5 Career-Related Questions About Fitness & Nutrition Training
Good health is vital for a long and active life. Most people would probably agree with that. But in today's society, achieving and maintaining optimum health can be a real challenge.
The temptation to indulge in bad habits or ignore our bodies is made all too easy by conveniences like fast food, on-demand entertainment, and the stresses of our jobs and day-to-day responsibilities. Just look at some of the facts:*
- More than 78 million adults and 12.5 million young people in America are obese. And those numbers could rise significantly. Projections indicate that about 115 million adults in the U.S. (i.e., half of them) could be obese by the year 2030.
- On average, medical costs are about 42 percent higher for people who are obese than for people who are at a normal weight.
- Americans tend to consume a lot more fats, sugars, sodium, and refined grains than is recommended.
- Fewer than five percent of all adults in the U.S. get the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity. As a result, more than eight in 10 adults fail to meet aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity guidelines.
That's why we need fitness and nutrition experts more than ever. They understand what it takes to help us overcome the temptations and challenges and get on the path toward leading healthier lives. And they aren't deterred by the statistics. Instead, they are emboldened by them. After all, those stats clearly show just how much work there is to do. They point to a huge and ongoing opportunity to help transform the health and wellness of our communities.
So if you're exploring options like health care training or the programs offered at fitness or nutrition colleges, then you owe it to yourself to learn more about this important career sector. Check out the answers to these five popular questions:
1. What Are the Most Common Careers in Fitness and Nutrition?
People pursue all kinds of different paths when they enter this sector. Many of them even discover innovative ways to utilize their knowledge and new places to find work. As a result, their job titles can vary a lot, especially if they operate their own businesses as fitness or nutrition consultants or entrepreneurs. However, some of the most popular and worthwhile occupations to pursue include:
- Dietitian or nutritionist—These vocations are all about using the science of nutrition to come up with practical meal plans and strategies for healthy eating and living. Professionals in this field often work directly with patients or clients to develop customized food-based solutions that will help them achieve particular health or lifestyle goals. Some of them also contribute their own research to the field. And many of them speak to groups and provide advice about the roles and impacts of various nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, sugars, and fats.
- Dietetic technician—People in this occupation often work under the supervision of registered dietitians and help develop and carry out meal plans for patients in health care settings or clients or employers in sectors like food service, education, or criminal corrections. They tend to perform work at a more technical level, although some of them also provide general advice about nutrition to healthy groups of people.
- Fitness trainer—This type of professional works directly with groups or individuals to help them meet their physical goals through exercise and good nutrition. Personal trainers develop customized exercise plans that often include cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, and stretching. They also demonstrate how to perform each activity safely and effectively, monitor their clients' progress, and offer advice about dietary choices that can help their clients gain the maximum benefit from their workouts.
- Exercise physiologist—In this profession, the focus is on helping medical patients recover from chronic illnesses by developing customized fitness programs for them. Exercise physiologists often measure many of their clients' vital signs and conduct stress and fitness tests using specialized equipment. Their exercise plans can help people achieve better flexibility, cardiovascular health, and body composition.
You might also run across job titles like fitness and nutrition specialist, nutrition coach, health and wellness coach, or holistic health coach. In a lot of cases, people who are self-employed use those titles. They often provide advice and create individualized diet or exercise plans that include progress tracking as well as methods of encouragement and accountability.
It's common to find professionals working in the field of fitness and nutrition in schools, health clubs, gyms, natural food stores, hospitals, nursing homes, weight-management clinics, doctors' offices, prisons, cafeterias, yoga and Pilates studios, spas, community sports and recreation centers, and many other settings.
2. What Is the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?
The easiest way to think of it is this way: All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists can be called dietitians.
That's because dietitian is a special title that's protected by law. Only people who've met their state's dietitian licensing requirements can use that title. In contrast, nutritionist is not generally a protected title. Anybody who has studied nutrition can call himself or herself a nutritionist as long as his or her state doesn't have specific nutritionist licensing requirements that prohibit it.
Aside from the important regulatory differences, these job titles tend to represent the same types of nutrition-focused occupational duties.
3. What Fitness or Nutrition Certifications Do I Need?
That depends on your particular career goals. It's always a good idea to think about the exact role that you'd like to play and then find someone who is already working in that role. That way, you can ask what was involved in getting to that position and find out what the best path to success might be for you. It's also smart to ask potential employers what they look for. They might prefer to hire people with only certain kinds of certifications.
However, if you want to become a dietitian in a state where the profession is regulated, then you will definitely need to earn state certification. In regulated states, becoming a dietitian usually requires obtaining a bachelor's degree in the field and completing a period of supervised training through an extensive internship. Then, you can qualify to take an exam that, if passed, leads to becoming a licensed or registered dietitian. Most employers prefer to hire people with the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential.
Some states will also license nutritionists who have attained an advanced level of knowledge through a master's or doctorate degree program. In those cases, a nutritionist must have a lot of relevant experience and pass an exam to earn a credential such as Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) or Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN).
As a nutritionist or dietitian, it's also possible to earn various types of specialty certifications such as:
- Holistic nutrition certification—This type is for those who want to help people stay well through the consumption of whole and organic plant-based foods that are free of pesticides, additives, and chemicals.
- Sports nutrition certification—Also sometimes called fitness nutrition certification, it's for dietetic professionals who'd like to help athletes or fitness clients maximize their results through the consumption of foods that help produce high energy, muscle growth, and ideal body composition.
- Pediatric nutrition certification—This type relates to helping children stay well or manage illnesses through diets that promote a strong immune system and provide all of the necessary building blocks for healthy growth and mental development.
- Renal nutrition certification—With this one, a dietetic professional can create nutritional plans for medical patients who suffer from acute or chronic kidney disease.
- Gerontological nutrition certification—This type is for specializing in the development of nutritional treatments that are safe and effective for older adults and the elderly.
When it comes to fitness certification, many different options exist from a wide variety of organizations. So it's usually best to find out what the employers or clients in your area prefer. For advanced certifications, you may need a fitness- or exercise-related post-secondary degree or certificate. And you might be required to attain certification in CPR as well as in the use of AEDs (automated external defibrillators).
4. How Much Can I Earn?
With the right credentials, it's possible to make good money. For example, look at the average and top-end pay for the following occupations based on estimates from 2015:**
- Nutritionists and dietitians—$58,410 / over $80,950
- Fitness trainers and instructors—$40,970 / over $70,180
- Exercise physiologists—$49,740 / over $73,840
Plus, many professionals in these fields are self-employed or operate their own businesses. That means they are often able to earn even higher incomes than those above, especially if they've developed great reputations in their communities.
5. Is the Outlook Good for Fitness and Nutrition Professionals?
Yes. In fact, dietitians and nutritionists in the U.S. are expected to enjoy faster-than-average job growth between 2014 and 2024. And fitness trainers are projected to experience steady employment growth as well. Over that decade, about 11,000 openings could be generated for nutrition and dietetic professionals, and about 23,400 openings could become available for fitness pros.***
Many reasons exist for this positive outlook, not least of which is a growing interest and awareness of the roles that food and exercise play in preventing disease and promoting overall wellness. And the stats back that up. For instance:
- Between 1997 and 2014, the sales of organic food grew by more than 980 percent. As a result, more than eight in ten American consumers now buy food that's organic.****
- From 2005 to 2014, the number of health clubs in the U.S. increased by more than 28 percent. And the number of Americans with memberships in those health clubs grew by nearly 31 percent to 54.1 million.†
The opportunities are out there. So why not take action? A lot of schools offer programs that can help prepare you for fitness or nutrition certification. And some of those programs are even online. To find one that works for you, simply put your zip code into the convenient school finder below!
* President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, website last visited on February 10, 2016.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on May 12, 2016.
*** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on February 10, 2016.
**** Organic Trade Association, website last visited on February 10, 2016.
† International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), website last visited on February 10, 2016.