This is the most comprehensive review of the 6 best nutrition certs for professionals working in the fitness industry. I’ll compare them based on:
At the end of this review, you’ll be able to understand which one to choose as well as understand who exactly is allowed to give nutrition advice.
Make sure to take the quiz to get a good idea of which certification is right for you.
Here are the Top 6 Nutrition Certifications.
If you have searched google with the goal of finding the right nutrition program for you, you probably came out more confused than you did when you went in. That is why I created this guide.
I want to give some clarification on the different nutrition certifications that are available. In the end, I suggest checking out the NASM CNC, and the ISSA nutrition certification (or the elite trainer deal when they are running this special).
There is also a widespread confusion between holding a nutrition certification and being a dietitian and the schooling/requirements for both of these. In addition to this, there is widespread panic for who can give nutrition advice.
As a fitness professional, are you allowed to give nutrition advice? Will you get sued? The overall answer is, no you will not get in trouble. I will talk more about this down below.
Here are the best nutrition certifications currently available in 2020.
The NASM Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM CNC) is the newest certification to the NASM family here in 2020.
This certification is going to be replacing their old FNS or fitness nutrition specialist certification. There are multiple differences between the two as I will be explaining in a second.
As a certified nutrition coach, you will be able to deliver quality nutrition information and behavioral change strategies to your clients.
You will be able to use this knowledge to increase the likelihood of a successful lifestyle change of your client so that they can lose weight, gain muscle or achieve their health and fitness goal.
Some of the things that you will get from the NASM CNC are:
- The most cutting edge nutrition information related to wellness, building muscle and losing fat.
- You will learn a ton about the psychology of mental plateaus with diet and nutrition and how to get past them.
- Gain the skills on how to combine behavioral change with nutritional science so that your real-world clients can see the results that they deserve.
- This course can also get you 1.9NASM continuing education credit
Currently, the cost for the NASM CNC is $899. I have seen it drop to as low as $675 while on sale.
Although this certification is a little bit pricier than the other ones, it provides an excellent well-rounded approach towards nutrition and behavior change that are both very helpful towards your client’s success.
You have the freedom of installment payment; you can spread your payment from 4 to 12 months with no interest and the duration of this program is 12weeks.
Check the current cost of the NASM CNC here.
Curriculum and study materials
The NASM CNC does everything online through their study portal. This is one downside if you are the type of person that loves to have a hard copy of the textbook.
The e-book is interactive and contains 24 chapters.
Within each chapter, you will find infographics, downloadable templates, interactive videos, mini-quizzes (knowledge checks), chapter quizzes ( with 15 questions per chapter) and a 100 question practice exam.
The 100 questions multiple-choice exam is done online and you have three full attempts to take it before purchasing a retest fee. You need 70% in order to pass. From the date that you purchase the CNC, you will have one full year in order to take and pass the exam.
Currently, in 2020 this is one of the best nutrition certification options, but it has some fierce competition with the other certifications on this list. Here is a link to the NASM CNC as well as a link to the old NASM FNS.
I have created a free study guide for the NASM CNC that is essential.
- NASM CNC exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions.
- You will have 90minutes to answer these questions.
- Your passing score is 70% or higher and you can only attempt this exam three times.
Here is the official video for the NASM CNC:
Differences between the NASM FNS and new NASM CNC
There are two primary differences between the old nutrition certification and the new one. The old NASM FNS was simply a credential that was mostly used to gain continuing education credit as well as useful information on diet and nutrition principles.
The first difference is that the new NASM CNC is a full-fledged certification that you will need to get recertified with every two years.
The requirement to get recertified every two years is essential in a field that is constantly changing with new discoveries on nutritional science.
The second difference is that the NASM CNC includes a ton of information on behavioral change and how to implement and combine this information with the nutritional advice you give to clients.
The NASM FNS did not have this information. Changing your client’s daily habits is just as important as giving them nutritional advice.
The right approach to behavior change can be through corrective exercise or physical activity using industry knowledge.
The new CNC is kind of a combination of a nutrition certification in a health coach certification.
The fact that it is a completely online nutrition program makes it not only one of the best programs overall, but also one of the top online nutrition certifications.
Check out my full review on the NASM CNC.
The International Sports Sciences Association’s (ISSA) Nutrition certification is, without a doubt, one of the best available for fitness professionals today.
This is because of the perfect way that it can be combined with a personal training certification or as a stand-alone nutrition certification.
ISSA centers its training on the psychology of eating a good diet at the appropriate time.
This certification covers the impact of nutrition in our lives and how it can really influence our fitness and wellness successes and failures. It gives you as a personal trainer all the necessary information you need to really understand the role of nutrition and its impact on our bodies.
And that opens up a range of new clients like those who are overweight and looking to drop some pounds, for example.
A full range of nutritional principles are covered by this certification including:
- How proper nutrition improves performance, not only physically but mentally, as well
- How to properly scrutinize various dietary strategies
- How to make unique nutrition plans for various clients requirements
- And many more
And this nutritional component, when combined with a planned fitness program can improve overall results for all your clients.
One of the advantages of this certification is that is can all be completed online through the ISSA study portal. With just a few hours a night, you can be nutrition certified in around three months.
This is currently one of my top ranked nutrition certifications because frequently there is a deal to get their nutrition certification for free with the purchase of their regular personal training certification.
So whether or not you want to become a certified personal trainer, you can at least have the option to become one. And, their CPT + free nutrition certification is the same price as the nutrition certification alone, so there is really nothing to lose. Definitely the best bang for your buck.
Currently, the value of the ISSA Nutrition certification is $799. I frequently see this drop-down as low as $699. ISSA offers a12months 0% interest payment plan for the certification. They also have a fantastic deal called the Elite trainer program. I’ll explain more.
The elite trainer program includes their nutrition certification, their personal training certification, and a third certification of your choice Much cheaper than each certification alone. If ISSA is currently running this deal, do not miss it. They also have a fantastic nutrition certification + training certification deal that they run frequently. For the elite trainer program, I usually recommend to my nutrition students to choose the ISSA transformation specialist certification as their specialization, but you have the option to choose from any of the following specializations.
Note: you do not need to become a personal trainer if you do not want to. You can simply study for and pass the nutrition certification/s and have those as standalone certifications. Only if you want to become an elite trainer would you need to pass their trainer exam. But still, the value for both nutrition certifications is worth it.
- Check out the current cost for the ISSA Nutrition certification here
- Check out the current cost for the ISSA elite trainer program
Curriculum and study materials
As with all ISSA certifications, the study materials and course work you will receive when signing up for this nutrition certification are both impressive and extensive.
They will include:
- A coursebook which includes 300 pages of information that are critical to helping you pass the certification exam
- A step-by-step study guide for each module in the sports nutrition certification curriculum
- Access to practice quizzes online to help you test your knowledge before taking the final exam
- Readily available help from ISSA staffers should you have any questions about the certification or the content
- Access to a popular forum where like-minded students discuss key concepts found in the course and help answer each other’s questions
- An online exam or a pen-and-paper test at a participating exam center
The fact that ISSA provides access to trained staff members to quickly and efficiently answer any queries is a major plus point for me. Also, the step-by-step study guide, as well as practice quizzes, give you a good indication of how prepared you are to take the final exam.
The exam consists of three sections;
- Section 1 consists of 230 multiple-choice questions
- Section 2 consists of 120 multiple-choice questions
- Section 3 consists of 1 essay and a case study.
Altogether you have 363 questions so you need to brace up!
I have created a helpful study guide for the ISSA nutrition cert that covers every single chapter. Make sure to check it out.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) Fitness Nutrition Specialist is an incredibly well recognized certifying agency in the health and fitness industry.
For that reason, it’s no wonder why their fitness nutrition specialist certification makes the number two spot on my list.
The fitness integration of this nutrition program makes it an excellent choice for certified personal trainers that are willing to take their career forward.
In this ACE fitness nutrition certification, you will learn all of the essentials of nutritional science. You will learn the strong correlation between nutrition and body weight and how to change your client’s perspective with evolving behavioral tactics.
The ACE nutrition certification focuses half of their efforts on changing your client’s behaviors as they do on the nutrition aspect.
This is an excellent approach to nutrition overall. You can teach your clients all day long about food, but if they don’t put it into practice when they are alone, it was useless.
After purchasing the ACE certification, you will have six months to study for and take the test. There are no requirements for the ACE nutrition certification.
There are two separate options for purchasing the ACE fitness nutrition specialist program.
The first is the e-book only option which costs $249
The next option is the hardcopy plus e-book textbook for $299.
Check out the current price for the ACE nutrition certification here.
When I personally purchased the ACE nutrition certification, I got the hard copy. But I just love the feel and smell of real paper.
- The fitness nutrition manual
- A four-part video series on fitness nutrition
- A three-part video series on how to integrate fitness nutrition with your existing clients
- Coaching behavior change book
- Coaching behavior change podcast
The curriculum and study materials that ACE provides are excellent for different styles of learning. I got great use out of the coaching behavior audio as well as reading materials.
They also have a strong emphasis on business practices and how you can make more money with the addition of this nutrition service. This is very beneficial especially for those of you who are strong business minded.
In addition to that, fitness integration into this nutrition program makes it an excellent choice for individuals that have little knowledge about personal training.
This is a decent option for an online nutrition certification program.
The test consists of 150 multiple-choice questions where 25 of those questions are experimental questions.
- You have up to 3 hours to answer all the questions.
- The marking is scaled from 200 to 800 points.
- You must get at least 500points upward to pass the test.
Here is a link to the ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist.
The Precision Nutrition Certification Level 1 (PN1) is the brainchild of Dr. John Berardi.
This is an exercise and sports nutrition certification designed for fitness professionals to use with their clients.
Here are some of the things you will learn in the precision nutrition coaching level I:
- You will teach your clients to diet and eat better without feeling totally deprived
- You will be able to teach your clients how to avoid fad diets and ditch food rules that are misguided.
- You’ll be able to teach your clients how to integrate fitness into their lives without completely dominating their lives.
- Teach clients how to set achievable goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle even when life tends to get out of control.
Overall I really like what is presented in the precision nutrition certification. The information that they provide is definitely top-notch. There are only a couple of downsides that I will explain in a second.
The cost of precision nutrition is based on two different purchasing times. The regular non-presale list is listed at $999. If you join the presale list you can get a 20% discount and have it only cost $799. Shipping for the project cost $11 so you contact that on either to the presale list or regular sale list.
Overall definitely one of the more expensive certifications. But they provide an excellent service, excellent information and a great way to integrate this knowledge with new or existing clients.
Some things to note: The precision nutrition certification only opens up two times a year (three times if they are in high demand). This means that you may have to wait up to six months in order to get this credential. Which is something that I think should be opened up year-round. This is a legitimate online nutrition certificate, but this bugs me.
Check out the presale here for Precision Nutrition
With the purchase of the precision nutrition certification level 1 you will receive:
- The three-unit textbook
- Twenty animated video lectures
- A workbook and study guide
- Additional assessment forms and questionnaires for your clients
- Online access to the study forum
- More than forty premium coaching tools
Overall the curriculum for the precision nutrition certification is quite good. I really like how you get a physical textbook as opposed to an e-book.
At the end of completing all of the study materials provided, you will need to pass the 18 chapter exams that each contain 10 questions each. So essentially, the final exam is 180 questions.
- 180 multiple-choice and true or false questions
- You are required to do 10 short exams which comes after you complete each chapter. You have 20 chapters.
- You are to score at least a minimum of 75%
Here is the official video for Precision nutrition:
5) National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) Fitness/Sports Nutrition Coach
The National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) Fitness/Sports Nutrition Coach is a great nutrition certification for fitness pros.
There are two different nutrition certifications offered by NESTA.
The first is their fitness nutrition coach certification which is meant for the general public or general clients of personal training.
The second is their sports nutrition specialist certification which is intended only for athletes or those looking to boost their athletic performance.
Overall these are some of the more basic fitness/sports nutrition certification options out there. They will teach you some of the essentials in regards to making your clients healthier and more fit.
NESTA has a decent section on doing nutritional assessments for clients and lending practical advice for performance enhancement for athletes.
Both of these NESTA certifications also have a strong emphasis on building your personal training business and increasing your earning potential by offering nutrition advice in addition to your regular training.
There are no prerequisites for this nutrition certification, and you will be given 12 months to take the test after you sign up.
This is yet another all online fitness nutrition certification.
Curriculum and study materials
- Online textbook in e-book format
- Multiple training videos
- Access to the test
Overall, the study materials did not blow my mind. They do however have everything available to you online and are very easy to access and study. Videos and the textbook are sufficient but are not optimal.
The cost of the NESTA fitness nutrition coach certification is $297.
The cost for the NESTA sports nutrition specialist certification is $347
They also have the option to purchase and study for both nutrition certifications for only $449. This will save you $195 compared to buying both separately. This is a very reasonably priced online nutrition course.
The NASM Sports Nutrition Specialist tests consist of 100 multiple-choice questions.
- All 100 questions to be answered within 2hours.
- You are required to score a minimum of 70% or higher
- You have just three attempts.
Check out NESTA here.
6) American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) Nutrition and Wellness Certification
The American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) Nutrition and Wellness Certification can be used to change the lifestyles of clients.
The AFPA Nutrition and Wellness consultant certification teaches you mostly how to apply nutrition information for weight management, fitness performance and overall health enhancement of your clients,
AFPA also offers Nutrition consultants certifications like Holistic Nutritionist certification and senior nutritionist specialist. These nutrition programs gives you more in-depth knowledge about nutrition and healthy living.
You will learn how to be motivational and be able to change the lifestyle habits of your clients. This involves how to communicate effectively with your client’s nutritional concepts and teach them the importance of habit building.
After purchasing the nutrition certification, you will have six months to take the test. There are no prerequisites to sign up for the AFPA. This is another 100% online fitness nutrition certification.
Curriculum and study materials
There are two separate ways you can receive study materials. The first is the 100% digital access. This gives you access to the interactive e-books, full textbook, student practice activities, assessments and nutrition assignments.
The textbook only version allows you to have a physical copy of the book, physical assignments but without the online learning platform.
Both digital access and textbooks are available as well.
The current cost for the AFPA nutrition and wellness consultant certification is $599. This is an average price for an online nutrition certificate.
AFPA Nutrition and Wellness certification Exam
- AFPA Nutrition and wellness certification exam format is a lot different from the others.
- You will be given 28days to do the tests.
- You can save your answers online and continue later.
- You have 280 questions altogether.
You can see the AFPA here.
Who’s allowed to give nutrition advice?
You wanna know if you are qualified to give nutrition advice?
Read on to find out!
The short answer is, it’s legal to give nutrition advice!
This is especially true if you have some knowledge on the topic (i.e., a certification).
What you are not allowed to do is prescribed a diet that is meant to treat an illness or disease for a client. Prescriptions are intended for registered dietitians (an RD) or medical doctors (MD).
So if a client comes up to you and asks for advice on the best diet for their celiac disease, you’re not legally allowed to advise on this.
On the other hand, if you are a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach, for example, you can give nutritional advice for losing weight, eating balanced/healthy or advice on macronutrients for building muscle.
All of these are acceptable nutrition advice that can come from someone holding a nutrition certification.
You are allowed to talk about overall healthy nutrition practices, provide strategies to improve nutrition and offer tools so that they can incorporate this nutrition advice into their lives.
Not only are fitness professionals in personal trainers allowed to discuss nutrition advice with their clients, but they are also absolutely encouraged to do so.
This is due to the hugely increasing obesity epidemic that we are suffering in the United States (and in the world in general).
As personal trainers or fitness professionals, the only problem is, lots of them don’t feel qualified to give this nutrition advice. If this is how you currently think, the logical next step for you is to obtain an accredited nutrition certification program.
What you will learn from a nutrition certification
Did you know there are benefits attached to possessing a nutrition certification?
Check below for more info!
If you are a certified fitness professional such as a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach, you probably learned a little bit about nutrition from your general CPT certification.
These nutrition certifications go into a lot of the same topics of study but anyway more detail. You will learn all of the nutrition science fundamentals and how to apply them to your clients.
You will go into how nutrition plays a role in sports performance, body composition and body weight. You will learn all about digestion, absorption, food intake, micronutrients, and macronutrients.
By the end, you will be a full-blown expert in all of these areas.
These nutrition certifications will also teach you a lot about habit building and habit changing, how to integrate nutrition into personal training/coaching as well as the business benefits you can receive from offering these new services.
Do not forget that health and safety are science-based and a top priority in fitness training, which must align with best practices.
Speaking of studying for a nutrition certification, Here at PTPioneer, we are currently working on free study guides for the majority of personal training in nutrition certifications. Currently, we have finished the free NASM FNS study guide, and are working hard to complete the study guides for all of the other major certifications. Stay tuned!
And finally, dun dun dun, here are some excellent accredited nutrition certification programs!
Conclusion on Online Nutrition Certifications
I am sure you’ve now been well-informed about the top nutrition certifications, and can now pick your choice depending on your niche.
If your answer is yes; then I’m done here. If no, hit the comment section to tell me more.
Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen, my article on the top nutrition programs. I hope you guys walked away knowing the difference between a dietitian and a certified nutritionist. For now, I suggest that you check out my top three nutrition certifications below.
If you have not done so yet, Take the quiz to get a better overall idea of which nutrition certification is the best match for you. Make sure to utilize my free NASM CNC study guide or ISSA Nutrition study guide if you choose either of those.
Overall my top three accredited nutrition certification programs are:
- The NASM CNC
- The ACE fitness nutrition specialist
- ISSA Nutrition certification
- The ISSA elite trainer program (if they are running this offer)
These three are the three best online nutrition programs.
You will come away from either one of these three online nutrition courses with a great new toolset of knowledge! 🤓
Remember, it’s not illegal to give clients nutrition advice! In fact, it is wholly encouraged! As long as you are not “prescribing” a nutrition or diet plan toward somebody attempting to fix a disease that they have.
As trainers and coaches, we are responsible for helping our clients maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. If we keep our mouths shut, we are accomplices to this epidemic.
Getting the right health care for chronic disease outside the comfort of your home is very helpful in the long run.
This is why it is essential to have knowledge of a certified nutrition specialist.
Let me know what you guys thought of my top six nutrition certifications.
Have you guys tried out any of the certifications? What were your experiences with them? Make sure to leave me a comment down below the FAQ section!
Online nutrition certification FAQ
How do I become a certified nutritionist?
You can become a certified nutritionist by taking a course on nutrition from a well-recognized health and fitness agency.
Which is the best online nutritionist certification?
In my opinion, there are three nutrition coach programs that offer an excellent curriculum in the industry. These are:
- ACE fitness nutrition specialist
- The NASM CNC
- The ISSA nutrition certification
These three integrate fitness training into their curriculums and this is a great gain for those that are new to the field.
Is a nutrionist also a dietician?
Yes. Both of these professionals are qualified to prescribe food and supplements for individuals for the purpose of maintaining healthy body weight.
What is nutrition and wellness?
Nutrition and wellness is the act of using nutritious food and vitamins to maintain healthy body weight, decrease the chances of chronic diseases, and promote overall health.
Can I become a nutritionist without a degree?
Sure you can. All that is needed is an accredited certification in health and fitness from a related field. You check for eligibility to write a nutrition certification exam from any of the providers to make informed decisions.
Can I be a personal trainer and nutritionist?
Yes, you can be a personal trainer and study further to be a nutritionist. In fact, this is a plus to you.
What does a certified nutrition coach do?
A certified nutrition coach works with clients that have a sedentary life, overweight, or people with general have health issues to change their lifestyle through healthy eating habit.
Can I do a free online nutrition courses?
Yes, you can do an online free nutrition course but you might not be able to use this certification to work with clients that are conscious of certification recognition.
It is always better to be a certified nutritionist with an accredited health and fitness organization.
What is the salary of a nutrition coach?
Drawing from the United States Bureau of statistics, a nutrition coach earns an average of $60,370 annually depending on the state where you work.
What are the prerequisute of becoming a nutritionist coach?
There are different requirements from different nutrition program but the most basic is that;
- You are 18 years and above
- Have a professional certification in wellness, health education, and other related fields from an accredited health and fitness organization.
How long does is take to become a nutrition coach?
To become a nutrition coach, it will take a minimum of three months and a maximum of twelve months counting from the date of registration to writing the exams.
What is holistic nutritionist certification?
The holistic Nutritionists certification course will expose you to the act of nourishing a sick body back to health using a tailor-made diet program.
It helps you learn how to help your clients stay on a healthy diet to prevent diseases.
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