Everyone and welcome to my guide on the top nutrition certifications for sports and fitness professionals. This is for anyone that wants to become a certified nutrition specialist.
If you have searched cool 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.
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.
By the end, you will have a clear idea of what each certification is about, in which one would be right for you. Let’s stop dillydallying around and get right into the best nutrition certification reviews!
Who’s allowed to give nutrition advice?
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
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.
This 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.
And finally, dun dun dun, here are some excellent accredited nutrition certification programs!
The Best Five Nutrition Certification programs
Remember that these certifications are mainly meant for individuals in the sports and fitness industry such as strength and conditioning coaches or personal trainers.
So if you are looking for a sports nutrition certification or a fitness nutrition certification, these are fantastic choices!
The ACE (American Council on exercise) Fitness Nutrition Specialist
The American Council on exercise 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 is at the top of my list.
In this 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 clients 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.
- 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.
There are two separate options for purchasing the ACE fitness nutrition specialist program.
The first is the e-book only option which costs $499
The next option is the hardcopy plus e-book textbook for $599.
When I personally purchased the ACE nutrition certification, I got the hard copy. But I just love the feel and smell of real paper! 🙂
Here is a link to the ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist.
The NASM FNS Fitness Nutrition Specialization Certification
The National Academy of sports medicine is another name that is extremely well recognized in the fitness industry. Is no wonder the NASM nutrition certification is held in such high regard.
Similar to the ACE certification, NASM has a strong focus on the basics of nutrition and how they apply to performance, body image and weight loss.
You will learn how to teach clients how to read food labels properly, select portion sizes and is conscious about the selections that they make on a day-to-day basis.
You will be able to explain the role of calories better, energy balance, metabolism and food selections can impact their fitness and performance goals.
Similar to ACE, you will have six months to take the test after signing up for the NASM nutrition certification. There are no prerequisites.
Curriculum and study materials
- The NASM fitness nutrition specialist comes with an online course
- Practice exams and quizzes
- A meal planner
There is only one price for the NASM nutrition certification, and it is $499.
One thing that I did not like is that they do not have a hard copy of the textbook available. They only have the e-book which is not the worst thing in the world, but sometimes I like to highlight and add sticky notes to everything in a physical textbook.
Overall, the NASM FNS is one of the best online nutrition certifications that is available.
Here is a link to the NASM FNS.
The ISSA Sports Nutrition Certification
The sports nutrition certification from the international sports sciences Association is a relatively new fitness nutrition certification.
In this nutrition certification, you will learn all about nutrition as well as the various sports supplements that are common.
You’ll become an expert on how to gain muscle and lose fat using nutrition tactics. For athletes, you will learn about favorite concepts such as carbohydrate loading and how it affects sports performance.
They also touch upon female athletes and special populations in the differences in nutrition requirements.
Overall the program should last between two and eight months long depending on how much you study every day. This is another fantastic online nutrition certification.
It seems like there is a theme with six months of study time after signing up for the certification. ISSA is no different.
Curriculum and study materials
Let’s talk about all of the study materials that you receive with the ISSA sports performance certification.
- A hard copy of the sports nutrition textbook. 300 pages long.
- A study guide to follow along with for the textbook.
- Online practice exams and quizzes
- Unlimited support from ISSA professionals
- Access to a student forum
I like how you can ask ISSA professionals if you ever get stuck on a topic while you are studying. The online discussions are also helpful for bouncing ideas off other students studying the same issue.
Currently, the value of the ISSA sports nutrition certification is $699. I frequently see this drop-down as low as $499.
This is one of the best sports nutrition certifications to choose from if you are a personal trainer. Especially if you are an ISSA certified personal trainer.
Check out the ISSA Fitness Nutrition Cert here.
The NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association) Fitness/Sports Nutrition Coach
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 for 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.
Check out NESTA here.
The AFPA Nutrition and Wellness Certification
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
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 the digital access and textbooks are available as well.
The current cost for the AFPA nutrition and wellness consultant certification is $599.
You can see the AFPA here.
Conclusion on fitness and sports nutrition certifications
Will there you have it ladies and gentlemen, my article on the top nutrition certifications. I hope you guys walked away knowing the difference between a dietitian and a certified nutritionist.
Overall my top two accredited nutrition certification programs are the NASM fitness nutrition specialist (FNS) and the ACE fitness nutrition specialist. A close third is the ISSA sports nutrition certification program! All three have fantastic study materials and an excellent curriculum.
You will come away from either one of these three 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.
This is why it is essential to have the knowledge of a certified nutrition specialist.
Let me know what you guys thought of my top five fitness and sports 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! 🙂
Tyler Read has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. Tyler is also a certified personal trainer with NASM, ACE and CSCS. Tyler’s main goal is to help people get started in the personal training industry and to become successful personal trainers. Tyler is the owner of Personal Training Pioneer which helps people get started in the personal training industry and become successful.