Smiling sports dietitian in uniform holding an orange and a weight

A career as a sports dietitian opens the door to a pivotal role within the athletic community. This profession bridges the gap between nutrition and athleticism, with a goal to optimize performance and safeguard athletes’ well-being. This comprehensive guide aims to teach you how to become a sports dietitian, elucidating the required education, essential credentials, expected salary, and the distinct separation from sports nutritionists.

A Glimpse into the Role: Sports Dietitian Job Description

A sports dietitian’s role is instrumental in athletes’ holistic development. Sports dietitians are the fulcrum around which the nutritional strategies that propel athletes towards optimum performance revolve. Here’s an in-depth exploration of the multifaceted job description of a sports dietitian:

Nutritional Assessment Job Description

Get to know the athletes inside out by conducting thorough nutritional assessments. It’s about understanding their current dietary habits, evaluating body composition, and aligning nutrition strategies with their goals and sports demands.

Personalized Nutrition Planning Job Description

Get to know the athletes inside out by conducting thorough nutritional assessments. It’s about understanding their current dietary habits, evaluating body composition, and aligning nutrition strategies with their goals and sports demands.

Performance Nutrition Job Description

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Tailor nutrition strategies to boost athletes’ performance. Advise on nutrient timing, hydration strategies, and supplement use to enhance performance and hasten recovery.

Educational Workshops and Counseling Job Description

Be the go-to person for athletes looking to deepen their understanding of sports nutrition. Conduct workshops, hold one-on-one counseling sessions, and empower athletes to make informed food choices, whether at home or on the road for competitions.

Monitoring and Evaluation Job Description

Keep a close eye on athletes’ nutritional practices, supplement use, and body composition to gauge the effectiveness of the nutrition plan, tweaking it as necessary.

Research and Continuing Education Job Description

The field of sports nutrition is ever-evolving. Engage in research, attend conferences, and participate in professional development workshops to stay at the cutting edge of sports nutrition and exercise science.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration Job Description

It takes a village to support an athlete. Collaborate with a team of sports medicine professionals, including physicians, physiologists, and sports psychologists, to provide a well-rounded support system for athletes.

Community Outreach and Education Job Description

Share the knowledge. Step beyond the athletic field to educate the community on sports nutrition, healthy eating, and physical activity. This might involve giving talks at schools, writing articles, or hosting workshops.

Administrative Tasks Job Description

Manage administrative tasks behind the scenes, like documenting athletes’ progress, maintaining records, and ensuring compliance with professional standards and regulations.

8 Steps to Becoming a Sports Dietitian

Person checking off boxes on path to a goal

The trajectory to becoming a sports dietitian is a structured yet enriching pathway that requires a blend of formal education, hands-on experience, and specialized certification. Below is a comprehensive explanation of the steps and facts crucial to this career path:

1. Educational Foundation

Undergraduate Degree

Kickstart your journey with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition, Dietetics, or a related field from an accredited institution. Typically a four-year endeavor, this degree lays the foundation with coursework in biology, chemistry, nutrition sciences, and food service management.

Prerequisite Courses: Gear up for the next stage by taking prerequisite courses that may be necessary for a dietetic internship, including microbiology, biochemistry, and anatomy.

2. Dietetic Internship

Upon completing your undergraduate degree, you’ll need to secure a spot in a Dietetic Internship (DI) program. This program is pivotal, typically lasting between 8 to 24 months with a minimum of 1,200 supervised practice hours as mandated by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).

The DI program provides hands-on experience across various settings, including clinical, community, and food service management, with some programs offering a focus on sports nutrition.

3. Certification and Examination

Registered Dietitian (RD) Credential: After your internship, it’s essential to clear the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) examination to earn the Registered Dietitian (RD) credential. Being an RD paves the way for further specialization in sports dietetics.

State Licensure: Check and adhere to the specific licensure requirements in your state to practice as a dietitian.

Continued Work: To be eligible for the Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential, one must maintain the Registered Dietitian (RD) status for a minimum of two years from the original examination date​.

4. Specialization in Sports Nutrition:

Advanced Coursework: Enhance your expertise with advanced coursework or workshops focusing on sports nutrition.

Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD): With the RD credential in hand, you can now aim for the CSSD credential from the CDR. This requires at least 2,000 hours of specialized practice experience in sports dietetics within the past five years, along with a passing score on the CSSD examination.

5. Gaining Experience

Acquire real-world experience by working in diverse settings like college athletic departments, professional sports teams, or private practice focusing on sports nutrition.

Networking and membership in professional organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can open doors to invaluable opportunities and resources.

6. Continuous Learning and Professional Development

The sports nutrition field is ever-evolving. Engage in continuous learning through attending workshops, participating in webinars, and staying updated with the latest research and guidelines in sports nutrition.

Consider presenting your work at conferences or publishing in reputable journals to contribute to the field and bolster your professional standing.

7. Building a Robust Portfolio

A professional portfolio documenting your experiences, achievements, and learnings is instrumental when seeking advanced positions or consulting opportunities within the sports nutrition realm.

8. Maintaining Credentials

Keep your credentials current by meeting the continuing education requirements. For instance, the CSSD credential requires recertification every five years, including accumulating 75 continuing education units and retaking the CSSD examination.

The journey to becoming a sports dietitian is a diligent blend of academic achievements, professional certifications, and on-the-ground experiences.

Additional Education, Credentials, and Specialization

Master’s Degree

A Master’s Degree in Sports Nutrition or a related field often spans 2 years, delving deeper into specialized areas like sports performance nutrition, exercise physiology, and research methodologies. Many programs also require a thesis or capstone project.

PhD and Research

A PhD, typically lasting 3-7 years, enables a focus on original research, preparing you for academic or high-level research roles. Common areas of research include nutrient timing, supplementation, and eating disorders in athletes.

Additional Certifications

Certifications like the CISSN require passing an exam and often demand a foundational degree or professional experience. The CISSN, for instance, requires a Bachelor’s degree in a related field or a license as a healthcare professional.

Research Contributions

Engaging in research, presenting findings at conferences, and publishing in reputable journals are avenues to contribute to the sports nutrition field, enhancing your professional standing and the body of knowledge within the discipline.

How Much Does a Sports Dietitian Make?

Sports dietitian getting their paycheck from an employer

The fiscal landscape of this profession is painted with various shades influenced by educational background, certifications, geographical locale, professional experience level, and the specific settings in which they practice. The average hourly pay for a sports dietitian hovers around $34.02 in the United States, yet the spectrum is wide, stretching from $11.30 to a rewarding $53.85 depending on a medley of factors.

The majority of wages for sports dietitians in the United States lie between $26.92 (25th percentile) and $37.74 (75th percentile). Annually, this translates to an average earning of about $50,618, a figure with room for ascension given accrued experience and additional certifications like the CSSD.

The geographical tapestry significantly colors the earning potential; take, for instance, California, where sports dietitians boast an average salary of $55,832, marking a discernible uptick compared to other regions. Specializations and a rich vein of experience in the field further catalyze earnings. Those seasoned in the arena, with a robust portfolio and a solid network of clientele, often command higher remuneration.

The setting of employment, too, holds a substantial sway over earnings. A stint with professional sports teams or elite athletes often accompanies a higher pay scale compared to other settings. Adding more strings to one’s bow through additional certifications like the CISSN amplifies earning prospects, showcasing a higher acumen in sports nutrition.

Sports Dietitian vs Sports Nutritionist: A Crucial Distinction

Understanding the difference between a sports dietitian and a sports nutritionist is vital for anyone looking to dive into the field of sports nutrition. Sports dietitians embark on a structured journey marked by a robust academic foundation leading to respected credentials like RD and CSSD. This path is steeped in scientific exploration, providing a deep understanding of athletes’ nutritional needs. On the flip side, the journey of a sports nutritionist is less defined, with a more flexible educational pathway. Their daily tasks might range from general nutrition planning to supplement recommendations.

The level of professional respect and community impact often tips in favor of sports dietitians, thanks to their stringent credentialing. This makes them a go-to source for nutrition guidance among athletes, coaches, and healthcare professionals. While sports nutritionists can carve out their unique niche, the trust and authority they command may take time to build, hinging on their individual expertise and the impact they create in the field.

Find a Job in Sports Today!

As you navigate the exciting path of how to become a sports dietitian, having the right resources and a supportive network is crucial. This is where Jobs In Sports comes into play. Our platform, a pioneer in the sports job board industry, bridges aspiring professionals like you with myriad opportunities in the sports realm.

Our Free Membership provides easy access to a vast list of sports jobs, aiding in the initial steps of building your professional network. If you’re looking to elevate your job search, our Paid Membership is your gateway. With an upgraded account, you gain access to innovative programs designed to streamline your job search, ensuring our job listings are always up-to-date, saving you valuable time and effort. Our aim is to simplify the connection between job seekers and hiring managers, making your job search both convenient and effective