Skip to main content

What does a nutritionist do?

Young Happy Businesswoman Using Computer in Modern Office with Colleagues. Two female colleagues in office working together.; Shutterstock ID 2170221811; purchase_order: -; job: -; client: -; other: -

Increased awareness of the role nutrition plays in health and well-being has generated a demand for nutritionists. More specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of nutritionists to increase 8% between 2019 and 2029, which is double than the average projected growth for all occupations, 4%. 
Nutrition is a key element of good health. Proper nutrition can help prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and a wide range of other diseases. By some estimates, 80% of premature heart disease and stroke diagnoses could be prevented with lifestyle changes that include eating a healthier diet.  
Even if you’re aware of the importance of healthy eating — and perhaps even know that many professionals devote their careers to nutrition —  you might still have some questions about what a nutritionist does. 
At a basic level, nutritionists help people eat better, but how they do that varies by specialty. For example, school nutritionists plan menus that can be prepared in large quantities and appeal to a large number of students, all within a tight budget. Some nutritionists design diets for people dealing with illnesses, while others work with professional athletes to recommend foods that heighten performance. 

Work settings

What nutritionists do depends on where they work, which ranges from large institutions to small businesses and private consultancies. 
Most nutritionists work in health care and government, according to the BLS. Hospitals, nursing homes, and residential care centers employ many of the country’s nutritionists in the health care sector. Within the government, nutritionists can work in schools, prisons, military branches, and other large-scale food service settings. 
As a corporate nutritionist, you educate employees about how to eat better. The idea is to help contribute to a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. Nearly 90% of large U.S. employers offer their employees wellness programs, many of which include a nutritional component.
Sports nutritionists can work at almost any level of athletics. Some college and professional teams have nutritionists on staff to help boost performance by managing what and when their athletes eat. A high-level example is England’s Premier League. Most teams give players nutritional information, at a minimum, with some clubs, such as Liverpool FC, hiring nutritionists to run their diet planning and map out detailed menus. 
Nutritionists may also operate their own businesses, offering consulting services to companies, organizations, and individuals.  

Job description

No matter what type of nutritionist you become, your mission is the same: provide information to help people eat healthier. 
As a nutritionist your duties typically include: 


  • Evaluating clients’ nutritional requirements
  • Advising clients on how to eat healthy
  • Keeping track of clients’ progress and changing nutrition plans as necessary
  • Conveying the importance of healthy eating to improve well-being
  • Creating nutrition plans that consider clients’ needs, preferences, and budget
  • Monitoring current and ongoing research in dietetics and nutrition to determine how it affects their clients
  • Cultivating a better understanding of nutrition by speaking with the public, writing newsletters and reports, or posting on social media


The more granular details of what nutritionists do depend on their specific job titles. 


Institutional nutritionists — those who work in  hospitals, schools, and prisons — balance competing factors when preparing menus. On one hand, they must consider budget, bulk purchasing, and large-scale production while providing an optimum mix of protein, carbohydrates, and flavor. On the other, they have to accommodate different preferences and needs. 

Public health nutritionists focus on food policies for the general population or specific communities. They might conduct laboratory research on nutrition’s impact on children or people suffering from disease or economic uncertainty. Another key duty is communicating with target populations about their findings. 

Food companies employ nutritionists to assess the value of their products, develop new products, and ensure compliance with government nutritional standards. Food manufacturers sometimes field nutritionists to help consumers incorporate their products into a well-rounded diet. 

Sports nutritionists focus on nutrition’s impact on athletic performance. They develop diets for specific phases of training, competition, and recovery, balancing an athlete’s effort with the need for calories. Professional and school sports teams often employ nutritionists, and some players hire their own personal nutritionists to create customized meal plans and menus. 


A nutritionist’s resume should contain both academic and professional credentials. 

A good place to start is with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or related specialty such as dietetics, food and nutrition, or clinical nutrition. These undergraduate programs usually introduce you to topics like biology, psychology, and chemistry, as well as nutrition.  

Advanced degrees are available in nutrition and associated fields. Going for an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree or doctorate, affords you the opportunity to move deeper into the science of nutrition. Obtaining an advanced degree can also help your chances of getting the job in your preferred area of specialization. Beyond the classroom, you can complete supervised internships or other training programs to get applied experience. 

Much of the U.S. requires that nutritionists be licensed or registered in order to practice. Qualifications differ from state to state, but candidates must typically hold an undergraduate degree in a relevant field, complete a period of supervised practice, and pass a test. 

Most states recognize the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) certification, issued by the Commission on Dietetic Registration on behalf of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To earn the title of RDN, a nutritionist needs to have completed a bachelor’s degree and a 1,200- hour internship of supervised experience. Some schools offer an internship as part of their nutrition or dietetics degree program. 

Nutritionists can demonstrate a higher level of expertise with the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) designation, issued by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. CNS certification requires a master’s degree, 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and passing an exam. 

Other certifications cover specialties for nutritionists in fields such as oncology, pediatrics, and sports dietetics. 

Fundamental skills

To promote health and manage diseases, nutritionists have to understand the science of nutrition and be able to communicate nutritional information to clients who might be reluctant to change their diets. 

Nutritionists should also have knowledge of biology, chemistry, and the culinary arts, as well as a foundation in food service and business. 

Soft skills include: 


  • Empathy for clients’ concerns about dietary changes
  • Strong communication, in both listening to clients’ hesitations about dietary compliance and explaining what changes are needed and why
  • Effective organization to track client progress, nutrition programs, and menus, as well as overall trends in nutrition and dietetics

The path to becoming a nutritionist

If you have an interest in people, food, and health, you may want to consider becoming a nutritionist. This growing field allows you to help people lead healthier lives. Achieving success as a nutritionist takes a mix of skills, professional experience, and specialized education. Take the first step toward finding the right online program for you by using our recommendation engine.


Stay in the know

Program Type
Program Name
Total tuition:
Program Type
Program Name