Sporting organizations have started acknowledging the importance of conditioning the minds of their athletes to a more nutrition conscious lifestyle. As the sporting fraternity continues to make advancements in athletic performance through nutrition education, being a sports nutritionist as a profession continues to gain greater recognition.
Who is a Sports Nutritionist?
A sports nutritionist works to provide athletes with sports nutrition diet plans that increase stamina and endurance and train them about how to effectively recover post workout sessions. A quality sports nutrition specialist is well trained to analyze and evaluate an athlete's physiology and overall anatomy to create the most optimal sports nutrition diet plan.
Role of Sports Nutritionist
Unlike general nutritionists, sports nutritionists develop and implement nutritional diet plans for athletes (and sometimes, for entire teams), for maximizing their overall fitness and performance. The nutritional programs developed are based on an athlete's biochemical composition, lifestyle, eating habits, training schedules and short/long term goals to be achieved. Some other services offered by sports nutritionists also include supplement consultations, medical nutrition therapy and metabolism rate tests.
What Do Sports Nutritionists Do?
Apart from administering nutrition counseling for athletes, the primary duties for sports nutritionists include:
- developing meal plans and menus for athletes (and teams)
- ensure travelling athletes are receiving proper nutrition
- conduct nutrition education sessions for teams, groups or individuals
- develop educational content on healthy diet plants and sports nutrition
- prepare specialized menus and meal plans for athletes with specific illnesses
- provide supplement consultations, body composition testing, medical nutrition therapy and metabolic rate testing for athletes
As the awareness about a nutrition-conscious lifestyle's effectiveness on an athlete's performance grows, sports nutritionist's importance also continues to gain due recognition among both professional and college-level organizations. Consequently, sports nutrition industry and sports nutrition specialist as a career is also beginning to find new takers in large numbers.
For people interested in taking up sports nutritionist as a career, it is important to determine beforehand if this career path is fit for them.
Should I Become a Sports Nutritionist?
A person can be deemed fit for a career as a sports nutritionist if he/she is:
- Academically strong and has an aptitude for science
- Confident and emotionally stable to accomplish short and long term tasks without fail
- Interested in sports, fitness and nutrition
- Excellent at communicating and listening to other's opinion and issues
- Abreast of current nutritional research and important developments in the concerned field
- OK with scheduling flexibility and working on weekends or odd hours.
If the above description and responsibilities suit you, then you can consider your chances in sports nutrition industry.
How to Become a Sports Nutritionist?
Most of the sports nutritionists begin their career with obtaining a formal education and training in nutrition-related disciplines. Typically, a Bachelor's Degree in an area such as Food Science, Nutrition, Exercise Science, Sports Nutrition, Kinesiology or Dietetics is sought by most employers looking to hire a sports nutritionist. However, candidates with a post-graduate degree are the ones who often attract a larger number of employers and clients alike.
Most countries require that nutritionists are registered and certified. Usually, 1500 practice hours as a Registered Dietician and passing an exam proving their knowledge of sports nutrition is required for conferring a certificate to an individual. While certification is not mandatory everywhere, it definitely helps sports nutritionists to grow their reputation and clientele.
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What is a Sports Nutrition Certification?
A sports nutrition certification is offered to professionals who are able to demonstrate specialized knowledge of sports nutrition and related sciences.
Several sports and health organizations offer certification programs to those who fulfil a certain criteria (usually an undergraduate degree in a health or nutrition-related major and clinical lab experience, in some cases). Some of the groups that provide sports nutrition certification include the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), the National Association of Sports Nutrition (NASN), USA and the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
Universities Offering a Sports Nutrition Certification Course
Students looking for degree programs in sports nutrition must enroll in a college that is regionally accredited and offers sports nutrition courses approved by a nationally recognized agency. Some important schools that are renowned internationally for quality sports nutrition degree are:
- Baylor University, USA
- Florida International University, USA
- The College Real Madrid - European University, Spain
- The Bond University, Australia
- McMaster University, USA
- Valencian International University, Spain
- Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development (NY University, USA)
- Virginia Tech, USA
- Lund University, Sweden
Where Do Sports Nutritionists Work?
Sports nutritionist are hired by organizations and corporations that are involved in development and implementation of nutritional plans for athletes and teams. Such organizations may include:
- Colleges and Universities
- Sports Organizations and Associations
- Athletic and Sports Clubs
- Food Corporations
- Rehab Centers
- Fitness Facilities and Gyms
- Healthcare Facilities
- Self-Employment (Nutrition Consultants)
Why Become a Sports Nutritionist? Or Is Sports Nutrition a Good Career?
Sports nutrition career is a new, exciting and immensely dynamic practice area. With an ever changing scenario, demand is growing for those with professional knowledge and skills that integrate sports nutrition with physical activity and sports.
Best sports nutrition specialists are increasingly sought after by universities, sports organizations, food corporations, fitness clubs, nursing homes, rehab centers and independent physicians. Additionally, a self-employed sports nutrition specialist who offers private counseling to athletes is one of the proven ways to a successful career. With experience and continued education, sports nutritionists can advance to roles with greater responsibilities or managerial duties.
Pros of Becoming a Sports Nutritionist
- A very rewarding career
- Can be pursued as both full-time and part-time career option
- Allows for flexible scheduling and postings
- Excellent self-employment opportunities
- High employment growth percentage projected for near future and beyond
- Good median annual salary (Currently, $56,000 in USA)
Cons of Becoming a Sports Nutritionist
- Requires extensive clinical lab experience prior to employment
- Requires continuous research for keeping abreast of the latest nutrition trends
- A state license is required in most cases, before one can start practicing
As stated earlier, the sports nutrition market is still fairly new and evolving. However, with growing awareness, the demand for sports nutrition specialists all over the world is bound to increase in future. At the same time, this growth will also lead to an increased competition among those looking to carve out a successful career in sports nutrition. Therefore, a continued and all-round professional skill development becomes the key for all sports nutritionists to succeed in life.
Apart from enrolling in sports nutrition courses, they must actively take part in professional seminars, workshops, skill development programs and even take up advanced sports nutrition programs to stay a step ahead of the competition. In the end though, sports nutrition is just like any other professional career - the more experience gained, the better the prospects emerge to be.
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