Hey everyone and welcome to my guide on the top nutrition certifications (as well as the best online nutrition certifications) for fitness professionals in 2020. This is for anyone that wants to become a certified nutrition specialist.
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 FNS site, the ACE FNS site, and the ISSA nutritionist certification. (or the elite trainer deal when they are running this special).
I highly recommend that you Take the quiz to get an estimate on which nutrition certification is the best fit for you overall. This is just an estimation, read the article to get the full understanding. The menu at the top of this page will answer any question related to Nutrition/Training that you have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours). Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.
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!
The Six Best Nutrition Certification programs
This list of the best nutrition certifications are mainly meant for individuals in the fitness industry such as personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, corrective exercise specialists or group instructors etc. So if you are looking for a fitness nutrition certification, these are fantastic choices.
The NASM CNC or certified nutrition coach certification 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.
Currently, the cost for the NASM CNC is $899. I have seen it drop to as low as $699 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.
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 a 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 question 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.
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 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.
In my eyes, the International Sports Sciences Association’s (ISSA) Nutrition certification is, without a doubt, one of the best available for fitness professionals today. And the reason that I say that is because of the perfect way that it can be combined with a personal training certification or as a stand-alone nutrition certification.
This certification covers the impact of nutrition on 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 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 a 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 course book 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 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 makes the number two spot on 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.
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.
This is a decent option for an online nutrition certification program.
Here is a link to the ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist.
Precision nutrition is the brainchild of Dr John Berardi. John is a professor and experienced coach that is also a former bodybuilding champion.
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 procession nutrition coaching level I:
- You will teach your clients to diet and eat better without feeling totally deprived
- You will be able to teach her 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 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 textbook
- Video lectures
- A workbook and study guide
- Additional assessment forms and questionnaires for your clients
- Online access to the study forum
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.
Here is the official video for Precision nutrition:
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. This is a very reasonably priced online nutrition course.
Check out NESTA here.
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. This is an average price for an online nutrition certificate.
You can see the AFPA here.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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! 🙂