Being a nutritionist can be a varied and rewarding role. Whether you’re passionate about transforming public health, helping individuals improve their well-being, or enhancing health policy, the opportunities are wide-ranging.
Explore what a career as a nutritionist could involve and learn everything you need to know about qualifications, skills, and more with our guide.
What does a nutritionist do?
Your day-to-day as a nutritionist will depend on your chosen focus area. The roles within these sectors will vary. For example, the NHS (external link) and careers site Prospects (external link) highlight some areas you might work in:
- The food industry. This may involve supporting product development, allergy advice, or designing a nutrition strategy
- Government. Working for the government might require you to work on food policy, on either a local or national level. For example, as part of a public health campaign
- Universities. You may choose to move into an academic or research-based position
- Education. You could consider offering nutrition education to students or providing advice on the dietary requirements of school children
- Sport and exercise sector. This may involve advising athletes or fitness enthusiasts on how they could enhance their performance
- Media and communications. Communicating important messaging via media outlets, such as television, social media, radio, magazines, and newspapers, could become part of your role
- Freelance or contractor. Of course, you could set up a practice and focus on your areas of interest. This might include pregnancy nutrition or helping people live healthier lifestyles.
Your working hours may differ depending on whether you choose to be employed or self-employed. While freelance work may involve flexible hours, including some evenings and weekends, employed roles are usually Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.
Although the work you do will vary based on the path you choose, your role will likely involve one of the following:
- Focusing on nutrition education, working with both groups and individuals
- Science-based research or product development
- Creating policies and programmes for deployment in the community.
What makes a successful nutritionist?
Having the skills of a nutritionist, or showing an ability to develop them, is an important part of embarking on this new career. Not only will you need to be organised, a good communicator, and have business savvy if you decide to freelance, but you’ll also need additional attributes.
- A passion for sharing knowledge about food and nutrition
- An interest in, and understanding of, food science
- The ability to motivate those around you
- A positive attitude towards your focus area and the people you work with
- An understanding of different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles
- The ability to simplify complicated subjects.
What qualifications do I need to become a nutritionist?
There’s no single route to becoming a nutritionist, as there are training options at many levels. However, most nutritionists usually have a degree or postgraduate qualification focused on nutrition.
To ensure you’re receiving the best education, the Association for Nutrition (AfN) has a list of accredited courses (external link) to help you explore nutritionist qualifications.
Many employers ask that their employees register with the AfN – a voluntary register of nutrition professionals. To apply, you must meet extensive criteria formulated on training, professional experience, and competence levels.
Regarding university and educational routes, the criteria to enrol will differ from course to course. However, the NHS says you’ll typically need to meet the following entry requirements (external link)  to study a nutritionist degree:
- Two to three A-levels (these usually need to include biology or chemistry)
- Five GCSEs at grades A-C or 9-4 (including English, maths, and science)
- OR a level 3 qualification alternative (for example, a BTEC or HND in a relevant science).
How long does it take to train as a nutritionist?
This will depend on the nutritionist qualification and course you choose. It will also rely on whether you decide to do a bachelor’s degree followed by a postgraduate qualification. Undergraduate degrees typically last between three and four years, while postgraduate qualifications are usually one to two-year courses.
Is a nutritionist also a dietitian?
No, nutritionists and dietitians are two separate professions with different roles and responsibilities. Dietitians are the only professionals in the field of nutrition regulated by law and an ethical code. They can also assess, diagnose, and treat dietary issues.
Nutritionists aren’t governed by an ethical code and their title isn’t protected by law. They also can’t assess, diagnose, or treat nutritional problems like dietitians can – they can, however, offer advice about food and eating healthily.
How to get started as a nutritionist
Gain work experience and get your first role
Relevant work experience can be invaluable when competing for roles, as well as helping you to build your core nutritionist skills. You may find work placements are part of your degree. Adding to this can also be a good idea, though. Look for placements within NHS Primary Care Trusts or voluntary positions with charities or food banks.
Once you have your nutritionist qualifications and a strong foundation of work experience, it’s time to look for your first nutritionist role. Are you thinking of eventually becoming your own boss with a particular area of focus? If so, try to apply for opportunities that will provide you with experience in this area.
Become a registered nutritionist
Becoming a member of the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) (external link) can help to build your reputation. Registration to the UKVRN is great for getting employed roles, but it’s also reassuring for clients of freelance nutritionists.
Importantly, having a membership proves you meet and exceed professional standards. From a registered nutritionist, you can work towards becoming an associate nutritionist (ANutr) or eventually even a fellow of the AfN (FAfN).
Do I need insurance if I set up my own business?
If you decide to move into freelancing or contracting, you might find it reassuring to protect your new venture with business insurance. For instance, Hiscox’s professional, treatment and public liability insurance is available for nutritionists (and dietitians). This can help with defending or settling claims regarding the professional advice you give and can even help if a client trips in your office and is injured.
At Hiscox, we want to help your small business thrive. Our blog has many articles you may find relevant and useful as your business grows. But these articles aren’t professional advice. So, to find out more on a subject we cover here, please seek professional assistance.