Millions of people have developed a passion for nutrition over the years. For some, it emerged after going on a diet, trying to lose weight or gain muscle; they were forced to learn the basics of nutrition and found it fascinating. For others, the interest stems from a more fundamental interest in biology and chemistry classes. Still others may be interested in nutrition because of a loved one’s condition or personal experience.
However you got your passion for nutrition, there are several ways you can turn it into a career.
Clinical Nutritionists and Dieticians
If you’re interested in the scientific side of things, you could become a clinical nutritionist. Clinical nutritionists are people who conduct and review clinical research on the latest nutrition science. For example, you may learn about better dietary practices for people with chronic diseases, then review that information and spread it to the right people.
To become a clinical nutritionist, you’ll need to have a master’s or doctoral degree in clinical nutrition. Once you have that, you’ll be able to become a certified nutrition specialist (CNS) or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). If you want to become officially certified, you’ll need to pass a supervised exam administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. Beginning in 2024, you’ll need to meet a handful of other requirements as well; for example, you’ll need at least 1,200 hours of documented, supervised practice in a dietetic internship.
To become a dietician, you’ll need to complete an approved education course in dietetics, complete a dietetic internship, and pass a CDR exam. You may also need state-level licensure.
There are many subfields and areas of expertise you may use as your career focus. For example, you may focus on learning about:
- Pediatric nutrition, in which you’ll focus on providing nutritional guidance and support to children.
- Sports nutrition, in which you’ll help athletes and/or teams meet their complex nutritional needs.
- Gerontological nutrition, in which you’ll help older patients develop nutritional strategies to maximize their health and overall wellbeing. You may also be able to pursue home health care, helping people meet their nutritional needs in their own homes.
- Oncology or renal nutrition, in which you’ll spend time cultivating expertise on kidney-related problems (including post-transplant and dialysis support) and cancer patients with dietary issues or complex needs before, during, and after treatment.
Note that to call yourself a “nutritionist,” you don’t need any special education or training. Technically, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. But if you want to become a formally certified clinical nutritionist or a registered dietician, you’ll need to get a college education and pursue the necessary training.
Advantages of a Career in Nutrition
There are several upsides of pursuing a career in nutrition, aside from doing something you love:
- Salary. If you have formal certification, you can call for a pretty high salary. Salary ranges depend on your area of specialty, where you’re operating, and how long you’ve been practicing, but nutrition can be a lucrative career under the right conditions.
- Job availability. There’s currently high demand for clinical nutritionists and dieticians, and this demand will likely remain consistent or grow for the foreseeable future. Some areas, including care for the elderly, are going to see especially high growth in the coming years.
- Personal help and support. On top of getting to engage with nutrition science, you’ll have the opportunity to genuinely help people, and engage with them one on one. Accordingly, practicing as a nutritionist or dietician can be highly rewarding.
- Flexibility. With your core education and training, you’ll be equipped to serve many different roles in the world of diet and nutrition. If you decide you no longer like your area of specialty, or if you just want to experiment with something different, you can make a switch later on in your career with minimal disruption.
How to Get Started
If you’re thinking about a career in nutrition but you aren’t sure how to get started, the best thing you can do is expose yourself to the field. For starters, you can take classes at college or online, and learn more about the mechanics of nutrition. Does this seem like something that interests you? Could this keep you engaged for the indefinite future?
You may also be able to find a mentor—or at least someone to shadow. Ask your professors and/or social circles to find someone currently practicing as a dietician or nutritionist, then talk to them about their profession. Are they happy with their career choice? What are their biggest challenges? What are the greatest rewards? From there, you should have a better understanding of your own interests, strengths, and weaknesses as they pertain to the career.