How to become a sports nutritionist (plus benefits)

Updated 22 February 2023

The role of a sports nutritionist is challenging, rewarding and ever-changing. Professionals in this role work to optimise the health and performance of professional sports players and athletes to achieve success. From assessing dietary requirements in various sports and individuals to generating plans and conducting analysis, sports nutrition is a varied role that may suit you if you have an interest in health and fitness, sports and food. In this article, we discuss what the role of a sports nutritionist entails, how to become a sports nutritionist and the benefits of becoming a sports nutritionist.

What is a sports nutritionist?

Sports nutritionists play a vital role in the performance and health of athletes, often working directly with competitors and their wider teams. They help to develop dietary plans which optimise performance and healing and promote strength, health and overall fitness. Sports nutritionists use knowledge and experience to generate customised diets, menus and supplement recommendations for clients, deliver scientific and evidence-based nutritional advice to aid and enhance their sporting performances and ultimately help them to succeed within their sport.

Related: Dietitian vs. nutritionist: what's the difference?

How to become a sports nutritionist

Find out how to become a sports nutritionist by following these eight steps:

1. Complete relevant further education

Sports nutritionists benefit from a good understanding of how the human body works and the nutritional components of different foods. Get your career started by completing A-Levels in at least one science-based subject such as biology or chemistry. Additionally, subjects such as physical education or qualifications in food and nutrition can help. A nutrition-based degree is a pre-requisite for the field, so most universities require results higher than a C in these subjects.

Related: How to become a nutritionist

2. Earn a biological science degree

Once you've completed your A-Levels, you can apply for an undergraduate degree specialising in sports and nutrition. The types of degree pathways you might consider include:

  • food and nutrition

  • biochemistry

  • physiology

  • public health

  • health promotion

  • sports and exercise

Many universities have nutrition degree courses often consisting of a minimum of three years of full-time study. Once you graduate, you may even consider working towards a master's degree which typically lasts one year full-time, or equivalent, afterwards.

Related: Dietician training and apprenticeships: a handy guide

3. Gain practical experience

Getting work experience during your studies gives you an advantage in the job market. This could be voluntary work with nutritionists or dieticians, working at local sporting events or even working within a sports club or team. Having the valuable experience of working within the industry, shadowing professionals provides an insight into how your future clients operate. You also witness first-hand what a day in the life of a sports nutritionist entails. You could also consider playing a sport. Aside from keeping you fit and healthy, it helps you understand your clients and their needs better.

4. Decide your niche

Set yourself goals and create a plan which details what you want to achieve. Whether you want to work for a specific club or sport, set up your own business or focus on a muscle-building niche, make sure you know what it is you want to do and research the requirements to specialise in these areas. If you want to specialise in a particular field such as an individual sport or area of diet, learn about your desired clients' training regimes, sporting goals and lifestyles and research as much as you can about this niche so you can excel.

Related: Finding a job: types of nutritionists

5. Show your passion

Passion for the role is an essential part of sports nutrition. Professional athletes endure gruelling schedules which they need your support and motivation to get through. Passion and a positive approach from support staff like sports nutritionists help motivate clients to attain peak physical performance. Demonstrate this by attending industry events, being active on social media and checking in with the latest research and reports.

6. Apply for sports nutritionist jobs

Once you've completed your qualifications, you can apply to be a qualified sports nutritionist. You may choose to apply for companies you've gained experience with throughout your education or consider finding a role that most suits your chosen niche. You may also opt to go freelance and work for yourself, providing professional services to a wide range of clients on your terms. Some of the places typically hiring for this role include sporting institutes, national governing bodies, professional sports clubs and direct clients if you go freelance.

When applying for jobs, create a CV that showcases all areas of your education, qualifications, skill levels and any work experience you have. Ensure you write a compelling cover letter which details why you're the best candidate for the role. Make sure to read each job description carefully and tailor your application to each one.

Related: What is a sports CV? (Plus careers and how to write one)

7. Continue developing

After your studies, strive to increase your knowledge and enhance your reputation within the industry by always making sure your qualifications are up to date and you're adhering to the latest nutrition standards. One way to achieve this is to obtain professional accreditation or further your knowledge in specific areas. Consider joining the Sport and Exercise Nutrition register (SENR), taking courses with UK Anti-Doping or gaining additional qualifications such as the ISAK Level 1 in Anthropometry and Level 2 Food and Safety Hygiene Certificate.

8. Build a strong network

Building a strong network of industry professionals from all backgrounds is one of the most valuable assets for securing a job within sports nutrition. These contacts can help you to find employment, share information and support your growth in the industry. There are a few ways in which you can build your network within the sports nutrition industry including joining professional organisations, attending events and functions and joining groups on social media. A strong network can help you stay up to date on the latest trends in your industry, which can help you develop new skills.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a sports nutritionist?

As a sports nutritionist, roles and responsibilities vary from role to role, but a typical day might include:

  • providing nutritional counselling and making recommendations for exercise training, recovery, hydration and more

  • educating clients or sports teams on proper nutrition on a one-to-one basis or within group classes

  • undertaking body testing and analysis for athletes

  • providing food service and menu development

  • observing the daily habits of clients and providing feedback

  • meeting with other nutritionists, doctors or healthcare staff to discuss a patient's care or provide dietary advice

  • documenting updates to patient files

  • performing community outreach activities

  • networking with new clients or other nutritionists

  • keeping up to date with scientific breakthroughs or reviewing new data relevant to your field of work

What are the benefits of working as a sports nutritionist?

Sports nutrition is a fast-paced career path which is full of opportunities to build memorable moments and help others excel. Several exciting benefits come with a job in sports nutrition, including:

High earning potential

The salary potential for sports nutritionists varies depending on whether you choose to work in the public sector, private sector or if you choose to work for yourself. Regardless, sports nutrition is a specialist field reflected in the pay. Pay may also increase with higher-profile clients and events. There are also opportunities to progress into management or policy roles at many organisations which come with higher paid salaries.

Related: Q&A: How much does a sports nutritionist make? Plus skills

Opportunity to work with elite athletes

One of the most sought-after aspects of the sports nutritionist role is the potential to work with elite athletes. This could be for example an Olympic runner, a swimmer or a professional boxer. If you're a high-profile sports nutritionist, there's the possibility to collaborate with some big names and assist their sporting success. If you're thinking of working for a local club there are still opportunities to work with a variety of people and needs daily.

High job satisfaction

Being a sports nutritionist is more than just creating diet plans. Job satisfaction is usually high within this career choice, which comes from creating strong relationships with your clients and constantly searching for improvements so that they can achieve their goals. The stakes can be high in performance sport which means working closely within a team to get results.

Opportunity to travel

A lot of sporting competitions, training programmes and events take place abroad, and your clients usually see it as an important component of their game plan that you attend these locations with them as part of your job. It won't be a holiday, but these types of events and experiences are exciting opportunities that can broaden your horizons and allow you to network with others. These events can allow you to create lasting memories and can be useful for your career development.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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