Phyllis is 42 years old and the mom of three kids. She has a very successful career in human resources at her local hospital and a busy family life. She has noticed that in the past 10 years she has put on a significant amount of weight. Her once 150-pound, 5’4’ frame has morphed into 220 pounds and a BMI of 37.8 since her early thirties.
She seeks out your expertise to help her finally lose weight and improve her health. She explains that she has been attending high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes several times per week before work but seems to lose and regain the same 10 pounds. She wants a better solution.
Clients like Phyllis often struggle with the process of developing and maintaining healthy habits due to lifestyle or emotional constraints. As a Nutrition Coach, you are armed with the tools to help your clients achieve their wellness goals while solidifying your own career as a fitness professional.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about becoming a Nutrition Coach, including all the ins and outs of how to navigate your clients’ needs, the kind of content you can expect in different courses, how much you could earn, and more.
What is Nutrition Coaching?
Nutrition Coaching is the perfect blend of nutrition science and psychology which allows the practitioner to guide individuals towards developing sustainable habits thereby allowing them to transform their minds and bodies on a journey towards better health.
Nutrition Coaching is very different from a weight loss program as the nature of coaching is ongoing and aimed at helping a client achieve permanent lifestyle changes rather than hit a specific weight goal.
Though it is useful for aiding in weight management, Nutrition Coaching can also be used to enhance athletic performance, optimize recovery, positively impact metabolism, and holistically improve overall health and well-being.
The Relationship Between Fitness and Nutrition
Nutrition and fitness, though not the same disciplines, are very closely aligned and are used synergistically to create a comprehensive approach to health and well-being. This is true no matter what a person’s goal may be.
For instance, Nutrition Coaches can provide a wide range of services from advising an athlete which balance of macronutrients boost recovery after hard training sessions or advise a post-menopausal client how to time their protein intake effectively around workouts to promote muscle building. In fact, it is difficult to achieve any nutrition or fitness goal in isolation—they are needed in conjunction with one another for most health goals.
Is Nutrition Coaching effective?
Lancha et al. (2016) pointed out that millions of dollars are spent each year on public health messaging to help improve exercise and nutrition habits, yet the population at large continues to struggle with chronic health conditions stemming from lifestyle choices.
King et al. (2014) conducted a study looking at the effects of targeted Nutrition Coaching on 57 individuals with metabolic disorders who had previously been unsuccessful with diets. The study demonstrated that most of the participants showed substantial progress with behavior change goals, weight loss, and willingness to continue with Nutrition Coaching.
So, in short, yes—Nutrition Coaching is effective if you encourage your clients to stay on top of their daily habits.
A Holistic Approach and Versatile Profession
Health and well-being are best achieved holistically as they involve a wide range of interconnected factors. These factors can include a client’s family situation, occupation, personal interests, spiritual choices, sociocultural influences, physical health, and psychological health. A skilled Nutrition Coach takes all these factors into account while working with a client to achieve wellness goals as each one influences the other.
This holistic approach makes Nutrition Coaching an extremely versatile profession. The three Nutrition Coaching certifications from NASM provide evidence-based curriculum designed to equip students with the expertise to integrate their knowledge of nutrition and behavior coaching into a variety of career avenues.
Certified Nutrition Coaches can use their knowledge and skills to enhance their careers as personal trainers, or work as online coaches, sports nutrition consultants, weight management specialists, or community health educators.
💪🏻 Not sure which NASM nutrition program is for you? Check our article comparing our two programs: CNC & CSNC
Discovering Your Calling: Is Nutrition Coaching Right for You?
Excelling as a Nutrition Coach requires the right blend of interests and strengths and stems from a deep passion for the disciplines of nutrition, behavior coaching, and helping others. Skills of an effective Nutrition Coach include:
• Strong communication
• A willingness to constantly learn and stay up to date on scientific literature
• A solid understanding of nutrition science and behavior change theories
• Good time management skills
• Solid active listening skills
Who Benefits from Nutrition Coaching?
Truly anyone can benefit from Nutrition Coaching, but it may make more sense to describe a specific case.
In my own practice, I can describe several instances where Nutrition Coaching has helped a client succeed when other interventions have failed.
Recently, I had the pleasure of working with Sarah, a 35-year-old mother who has struggled with frequent weight loss attempts with no lasting success.
Sarah is a teacher and leads a very busy life. She eats out frequently, goes long periods of time during the day without eating, and consumes a lot of saturated fats and sugar as these are foods easy to eat on the go. She can often begin a weight loss attempt over a summer break, but quickly falls back into old patterns of behavior when her life gets very busy again. Likewise, Sarah is prone to extremist behaviors and if she is unable to achieve the exact routines and goals she sets for herself, she quits all lifestyle interventions feeling she is a failure.
This type of client is complex and very common in the Nutrition Coaching space. I work closely with her healthcare providers to ensure she receives education regarding how a healthy diet can help with her overall health goals.
In Nutrition Coaching, Sarah and I have worked together to not only find a plan to improve her eating and exercise habits- especially when it comes to consistency, but we have also worked on the mental barriers preventing her from succeeding. We recognize that her rigidity and feeling of failure when it comes to improving her health is the real driver of failed weight loss attempts.
Nutrition Coaching is truly a holistic approach. It is not as simple as providing macros or an exercise prescription. Clients like Sarah need a much greater degree of trust, understanding, and support to make true progress with lifestyle change.
💪🏻Do you want to learn a bit more about the scope of practice of a Nutrition Coach? Here’s a blog about the do’s and don’ts of Nutrition Coaching.
The Path to Becoming a Certified Nutrition Coach
The path to becoming a Certified Nutrition Coach begins with a solid educational foundation in nutrition and behavior change science.
A Nutrition Coach must be informed about:
• Dietary guidelines
• Current nutrition trends
• Macro and micronutrients
• Gastrointestinal physiology
• The impact of foods on health
Likewise, a Nutrition Coach needs to have a good foundation in psychology, especially as it relates to goal setting, developing self-efficacy, the stages of change, habit formation, and behavioral interventions.
💪🏻Curious what the difference is between a nutritionist and dietitian? Click here to uncover the answer.
Pursuing NASM Nutrition Certification
NASM offers two Nutrition Coach certification programs: Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM CNC) and the Certified Sports Nutrition Coach (NASM CSNC). It may help to think about what kind of client you wish to work with- are you looking to help clients with lifestyle change and weight loss or are you looking to help athletes optimize performance?
While none of the courses require prerequisites, it is recommended that for all courses, the learner is familiar with some basic nutrition concepts. Additionally, it is recommended that the learner have a background in fitness or fitness certification prior to pursuing the NASM CSNC though it is not required.
Nutrition science is a highly dynamic field. Any reputable Nutrition Coaching certification should require that continuing education be completed to maintain certification to ensure that practitioners are up to date on the latest research and recommendations in the field of nutrition. NASM courses require that their practitioners meet these requirements to provide clients with the best information available.
How Much Do Nutrition Coaches Make?
While according to sites like Glassdoor and Ziprecruiter, Nutrition Coaches earn on average 46,000 to 75,000 per year, this number is highly variable and dependent on the setting and skill of the coach (Ziprecruiter, 2023; Glassdoor, 2023). It is important to note that these salary ranges are averages of posted jobs for Nutrition Coaches. Self-employed coaches have a much higher earning potential.
Factors that influence the earnings of a certified Nutrition Coach include
• Having a reputable credential (like the NASM CNC).
• How much experience the coach has. More experienced coaches tend to bring higher incomes.
• Coaches that have a niche or special area of expertise can often charge higher rates for service.
• Location and client bases in higher income areas or online will also help generate more income for the coach.
• Whether or not the coach takes advantage of opportunities such as private consulting, authoring books or blogs, creating monetized content on platforms such as YouTube, Burnalong, TikTok, etc., and speaking engagements.
How much does a nutrition certification cost?
The NASM CNC and NASM CSNC courses cost $899.00 (though at the time of this article’s publication, it is on sale for $749.99). The median hourly rate for self-employed Nutrition Coaches is around $65.00 per hour, however that rate can vary quite a bit. There are some very experienced coaches earning close to double that rate (DePutter & Perrier, 2019). Oftentimes, the cost of the certification will pay for itself in a month or two of practice.
💪🏻Want to learn more about how to keep your clients inspired and accountable in the gym and in the kitchen? Pick up the latest insight from NASM’s Rick Richey in the NASM CPT podcast.
Navigating Your Nutrition Coaching Business
Armed with the right education and credentials, you can begin building your Nutrition Coaching business. This is where the real work begins, but if done correctly, a healthy Nutrition Coaching practice is well within your grasp.
Establishing Your Brand
Whether we like it or not, each one of us has a unique brand. We advertise that brand by what we post on social media, how we interact with others, what we read, and what interests we pursue. It is critical that coaches develop and advertise their unique coaching identity.
In fact, the highest earners in the Nutrition Coaching field tend to be highly specialized and target a specific type of client or work with a special population (i.e., post-menopausal women, elderly clients, high school, or college athletes, etc.). This allows the coach to use their own interests and special knowledge to provide the best service to their ideal client (DePutter & Perrier, 2019).
Building Client Relationships
The recipe for a successful coaching relationship requires some critical ingredients.
The Base: It is important to understand that clients who seek out coaching require a high degree of empathy and active listening from their coach. These clients may not share your personal values and beliefs. The coach must come from a place of understanding and reserve judgment of their client. Take the time to understand their ideas, beliefs, and values. Likewise, it is important to practice active listening- guide the client to make their own decisions and set their own goals rather than seek to instruct them.
The Meat: Frequent communication is key. It is common for Nutrition Coaching clients to start their journeys with much gusto and contact their coach regularly, however, as the time passes and coaching becomes less novel, this will almost always start to drop off. When that occurs, the client may find themselves reverting to old behaviors. It is essential that the coach makes a great effort to keep the lines of communication open with the client. You should have a system to routinely schedule specific times to review each client’s case and regularly communicate with them, even if they do not reach out on their own.
The Spices: Take the time to really know your clients and create content that speaks to them. Perhaps you could send them some favorite recipes, an inspirational story, article of interest, or find a local walking group or fitness class they would really enjoy. These seemingly small things will go a long way to making the client feel they are truly important to you.
Online Presence and Marketing
Social media platforms are the most useful tool in reaching potential clients and maintaining current clients. Social media is a place to showcase your knowledge, skills, and unique specialty. These platforms are also very powerful tools to use to target the types of clients that are a good fit for you. At first, leveraging social media can seem daunting, however, just as you would coach a client to make progress one step at time, the same can be applied to the coach.
• Start with choosing one platform to grow your audience. Select one that has the demographic you are looking for service. For instance, platforms such as TikTok and Instagram may be a place to attract a younger demographic versus Facebook which may appeal to middle-aged viewers.
• Focus on posting content that appeals to your target audience.
• Always post content that seeks to help your target audience. Provide real value before you ask for business.
• Be genuine and honest. It always helps if you show your followers, you are human and can relate to their own struggles.
• Showcase your successful clients. Celebrate their success.
Nutrition Coaching can be an extremely fulfilling and lucrative career choice that requires passion, patience, empathy, and a love of learning. If you are already a Certified Personal Trainer, additional education in nutrition and behavior science can give you the edge to help your current clients, like
Phyllis, achieve lasting results thereby building your reputation as a stellar trainer.
If you are not currently a personal trainer, a successful career as a Nutrition Coach is well within reach. The NASM CNC and CSNC courses provide a strong foundation giving the learner the knowledge and skills needed to build successful coaching practices.
What to Read Next:
DePutter, C., & Perrier, M. (2019, November 18). Nutrition Coaching: How Much Should You Charge? Precision Nutrition. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/how-much-charge-nutrition-coaching
Glassdoor. (2023). How Much Does a Nutrition Coach Make? Glassdoor. https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/nutrition-coach-salary-SRCH_KO0,15.htm
Gupta, R., & Vaqar, S. (2022). National Guidelines For Physical Activity. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK585062/
Lancha, A. H., Sforzo, G. A., & Pereira-Lancha, L. O. (2016). Improving Nutritional Habits With No Diet Prescription: Details of a Nutritional Coaching Process. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 12(2), 160–165. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827616636616
Ziprecruiter. (2023). Nutritional Health Coach Salaray. Ziprecruiter. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Nutritional-Health-Coach-Salary