Dietitian vs Nutritionist vs Nutrition Coach: Which Is For You?

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There are many different types of nutrition professionals, each with its own area of expertise. If you’re entering the fitness industry and would like to provide nutrition guidance or nutrition, it can be overwhelming to figure out the differences between various certifications.


Here we will compare and contrast a dietitian, nutritionist, and nutrition coach, including:

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What Is A Registered Dietitian?

A registered dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who has completed an accredited, four-year degree program, completed a Dietetics-related internship, and passed a national credentialing exam. Dietitians work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and schools.

They may also provide nutrition counseling or education to individuals or groups. Registered dietitians must complete continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials.

Registered Dietitians can assist clients with all of their eating habits and needs, but also can work with medical issues. These might include:

  • Eating disorders
  • Food allergies
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

What Is A Nutritionist?

The term “nutritionist” is not regulated, so anyone can call themselves a nutritionist (but not a certified nutritionist, without the credentials that we talk about later). There is no standard educational path to becoming a nutritionist, although many have at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related field. Some states have licensure laws for nutritionists, but these vary widely.

Nutritionists typically work in private practice, providing nutrition counseling and education to individuals or groups. They may also work in corporate wellness, community health, or research.

Examples of duties a nutritionist can perform include:

  • Assessing a client’s nutritional needs
  • Creating individualized nutrition plans
  • Providing nutrition counseling
  • Educating clients on healthy eating and lifestyle habits
  • Monitoring a client’s progress- modifying nutrition plans as needed

What Is A Nutrition Coach?

A nutrition coach is a health and fitness professional who specializes in helping clients improve their eating habits. Nutrition coaches work with clients one-on-one or in small groups to help them make lasting changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Depending on the state, a nutrition coach may need a certification in order to provide guidance.

They may also provide meal planning and cooking assistance, as well as education on nutrition and healthy eating.

Examples of duties a nutrition coach might perform include:

    • Assessing a client’s current eating habits
    • Working with the client to set goals for improving their diet
    • Creating individualized nutrition plans
    • Providing nutrition counseling and education
    • Helping clients implement healthy eating habits
    • Monitoring a client’s progress and modifying nutrition plans as needed

Nutritionist Vs Nutrition Coach

Believe it or not, these two are often used interchangeably.  They are both health and fitness professionals that help people improve their eating habits, although a nutritionist may have a more clinical focus while a nutrition coach has a more holistic focus.

A nutritionist may also have a background in research, while a nutrition coach is more likely to have a background in fitness.

Registered Dietitian vs Certified Nutritionist vs Nutrition Coach

So, what’s the difference between a certified nutritionist and a registered dietitian? Here’s a quick overview:

  • A registered dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who has completed an accredited, four-year degree program, a Dietetics-related internship, and passed a national credentialing exam.
  • A nutritionist is a health professional who provides nutrition counseling and education. The term “nutritionist” is not regulated, so anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
  • A nutrition coach is a health and fitness professional who specializes in helping clients improve their eating habits.
  • A Registered Dietitian can also refer to themselves as a Nutritionist or Nutrition Coach – but not the other way around.

The biggest difference between these three roles is in the qualifications, and therefore the reputability of their advice.

Sports Nutritionist Vs Dietitian

A sports nutritionist has specific education and training in how nutrition affects performance and recovery in athletes and active individuals. A dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who has completed an accredited, four-year degree program but works in a more clinical setting rather than in the sports field.

Qualifications For Nutrition Professionals

As previously mentioned, registered dietitians must complete an accredited, four-year degree program in nutrition and dietetics, as well as a supervised internship. They must also pass a national credentialing exam to earn the Registered Dietitian (RD) credential.

There is no standard educational path to becoming a nutritionist, although many have at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related field. Some states have licensure laws for nutritionists, but these vary widely.

Nutrition coaches typically have a background in health and fitness, although this is not always required. Many nutrition coaches are certified through a professional organization, such as the ones we’ll mention below.

Related: How To Become A Virtual Nutrition Coach in 2022

Income Potential For Nutritionist Vs Dietitian Vs Nutrition Coach

While these incomes can vary based on location and experience, according to salary.com, the average incomes are as follows:

  • Registered Dietitians typically earn an average of $66,040 per year.
  • Nutritionists typically earn $66,100 per year (keep in mind, these can actually be Registered Dietitians as well and may be referring to themselves as Nutritionists)

Nutrition Coaches typically earn $42,439 per year.

Where To Get Certified In Nutrition

There are many different certification programs for potential nutrition professionals to do training. Some of the most popular include:

  • Fitness Mentors:  This program offers a nutrition certification that focuses on helping people lose weight and improve their overall health.
  • ISSA:  The International Sports Sciences Association offers a certified fitness nutrition specialist program.
  • ACE: The American Council on Exercise offers a certified personal trainer with a specialization in nutrition program.
  • NSCA-CPT: The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s certified personal trainer program includes a nutrition module.
  • AFPA: The American Fitness Professionals and Associates offer a nutrition and wellness consultant program.
  • NASM: The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s certified personal trainer program offers a nutrition specialization.
  • ACSM:  The American College of Sports Medicine’s certified personal trainer program offers a nutrition specialization.
  • NCSF:  The National Council on Strength and Fitness offers a certified strength and conditioning coach program that includes a nutrition component.
  • PES: The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is a comprehensive nutrition certification program. 
  • CNC: The Certified Nutrition Consultant program offered by the American Fitness Professionals and Associates.
  • NESTA:  The National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association offers a certified sports nutrition coach program.

Choosing the right nutrition professional for you depends on many factors, including your goals, budget, and location.

Read More: Which Personal Trainer Certification is For You?

Becoming A Registered Dietitian

How To Choose The Best Nutrition Certification

When choosing which type of nutrition certification you wish to pursue,  it’s important to consider your goals.

If you’re interested in working with clients one-on-one or in small groups to help them make lasting changes to their diet and lifestyle, then becoming a nutrition coach may be the best option for you.

If you’re interested in working in a more clinical setting, such as a hospital or research center, then becoming a registered dietitian may be the best option for you.

No matter which option you choose, make sure to do your research and choose a program that is accredited and reputable.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to choose just one! You can always pursue multiple certifications and broaden your scope of practice.

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