as a nutritionist.