According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, jobs for fitness workers and nutrition specialists are expected to grow faster than the average between 2008 and 2018. This is in part due to an increased general interest in eating healthfully and losing weight. It might also be caused by an increase in the obesity rates in the US, which are linked to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. Fitness and nutrition studies can take a variety of forms and levels, from short courses to university degrees.
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There’s no single career that covers both nutrition and fitness. Those who are interested in working in these fields as one should focus on one area — either nutrition or fitness — and then complement their studies or professional experience with a certification in the other field. It’s also possible to learn on the job. For example, since a certification is not needed to start working as a personal trainer, many gyms will train their own workers. For those who have a certification in nutrition, adding on-the-job fitness training can open up doors to work in weight loss centers or specialized programs.
Nutritionists and dietitians can specialize and work with athletes or in the fitness field. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a formal degree in nutrition or dietetics requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree, although graduate studies are common for those who want to specialize. Forty-six states require some form of licensure, certification or registration once you graduate. Consultant dietitians are those who work for specific wellness programs or teams, including preparing nutrition programs for sport teams or athletes.
For those wishing to work with both fitness and nutrition, the best career options are non-degree ones such as nutrition coaching or personal training. The National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association, or NESTA, offers an online certification as a Fitness Nutrition Coach. The certification covers topics such as the process of nutrition, macronutrients, nutrition requirement and alternative approaches such as supplement usage and performance nutrition, which involves the relationship between exercise and nutrition. These type of certifications can be taken alongside a certification for fitness or personal training, complementing each other.
Curricula vary significantly depending on what career path you choose. For example, those taking a four-year degree in nutrition or dietetics will study physiology, biochemistry, sociology and food composition and chemistry. Nutrition coaches or those following a short study program are more likely to focus on the practical aspects of nutrition only, such as the importance of a balanced diet, the use of supplements and eating for diverse populations, including pregnant women or vegetarians. Fitness workers such as personal trainers, group instructors and sport coaches usually focus their studies on the physical aspects of training only, with very little insight into the nutrition field. They might require additional studies or training before they can offer nutrition advice.
The Mercury Facts Organization often publicizes cases in which self-appointed food experts give out nutritional advice they’re not qualified to give. In some states, this can be considered as impersonating a health professional and have serious legal repercussions. Certifications in nutrition allow graduates to work with clients seeking overall diet advice. This means eating better for health, weight loss or energy. Only people with a degree in dietetics can advise people with a medical condition that requires a change in diet, such as diabetes or heart disease.