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What’s an ideal career path or a side gig for those who love geeking out about nutrition, vitamins and macronutrients, and enjoy helping people? An online nutrition coach!

Healthy eating is one of the most important aspects of our lives, responsible for everything from longevity to weight loss. Some people believe that if they work out, they can eat anything they want. But the truth is that you can’t out-train a bad diet.

At the same time, while it’s easy to find personal trainers at every gym, good nutrition professionals are hard to come across. So it’s a great time to enter the industry!

In this guide, we’ll uncover how nutrition coaches work, who can become one, and how to become a certified nutrition coach online today.

Skip ahead here:

What does a nutrition coach do? 

A nutrition coach helps people develop healthy eating habits. But the job is not just about meal plans and detailed recommendations for the right amount of micronutrients. Health coaches empower clients to make lifelong changes in how they feel and think about food.

For instance, not knowing what to eat or cook isn’t the most pressing nutritional challenge. Many people struggle with stress eating, unhealthy cravings, excessive snacking, not including vegetables in their diets, etc.

What nutrition professionals do is aligned with behavioral changes. They assist people in aligning their lives’ priorities with their diets, and thus developing good, long-lasting habits.

So if you want to have a private practice rooted in nutrition, you need to:

  • Know a lot about nutrition, health, and fitness.
  • Work with clients to devise plans for reaching their nutrition-related and lifestyle goals.
  • Run a continuous support system to coach clients throughout their journeys.

Who can become a nutrition coach?

One of the first questions that comes up when people wonder how to start a nutrition coaching business is “Which nutrition certifications are needed?”

The short answer is you need to consult a lawyer or your local health ministries regulations, as guidelines for nutritional coaches vary greatly between countries and regions.

“Nutrition coach” can also mean different things in different contexts, and there are several career paths under this umbrella term. For example, search for “sports nutrition services” and you’ll find references to:

  • Nutrition coaches or nutrition consultants
  • Certified nutrition specialists (CNSs)
  • Registered dietitians (RDs)
  • Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs)

In general, “nutrition coach” is the most flexible term that might not require a nutrition coaching certification.

“Nutritionist” might sometimes mean “nutrition coach” but other times refer to registered dietitian nutritionists.

In the US, registered dietitians have to get certified, which entails completing a number of required courses and passing a comprehensive exam. They also need to register for a license.

So all registered dietitians can call themselves “registered dietitian nutritionists” or simply “nutritionists,” but not all nutritionists are RDNs.

Sometimes, nutrition coaches work alongside RDNs, with RDNs prescribing medical nutrition and meal plans, and nutrition coaches taking care of habit formation and lifestyle changes related to food.

Regardless of whether you get a certification in nutrition science or not, you need extensive nutrition knowledge to start your private practice, including:

  • How macronutrients (e.g. proteins, fats and carbohydrates) affect your body
  • What role micronutrients play (e.g. vitamins, minerals)
  • How to effectively balance energy levels, metabolism and caloric intake
  • How to improve digestion
  • How to gain muscle mass or lose fat

While your practice might focus on precision nutrition or another niche, having foundational knowledge about the human body is essential to steering people toward healthier food choices. And continuing education beyond the bare minimum required by your local regulations is simply a great way to become a better coach.

How to become a nutrition coach in 9 steps

The good news is that almost anyone who wants to start nutrition coaching can do it — with some expert advice. That’s why we’ve put together a 9-step guide to becoming a nutrition professional. Read on to find out how to identify your audience, improve your skills, create an online course, market your practice, and more.

Step 1: Identify your niche and find your audience

If you want to become a professional nutrition coach and succeed in a competitive market, you should be ready to narrow your focus down to a specialization.

Start by choosing a niche that you’re most excited to work in. Some popular choices for nutritional coaches include:

  • Improving athletic performance
  • Working on body composition
  • Resolving diet-related issues
  • Alleviating anxiety
  • Teaching cooking techniques

After you pick a niche for yourself, you need to identify an audience that would benefit the most from your coaching. Audience research will guide your coaching strategy and your approach to marketing (more on this in step 7).

Here are a few examples of audiences potentially interested in working with nutrition professionals:

  • Athletes preparing for personal records or competitions
  • Anyone looking to get in shape
  • People with dietary restrictions
  • Adults with cravings or stress-eating issues
  • Busy professionals with little time to cook

Working with different audiences and needs might also look different. Some clients require constant supervision; others just need a weekly one-on-one check-in. If you’re coaching a group of people, it might be better to lead group sessions or even create an on-demand online course.

But, first, make sure to create a system for improving your skills.

Step 2: Work on your skills

If you want to become a registered dietitian nutritionists or a certified nutrition coach, you might need to complete a course at a local school and pass a nutrition certification.

There’s no secret to it. Just research available courses in your area, pay the fee, and study hard.

But certification is just the beginning. Nutrition is one of the most rapidly changing areas. New studies come out every week, and ever weirder diets take the internet by storm on a regular basis.

To stay on top of it all, you can:

  • Subscribe to leading scientific publications
  • Follow subject matter experts on social media
  • Watch seminars and lectures on YouTube
  • Take online courses
  • Read as much nutrition-related literature as you can

With time, you’ll accumulate enough theory and practice to become an authority on the topic and build your own position as an expert.

Related: How To Improve Your Coaching Skills: 6 Proven Methods

Step 3: Set up a framework for your work

Before you jump into practice, it’s a good idea to define how exactly you’re going to work. What are your goals and how are you going to achieve them?

Are you planning to move into nutrition coaching full-time or do you want to have a small private practice alongside your main career?

What is the best coaching model for you to use? Do you want to offer personal one-on-one coaching or you’d rather leverage your knowledge and income with a one-to-many approach, becoming an online nutrition coach offering courses, meal plan packages and more to global audience?

Whatever you decide, you’ll definitely benefit from planning and building effective coaching programs and productive coaching sessions early on using our time-tested templates.

You should try to structure your courses according to one of many instructional models to make them more effective.

Step 4: Work out a pricing strategy

You’re not investing your time, energy and money into nutrition science for nothing (unless you just want to volunteer). That means you should define how much you’re going to charge for your services.

Having an hourly rate is a good place to start. Do some online research on what the average in your area is and add 15 to 20%. Remember that you can always adjust your rates if necessary, so jumping in and iterating is a better strategy than overthinking it.

After you have an hourly rate and a client base, you can incorporate various incentives into your pricing model. You can discount prices for recurring clients or for those who commit to paying for several sessions upfront. When someone completes your online course, you can offer a discount on a personal session and vice versa.

Online courses are by far the most profitable and scalable way to go about online coaching. If you charge a flat fee and get a few dozen new students every month, you can create long term, recurring revenue without any continuous effort.

Related: How Much Do Life Coaches Make in 2022?

Step 5: Build your personal brand

Any health coach should have an up-to-date presence online. This includes not only social media (primarily Instagram) but also websites and landing pages.

A dedicated website will help you tell your unique story to new clients and prospects, showcase your certifications, explain your coaching strategies and flaunt testimonials for social proof marketing.

Blogging about weight loss and sports nutrition is a great way to build your SEO and rank higher in Google (which makes it easier for potential clients to find you).

Related: How to Build a Personal Brand (Complete Guide)

Step 6: Build an online nutrition coaching program

One of the things you can integrate into your website is your online nutrition coaching program.

Creating an online course from scratch might sound difficult, but it really isn’t if you have the right tools to do it.

Thinkific is a unique platform that helps creators, educators and coaches build and market custom online courses. You don’t need advanced technical or coding skills to get started — the platform’s drag-and-drop course builder is easy to use, even for beginners.

Once you’re done setting up your course, you can create a marketing website with Thinkific as well, and avoid additional web development and marketing costs.

To start building your first online course, just watch this short Thinkific how-to video.

Step 7: Market your nutrition coaching business

‍For people who aren’t used to promoting themselves, marketing your coaching business can sound intimidating. But if you’ve followed this guide from beginning, you’re already set up for success!

Since you already know your niche and your audience, you know what interests them, and you and can create content — on your blog and social media — that they’ll seek out on their own.

As for social media marketing, Instagram seems to be the best platform for explaining how a nutrition coach works. You can post short educational videos, share sneak peeks of meal plans, showcase your clients’ success stories, and more. You can also use your social media presence to promote your online course, linking to your signup page from relevant content.

You should also consider adding blogging to your marketing strategy. Writing consistently high-quality blog posts has a compounding effect, since search engines rank recent content coming from a trusted source higher. When you have enough valuable content, you can also experiment with signing people up for your newsletter or running targeted ad campaigns.

If you’re eager to go full-in on marketing, check out our list of unique and effective digital marketing strategies, and experiment with them over time.

Step 8: Collect feedback

It’s critically important to know how your clients feel about your services at any given moment. In the era of online coaching, transparency and flexibility are a winning combination.

Collect as much feedback as you can and share it with your audience.

To get regular feedback:

  1. Set some time with your clients to review your work.
  2. Ask for feedback and suggestions on social media.
  3. Create review prompts for everyone who completes your online course.

Related: Pre and Post Training Survey Questions

Step 9: Analyze and improve

More than anything, the work of personal trainers and nutrition coaches is a journey not a destination. So make sure your practice evolves as you do.

Stay receptive to feedback and be ready to make adjustments at any time — even years down the road. Try out new platforms and new ways of promoting yourself. This is how you build a successful coaching career over time.

Make your first step 

Now that you know how to start nutrition coaching — don’t wait any longer to get started.

Register for Thinkific for free today and see how easy it is to build and market an online presence as a nutrition coach. See for yourself how easy creating a new source of income can be.