What Is a Sports Nutritionist?
A sports nutritionist is a certified nutrition professional who works with sportspeople of any level – recreational, competitive, or professional athletes. Nutritionists help their clients learn how to fuel their bodies for optimal performance in their chosen sport.
They also deliver nutrition education on topics such as recovering from workouts, dealing with injuries, and fueling for competitions. Some sports nutrition specialists provide nutrition guidance relating to medical conditions or mental health concerns. Read more to explore the role of a sports nutritionist in depth.
How a Sports Nutritionist Works with You
A sports nutritionist helps you develop healthy eating habits for success in your sport by assessing your current diet, lifestyle, and athletic involvement. Before starting, the nutritionist will inquire about special dietary restrictions or medical conditions. They will explore your goals for eating and athletic performance. Once they have this information, they will create a sports nutrition plan to help you get the necessary nutrients to reach your objectives.
Qualities to Look for in a Sports Nutritionist or Dietitian
Finding a qualified sports nutritionist who is a good fit is essential for your success. When you know what to look for in a sports dietitian, it’s easier to disregard those who aren’t qualified.
Becoming a sports nutritionist requires education in food science, exercise science, and exercise physiology. Most sports nutritionists have a bachelor’s degree, and many have a master’s degree. Look for professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition science, dietetics, or a related science. They should also have 1,200 hours of dietetic internship experience under the supervision of a registered dietitian. Sports nutritionists should also have some background in sports nutrition education.
A qualified sports nutritionist has credentials indicating their professional competency. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, a registered dietitian nutritionist has the initials RD or RDN after their name. These professionals carry an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics certification. Many sports nutritionists belong to the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association.
After narrowing your list to nutritionists with the proper credentials to provide nutrition therapy, check their specializations. Look for sports nutritionists who hold a sports nutrition certification, indicating that they have completed additional training to provide sports nutrition therapy to athletes.
If you have specific concerns about your health, look for a sports nutritionist with specialized training or certifications in the relevant areas. For example, some sports dietitians are certified diabetes educators or have a graduate degree in social work or counseling.
Athletes’ nutrition requirements differ from the nutritional needs of the general population. You want to work with a professional who understands sports dietetics. If you have a medical condition or follow a special diet, hire a sports nutritionist who has experience providing clinical nutrition guidance alongside athletic advice.
Bear in mind that not every sports nutritionist will have an interest or expertise in your particular sport. Look for a registered dietitian nutritionist with experience supporting athletes in the activities you love.
Customer service is another critical aspect of choosing a certified specialist. Your nutritionist should provide personalized support and an individualized nutrition plan while working around your busy schedule and being available to answer questions. Ideally, you want someone whose personality is a good fit. Take the quiz to find a sports nutritionist who is right for you.
Other Sports Professionals Who Can Help Meet Your Nutrition Goals
Other sports professionals may offer nutrition coaching or counseling for athletes. You may encounter these alternatives when you search for a sports dietitian.
Athletic or Personal Trainers
You may have a personal trainer who develops exercise and workout plans to meet your fitness and sports goals. While many personal trainers are qualified to provide fitness coaching and look out for a client’s safety, they generally do not have the specialized training or experience to offer clinical nutrition advice.
Nevertheless, many athletic trainers offer advice on weight management or optimal performance as part of their services. An athletic trainer has the educational background to diagnose, treat and prevent bone and muscle injuries and conditions. However, they do not typically have the experience in sports nutrition and sports dietetics to address your nutrition needs, let alone special training on food allergies, medical issues, or disordered eating conditions.
If you search for a nutritionist near me, you may get a lot of hits for uncredentialed nutritionists. Not every state requires those who call themselves nutritionists to hold a license or certification. A person may love nutrition and decide to offer sports nutrition services. Without the proper credentials and a sports dietetics education, you have no idea whether they have the knowledge and skills required of a legitimate sports nutritionist.
A “real” sports nutritionist should have the proper education and training to be a registered dietitian, including a bachelor’s or master’s degree in clinical nutrition and a dietetic internship. They understand the complexities involved in sports nutrition, such as how body composition, body mass, and body fat impact nutrition requirements and how to fuel your body to prevent muscle mass loss.
Another alternative to a sports nutritionist is to seek advice from a health professional. Doctors and nurse practitioners understand the connection between food, physical health, and sports performance. Their degrees include an in-depth knowledge of human physiology.
However, there are challenges in utilizing health professionals for nutrition coaching. These individuals may not have specialized sports dietetics education or experience. Research indicates that in addition to a lack of nutrition training, most doctors don’t have the time to provide medical nutrition therapy or nutrition advice for athletic performance.
On the other hand, a sports dietitian has a background in sports nutrition, with training in food science and exercise science. This background gives them specific expertise and a professional focus on providing performance nutrition services to the athletic community.
Watch out for these red flags when considering sports coaches, dietitians, and nutritionists
When searching for a sports nutritionist, look out for these red flags. Read more about the role of a sports nutritionist so you can better understand what your nutritionist should or shouldn’t do.
Severe Calorie Restriction
Even if you want to lose weight, you shouldn’t go hungry on the advice of a sports dietitian. When researching sports nutritionists, find out their sports nutrition philosophy and recommendations for daily caloric intake. If they recommend severe caloric restriction, look for someone else. You won’t obtain enhanced fitness levels by starving your body of the calories it requires for energy and muscle mass maintenance.
Food Group Elimination
Another red flag to look out for is a sports nutritionist who requires you to cut entire food groups out of your diet. If the dietitian categorizes any food as inherently “bad” and requires you to avoid it entirely, you may want to cross that person off your list. Carbohydrates and fats are examples of food groups you may see some nutritionists telling you to eliminate.
Strict Adherence to a One-Size-Fits-All Plan
Your diet needs to account for your tastes and lifestyle. You shouldn’t be required to adhere to a generic, cookie-cutter meal plan. For healthy eating to be sustainable, you need the flexibility to eat foods you like, participate in special events or holidays that often revolve around food, and make incremental – rather than drastic – changes toward healthy eating habits.
No sports dietitian should require you to purchase proprietary supplements or meals. Sports nutritionists should not be in the business of selling products – this could be a conflict of interest and dangerous for your health. If you choose to include nutritional supplements in your diet, you may want to consult your sports dietitian about the supplements you’re considering, but you should never be required to buy products from a sports RD.
Promotion of Fad Diets
You probably know of many dieting trends that become popular, only to fall out of favor within a few months. You may have even tried a few. Fad diets claim to offer a quick route to weight loss, but their rigid and sometimes unhealthy frameworks can be detrimental to your health and sports performance goals. Steer clear of sports nutritionists who require you to follow fads such as the keto, paleo, or Atkins diets.
What Is the Cost Breakdown of Working With a Sports Nutritionist or Dietitian?
Understandably, many athletes, including recreational athletes, have concerns about the financial implications of working with a sports nutritionist. These are valid concerns, but remember that a dietitian can set you on the path to an enduring healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition can enhance your athletic performance and lead to positive overall health outcomes. When deciding whether to work with a sports RD, it may help to consider the costs associated with preventative measures (like nutrition counseling) versus treatment costs.
Prevention Method – Working with a Sports Nutritionist
The cost of working with a sports nutritionist varies depending on the dietitian’s qualifications, geographic location, specializations, and experience. The overall price also depends on how many sessions you schedule. Your insurance company may cover certain nutrition services, especially if you have a medical condition, potentially lowering the cost of working with a dietitian.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the salary range for dietitians and nutritionists at less than $42,530 to more than $93,640 per year, underlining potential price variations. You can expect your first appointment to cost more than each follow-up. You may initially pay between $150 – $225, with a range of $75 – $125 for subsequent visits.
Prevention Method - Healthy, Nutritious Food
Another factor contributing to the cost of a nutritionist is food. Your nutritionist will design a personalized nutrition plan for you, but you will be responsible for stocking your pantry and refrigerator with healthy food items. Food prices are highly variable, depending on the market and geographic location. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Plans report found that the average weekly cost of eating nutritious meals at home was $64.90 – $$99.50 for males 19-50 years old and $56.40 – $88.20 for females of the same age.
Your food costs may differ from the average, depending on your specific requirements. Athletes often need to consume a diet of 15% – 30% protein and 3g – 5g of whole-food carbohydrates. This is higher than the recommended daily levels for non-athletes and could increase your grocery shopping bill.
Prevention Method - Genetic Testing
Anyone at risk of health issues may benefit from genetic testing to determine their potential for developing certain conditions. Understanding your genetic predispositions can help your dietitian devise a nutrition plan to reduce your risk of health conditions that may limit your ability to play sports and engage in other physical activities.
In some cases, your insurance provider may cover the cost of genetic testing. If not, genetic testing could cost less than $100 or as much as $2,000. The exact cost will depend on the number and types of tests you need.
Medical Treatment for Injuries
Athletes are prone to injury, requiring 2.7 million annual visits to the emergency room. According to the CDC, the average cost of an ER visit for young athletes in Florida was $439, rising to an average of $6,039 if the patient needed inpatient treatment. Charges are likely to be higher for older adults.
These averages don’t consider lost wages, though injuries frequently result in missed work. A healthy diet consisting primarily of whole foods tailored to meet your needs can reduce your risk of injury and help you recover more quickly if you get hurt.
Medical Treatment for Upper Respiratory Illness
If you participate in a physically demanding sport, you are more likely to contract upper respiratory infections than a member of the general population. Though the reason for this isn’t fully understood, genetics and lack of proper nutrition are two factors that seem to play a role.
Upper respiratory illnesses require antibiotic treatment, often leading to missed work and athletic training. Acute respiratory conditions have a median cost range of $219 – $393, without considering lost wages.
Medical Treatment for Heart Disease, Stroke, or Diabetes
There is a clear link between nutrition and disease. People who eat a healthy diet are less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other serious medical complications. Diabetes reduces life expectancy yet still results in higher lifetime costs associated with treatment. An individual diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 40 will spend an average of $124,600 – $211,400 for treatment over their lifetime.
As an athlete, you have unique and precise nutrition requirements, increasing your risk of incorrectly fueling your body. A registered dietitian can help you develop healthy eating habits and customized meal plans that properly fuel your workouts while reducing your risk of diseases like diabetes.
Are You Ready To Get Started With a Nutritionist?
If you’re ready for a personalized approach to your search for a sports dietitian, take the quiz and find your match.