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Dietitian vs Nutritionist vs Nutrition Coach - The Full Breakdown

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    Hey everybody, and welcome to PT Pioneer, your one-stop shop for personal training certification and career advice.

    In this article, I’m going to tackle a burning question.

    A question that tends to confuse a lot of people, especially those entering the fitness industry.

    That question is, what is the difference between a Dietitian vs Nutritionist vs Nutrition Coach?

    We’ll look at:

    The differences between the 3
    The required qualifications
    The income potential
    And the pros and cons of each career field

    Before we dive right in, make sure to take this quiz to figure out which cert is right for you.

    And with that said, let’s jump right in.

    Dietitian vs Nutritionist vs Nutrition Coach

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      The Difference between a Nutritionist, Nutrition Coach and A Registered Dietitian

      The Difference between a Nutritionist, Nutrition Coach and A Registered Dietitian

      Did you know there are differences between a Nutritionist, Nutrition Coach, and A Registered Dietitian?

      Read below to find out more!

      In very general terms, a nutritionist is a certified professional who has the capability and authorization to instruct and advise on how to eat. 

      At the same time, a nutrition coach is any certified or uncertified individual, usually a fitness professional, who providers dietary guidelines towards desired outcomes.

      Neither of these roles extends beyond mere advice and guidance. 

      They are non-interventional practices, which brings us to the role of a dietitian.

      registered dietitian is a healthcare professional who specializes in determining nutritional needs based on a medical prognosis or diagnosis.

      A dietitian will advise and instruct on nutritional protocols as medical therapy or lifestyle enhancement.

      That means a dietitian has a much wider scope of practice since they are a licensed health provider.

      To sum it up, a nutritionist is a nutrition coach with credentials, while a dietitian is a nutritionist with a medical license.

      With that said, it’s important to remember that a lot of the terminology around the titles of nutritional practitioners is used loosely and interchangeably. 

      Nutritionists are often referred to as nutrition coaches, while dietitians are regularly labeled as nutritionists.

       When asking what is a dietitian, you may be asking the same questing as what is a nutritionist, depending on who you ask.

      For educational purposes, I’ll ignore the confusion and use only relevant definitions.

      Nutrition Coach

      Nutrition Coach

      Here, I’ll give you an elaborate explanation of who a Nutrition coach is and what they do.

      A nutrition coach, as stated above, is simply someone whose task it is to administer basic nutritional guidelines.

      These guidelines include meal suggestions, recipes, scheduling of meals (meal planning), and macro guidelines.

      A nutrition coach provides instructions and motivation, and accountability towards eating habits aimed at the client’s desired goals.

      Client goals can be:

      • Weight loss
      • Lean muscle building
      • Bulking
      • Improved energy
      • Improved mental state
      • Convenience

      A nutrition coach is typically a professional within the health and fitness industry but is not necessarily qualified as a nutrition expert.

      Most practicing nutrition coaches have a sound understanding of nutritional guidelines and change principles. 

      The only thing is, they may not carry any credentials to verify those skills fully.

      With that said, most well-regarded nutrition coaches are either certified nutritionists or dieticians.

      That means a nutritionist or dietician can function as a nutrition coach, but a nutrition coach isn’t automatically a nutritionist or dietitian.

      Thus, the scope of practice of a nutrition coach varies on a case-by-case basis.

      How To Become a Nutrition Coach

      Because a nutrition coach can be anyone with any credentials or none at all, becoming one means equipping yourself with the fundamentals of nutritional science and coaching practice.

      Learn about food, nutrients, and the biochemistry of how our body interacts with the things we ingest.

      Learn about coaching practices, change psychology, and nutrition programming (meal planning).

      Another common aspect of nutrition coaching is meal prepping.

      That is to say, the preparation and delivery of premade and packaged meals.

      These meals are designed as healthy, convenient substitutes to what a client would normally eat.

      Of course, to achieve this, you will need the necessary culinary skills.

      Overall, while you don’t need credentials or certifications to earn a nutrition coach’s title, it will be an uphill battle to prove your credibility without them.

      This is why I advise you get certified. Many of the top certifying agencies such as ISSA, ACE, and NASM offer nutrition coach programs globally recognized.

      Working as a nutrition coach is also more rewarding in combination with credentials in fitness instruction.

      Certified Nutrition Specialist

      Holding a cert in nutrition coaching isn’t totally necessary, but I highly recommend it.

      Your best option would be a cert from an accredited certification agency.

      My top 10 are:


      ISSA has been one of the leaders in fitness certification for some time.

      They are certainly ahead of the pack when it comes to distance-based certifications.

      They also happen to have one of the most comprehensive nutrition coaching programs and even offer Precision Nutrition through their platform.

      Precision Nutrition

      Speaking of Precision Nutrition, this one is a goodie.

      They offer a well-rounded approach to nutrition coaching with a focus on the business aspect.

      PN’s enrollment process is a bit restrictive since sign-up only opens up through limited windows each season.

      However, if you purchase it through ISSA, you can sign up at any time.

      PN is one of the few non-accredited certs on this list, but don’t let that deter you.

      It is still one of the most recognizable and highly regarded certs in the industry.


      ACE is another big name in the world of certifying agencies.

      With a global reputation, you can find ACE coaches in every corner of the planet, from New Zealand to Zimbabwe.

      The ACE Fitness Nutrition. Purse provides a great balance of practical skills and scientific reference.

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      NASM is a gold standard certifying body. 

      It is considered the most popular certifying agency according to enrollment stats and Google search data.

      Suffice to say; they have one of the best nutrition coaching certs money can buy


      ACSM is a stalwart in the sports science field.

      Not only are they among the top certifying agencies, but they are also one of the leaders in research when it comes to health and fitness.

      Their cutting-edge work contributes to the curricula of many institutions listed here.

      For this reason, you can expect a great wealth of resources and skills to be gained once you take their nutrition program.


      NSCA is a titan with a long-standing heritage.

      In terms of legacy and industry influence, they are on par with ACSM.

      Well known for their CSCS strength and. Conditioning course, they also offer nutrition coaching as a credential.


      NCSF is an NCCA accredited agency, putting it in league with the big guns.

      Although not as revered as ACE, NASM, or ISSA, they still provide a quality approach to nutrition coaching.

      The emphasis is on nutrition as a performance enhancement protocol.

      Fitness Mentors

      Fitness Mentors started off as a platform offering advice and guidance to fledgling fitness professionals.

      Today they are a bonafide certifying agency offering accredited certs for industry pros or those choosing to become such.

      Expect FN to have a focus on the entrepreneurial aspect of nutrition coaching.


      NESTA is an accredited certification agency with a great track record and affordable fitness programs.

      Their nutrition coaching cert will allow you to leverage your services for more opportunities.

      The resources you will obtain through studying with NESTA will allow you to function in all dietary scenarios.


      AFPA was recently acquired by ISSA, making it part of the ISSA catalog of programs.

      This allows ISSA to deliver NCCA accredited certifications where they once only supplied DEAC certs.

      This includes their nutrition coach cert.

      If you want a good in-depth look at the different nutrition coach certs, check out my article on the eight best nutrition coach certs here.

      Nutrition Coach Salary

      Just as diverse as the roles and scope of practice a nutrition coach can have, the earning potential varies greatly.

      According to, a nutrition coach in the US earns an annual average of $40,559 per year.

      Certified Nutritionist

      Certified Nutritionist

      Join me as I shed more light on the function of a Nutritionist below.

      A certified nutritionist is a nutritional expert credentialed in the field of administering dietary guidelines and protocols on a fundamental, noninterventional level.

      That means leading and facilitating wellness guidelines based on nutrition.

      Developing diet programs, meal plans, and menus and advising and instructing clients on what and how to eat.

      nutritionist can also act as a consultant for food and supplement companies as well as restaurants and eateries.

      Nutritionists will often deal with general population groups, helping people with basic goals such as weight loss.

      Certified nutritionists will often work with performance athletes if they have specialized in sports nutrition.

      The roles of a certified nutritionist often encapsulate those of a nutrition coach, but with a bit more credibility.

      That’s because a  nutritionist is recognized throug