Healthy eating habits and nutrition education are core pillars of maintaining a balanced lifestyle and achieving physical and mental wellbeing. So it’s no surprise why more and more people are turning to nutrition coaching for personalized advice and guidance. Nutrition coaching certifications can help health and fitness professionals, as well as individuals looking to become nutrition coaches, gain the skills and knowledge they need to provide the best possible service. (Which in turn means a thriving business for you.)
There are a few different reasons why someone might be looking for a nutrition coaching certification. For fitness professionals, such as personal trainers, yoga instructors, and health coaches, a nutrition coaching certification can be a great way to add a new skill set to their existing practice. On the other hand, some individuals simply have a passion for nutrition and have had their own successful transformation, and they want to help others do the same.
And perhaps the best part? With a variety of paths to take, it’s easy to find a certification program that works best for your goals, schedule, and preferred learning style. You can enroll in a self-paced program, which gives you the flexibility to learn as fast (or slow) as you’d like, or you can join a cohort program, which puts you in a virtual classroom with other students and instructors.
It also probably doesn’t come as a surprise that many of these certifications vary in cost and length, so it's important to do your research to find the best fit for your needs. This can take some time and effort, but in this article, we've done all the grunt work for you!
The best nutrition coaching accreditation bodies (Plus, how important is accreditation for nutrition coaching, anyway?)
When it comes to nutrition, there are two main types of qualifications certifying companies can obtain: Accreditation and approval. What’s the difference?
Becoming accredited means being officially recognized or authorized by an educational body—such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for many colleges and universities in the United States. Approval, on the other hand, is more of a stamp of validation that indicates a certification program met specific standards and requirements of an organization (such as the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching, or NBHWC).
Both accreditation and approval can indicate the quality of a nutrition certification program. But it’s important to note that not all nutrition coaching certifications are accredited—including some of the best-reviewed and most-popular ones.
Overall, deciding whether to choose a certification that’s accredited or not really just comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish.
For example, if you’re interested in becoming a registered dietitian, you have to earn a degree in the area of nutrition from an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics accredited program. The term “registered dietitian” is a regulated designation that only those who’ve completed this education pathway can use, so there’s no way around that.
However, if you just want to help others through nutrition coaching, the requirements are less regulated. You don’t have to get a certification from an accredited institution to say you’re a “nutritionist” or “nutrition coach.” So the certification you pursue can be based on the quality of what you’ll learn and the credibility obtaining certification from a certain organization can provide.
If choosing an accredited nutrition certification is an important factor for you, the two main accrediting bodies for fitness and health certifications are the National Commission of Certifying Agencies/Institute for Credentialing Excellence (NCCA/ICE), and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
In the end, unless you are specifically pursuing a title that requires education from an accredited institution—which almost always also requires a degree from a college or university—choosing a nutrition certification that’s “approved” by a credible organization in the field is often an adequate way to ensure the program has been vetted. Some of the top organizations to look for approval from include:
- The American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)
- The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- The National Board for Health and Fitness (NBHF)
What to look for in a nutrition coaching certification?
Similar to deciding on how to price your services or structure your coaching business, choosing a certification for nutrition involves considering a few key things:
- Approval and/or Accreditation: As noted above, having recognition in one of these ways by a reputable organization is one (but certainly not the only) sign of a quality program—and something you can use to guide your decisions when choosing between various nutrition certification options.
- Cost: Consider the cost of tuition, exam fees, and any other associated costs. If you’re a coach looking to grow a business that serves as your full-time profession, investing in the program that will best help you do that makes sense, regardless of cost. However, if you’re mainly looking to increase nutrition knowledge for yourself, or for a side-hustle, you may want to pay closer attention to whether or not the investment equals the value you’ll get out of it.
- Quality: Select a program that offers quality materials, experienced instructors, and is up-to-date with current nutrition science. (Pro tip: If you’re looking to build a career out of coaching, look for certification programs that have a combination of academic instructors and experienced coaches. This is important for bridging the gap between “textbook” knowledge and how that’s actually applied in the real world.)
- Coursework: Research the program's curriculum to make sure it will provide the nutrition knowledge and skills you need. (For example, a personal trainer may be more interested in learning about macros, supplements, sports nutrition, or fitness nutrition—and a wellness coach or health coach might prefer a program that takes a more holistic approach.)
- Credibility: Check to see if the program is accepted or recognized by professional organizations or employers. Another great way to gauge credibility: Look at testimonials from students to determine what words they use to describe the value they received from the program. This is a great way to find out if a specific certification will deliver the knowledge and skills you’re looking to gain.
- Flexibility: Look for an online nutrition certification or hybrid in-person programs that offer flexible learning options to fit your lifestyle.
4 best certifications for nutrition coaching
Becoming a top nutrition coach is about a lot more than just weight loss and meal plans. This is an opportunity to help your clients (or yourself!) in bigger and more impactful ways than ever before. But doing this effectively requires both a deep understanding of nutrition—and the practical know-how to apply that knowledge in a way that leads to an all around healthy lifestyle.
And then there’s the consideration of your specific goals, needs, and preferences. A registered dietitian interested in continuing education opportunities to stay on top of their craft, for example, may be looking for something very different than a personal trainer or nutrition coach who wants to build a full-time coaching business as an entrepreneur.
Below, you’ll find the four best nutrition coaching certifications available right now. Keep in mind, while all of these certification programs are high quality, each have some unique differences. The key is sorting out the pro’s and con’s to find which one is the best fit for you.
1. Precision Nutrition Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification
Since 2005, Precision Nutrition (PN) has certified over 150,000 health and fitness professionals worldwide, making them one of the most respected authorities in the field of nutrition coaching. Their Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification is “everything you need to confidently coach nutrition," and focuses on teaching students to “master the science of nutrition, and the art of coaching.”
- Online nutrition certification that offers a guided “cohort” option, including support and accountability from peers and PN’s instructors through their private online student community
- Focuses on nutrition science and behavior-change—so you’ll learn how nutrition impacts every area of your and your clients’ health
- Receive textbooks in the mail in addition to the online material (if you love the feel of an actual book in your hands, that’s a big plus)
- Tons of positive reviews from students: Precision Nutrition stands in a class of its own when it comes to positive reviews from their students
- Limited sign-up window: As per Precision Nutrition’s website, enrollment only opens a few times per year. So while there may be some exceptions, you might have to wait for the next cohort to start, depending on timing
Who’s it for?
This certification program is primarily aimed at coaches who have an established interest and knowledge in the fitness or wellness world —whether that’s as a personal trainer, health coach, nutritionist, nutrition coach, wellness coach, etc. That said, you definitely don’t have to already be a coach to benefit from this certification. Whether you’re just starting out, are looking to offer additional services to your clients, or hope to explore nutrition coaching as a potential side-hustle, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to help anyone eat, feel, and live better.
Price: $119/month for 12 months. (There may be discounts available when you join the “Presale list.”)
2. National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Nutrition Coach Certification
For almost 40 years, NASM has developed evidence-based certifications that are backed by the latest in science and research. In their own words, “The program provides all the information you need to help maximize your client’s success and put them on the path to better eating. Meaning you’ll be able to answer the questions your clients have and address the real-world nutritional problems they face.”
- Unlike some other options, NASM’s Certified Nutrition Coach isn’t limited to specific cohorts each year, so you can start anytime
- Earn continuing education units (CEUs) at top organizations, including: AFAA, ACE, CIMSPA, and EREPS
- 100% online nutrition certification
- The NASM Certified Nutrition Coach Certification is accredited by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), an organization that has been accrediting certifying programs since 1977
- This is an online-course only—so it does not come with a paper textbook (admittedly, this could be a pro or a con, based on your preferences)
- There’s no mention of accountability/guidance, so you’ll need to be very self-driven to get the most out of this course
Who’s it for?
The NASM Certified Nutrition Coach Certification is ideal for fitness professionals and personal trainers who want to add another service to their offerings, and professionals who need CEUs to maintain a fitness certification.
Price: One-time payment of $899 (NASM’s website says they offer flexible payment plans as well.)
3. The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (INN) Health Coaching Certification
First things first: Yes, technically this is a “Health Coach” training program, not just a “nutrition coaching program.” It deserves a spot on this list, though, because nutrition is certainly covered in detail throughout the program. And, INN has built such a stellar reputation that anyone looking to establish themselves as a health coach might find this to be the best all-in-one program out there. They cover everything from integrative nutrition and nutrition science, to functional medicine, wellness concepts, personal development, coaching methods—and even business-building and marketing skills.
- Learn from some of the biggest names in the health wellness field, including: Deepak Chopra (PhD), Zach Bush (MD), Deanna Minich (PhD), Gabby Bernstein, and many, many more
- 100% online health and nutrition certification
- Discover a truly holistic approach to nutrition and how it impacts every part of health and wellness—making this a perfect fit for those looking to expand into the health coaching niche
- INN has received program approvals from organizations in the U.S. and internationally—including the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), the International Coaching Federation (ICF), The Health Coach Alliance, and more—so you can rest assured this is a very high-quality program
- Unless you’re specifically looking to get into health coaching, you might find INN’s program far too expansive for what you’re looking for, even if the nutrition content is top-notch
- By far the priciest option (but of course, value needs to be factored in to truly determine if this is a “con” or not for you)
Who’s it for?
Due to the rigorous nature of INN’s health coach certification, the cost, and the level of content covered, it’s clear that this is best suited for people who are serious about pursuing a side-hustle or full-time career in health coach.
Price: There is no price listed on the INN website, but other sources on the internet suggest the total cost of the program is $6,995 (payment plans or other discounts may be available by calling or emailing INN directly).
4. American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA)
The AFPA was founded in 1994 by Dr. Mark J. Occhipinti and Ms. Amy Campbell, M.S. Their goal was pretty straightforward: “Create one organization that could inspire and grow a network of fitness and health professionals with the highest quality and level of skill sets and expertise.” What makes AFPA’s nutrition certification program unique is that it contains a wide-array of nutrition certifications to choose from, based on the skills and knowledge you’re looking to gain.
- Choose from 10+ nutrition certifications specializing in everything from Weight Management Specialist to sports nutrition, Holistic Nutritionist, Gut Health Nutrition Specialist, and more
- If you’re looking to specialize your knowledge and skills by mastering the fundamentals of a certain area of nutrition, this could be a cost-effective route to do that
- Accredited and approved by leading organizations, including the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) and the Canadian Association for Integrative Nutrition (CAIN), to name a few
- 100% online nutrition certification
- Unless you’re interested in learning about a specific niche of nutrition, or you’re open to investing a lot of money to establish expertise in a variety of specialities, this may not be the most cost (or time) effective route
- While the “choose your path” approach gives you a lot of room to explore, it could add up quickly compared to one of the other certification programs that’s more “all in one”
Who’s it for?
Overall, AFPA appears to be best suited for people who are either looking to specialize in a very specific niche of nutrition education and coaching; or, those who are exploring the idea of becoming a nutrition professional and want a lot of options to choose from. This could also be a great pathway for health or life coaches who want to expand their services in a specific niche.
Price: $459-899 for certifications focusing on a specific area of nutrition; $1,899 for their more comprehensive “Nutrition Consultant Certification” program.
No matter what area of health and fitness coaching you’re in, a nutrition certification is a great way to bolster your skillset so you can help more people—and build a stronger, more sustainable coaching business. At the end of the day, any of the nutrition coaching certification options we’ve outlined in this article can help you do that, but choosing the one that best fits your unique goals, preferences, and learning style is the pathway to building a coaching practice that lets you do what you love most, every day.
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