Nutritionists assess and deliver scientific evidence-based nutritional advice in a variety of settings to improve health and wellbeing.
They work in non-clinical public and private settings such as:
- educational and research institutions;
- food retailers and manufacturers;
- local authorities;
- national health service (NHS);
- overseas aid;
- sports organisations;
- the media.
Nutritionists often work within community settings and, on occasion, are based within health service nutrition and dietetics departments. It is only possible to work directly with acutely ill or hospitalised patients under the supervision of a dietitian.
A requirement of most nutritionist roles is to be registered with the Association for Nutrition (AfN). The option of working freelance can exist for those who have gained experience in the field.
Predictions suggest that the nutrition profession will grow in the future and become more recognised as a key profession in promoting good health and preventing ill health.
The job of a nutritionist varies depending on the type of employer and area of work, e.g. nutrition science, public health nutrition, food nutrition, sports nutrition. Tasks vary according to the exact position but will include some of the following:
- creating, delivering and evaluating a range of practical and educational food-based initiatives to encourage healthy lifestyle changes;
- supporting individuals, communities and workforces, to make positive, practical changes to their food choices and general health;
- advising sports professionals on how diet can optimise their performance, enhance recovery from injury and between training sessions, and achieve optimum body size and build for their sport;
- delivering presentations and workshops on areas such as health education/promotion, behavioural and lifestyle change, weight management and eating for performance;
- providing nutritional information for food production and helping to secure approval for health claims on packaging;
- developing and analysing menus, e.g. for school meals, sports teams on tour, residential care settings, workplace restaurants;
- providing specialist advice on healthy eating to particular client groups, such as maternal, infant or elderly, and working in specific areas like bone health and salt or sugar reduction;
- promoting nutritional advice via press, website content, e-learning tutorials and webinars, seminars, audio and video podcasts and social media;
- liaising with media, e.g. journalists, radio, television and contributing to news reports and relevant programmes;
- reviewing literature and undertaking market research and product surveys;
- writing reports and publishing papers;
- conducting dietary surveys, food research and clinical trials;
- advocating change and leading and writing policy.
- Starting salaries for nutritionists are in the region of £21,000 to £29,000 for public and private sector roles.
- With experience, salaries of £30,000 to £45,000 can be reached.
- Senior roles, such as principal lecturer or chair of public health, may command a salary of around £60,000.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Generally, regular weekday hours of 9am to 5pm are worked, although there may be the requirement at times to deliver programmes or see individual clients during evenings and weekends.
Significant travel and long hours can be a feature for sports nutritionists if accompanying sports professionals on training camps and tournaments.
Opportunities are available for part-time work, job share and full-time work. Career breaks may be an option depending on the employer.
What to expect
- Working in the community may mean travel to various locations within a local area, such as children's centres, nurseries and schools, GP surgeries and community centres.
- Research work can be based in laboratory or classroom conditions.
- Vacancies exist throughout the UK.
- Consultancy work is an option within both public and private sectors.
The title of nutritionist is not protected by statute and therefore there is no specific entry route that you must follow. There are a number of degrees in nutrition however that will be useful for the career.
Many of these courses are accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN), and successful completion of an accredited course entitles you to apply for direct entry to the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN), for Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) status.
Taking an accredited course is an important consideration, as although it is not an essential requirement for the job role, many employers will prefer nutritionists who are able to register with the UKVRN.
The AfN accredits 39 undergraduate courses in the UK. Subjects include:
- food, nutrition and health;
- public health nutrition;
- sports nutrition.
An aptitude for biology, chemistry and mathematics is essential for undertaking a nutrition degree.
If you have a degree that is not accredited, or is in a different science subject, it is possible to specialise in a nutritional area at postgraduate level. The AfN accredits 23 postgraduate courses and completion of one of these also allows you to register for ANutr status.
A list of universities that offer accredited undergraduate and postgraduate courses is available at AfN Accredited Courses.
There are careers in the nutrition sector which may be open to those with an HND or equivalent in nutrition, for example in the community and health care sector at Band 3 or 4 level. To progress further would require substantial experience or additional qualifications.
A Masters level or PhD qualification may be a prerequisite for many research and senior posts. Search for postgraduate courses in nutrition.
It is worthwhile to become a student member of The Nutrition Society, as you'll benefit from reduced fees for relevant publications and events and be able to network with other like-minded students and professionals via social media.
It can be challenging to identify nutritionist roles as employers will sporadically recruit and in many cases offer just one vacancy, so competition can be fierce.
If you wish to work within the sports sector, look into the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENR) where graduate and full/high performance registration options are available.
You will need:
- an aptitude for science;
- good communication skills including verbal, presentation and written;
- passion, enthusiasm and empathy;
- ability to encourage and motivate others;
- effective team working;
- the capability to multitask and work independently;
- proficiency in data research, evaluation and reporting;
- commitment to continuing professional development.
Gaining experience in a related area, such as working in the community with a food bank, or practical research experience, will be valued by employers. Work shadowing, volunteering and networking in the field with experienced nutritionists will provide a greater insight into nutrition specialities.
Nutritionists are employed by a range of public and private sector organisations. Job roles and titles can include community food worker, health improvement practitioner and nutrition scientist.
Typical types of organisation and associated job roles in the main sectors include:
- food policy development: local, national and international agencies campaigning for nutrition causes;
- specific food areas: tackling areas such as salt or sugar reduction, working to reduce particular health issues;
- public health: working for health service trusts, primary care organisations and local health authorities;
- food industry: manufacturers and retailers, working on the policy and legislation involved in the consumption and marketing of food;
- government: local, national and international;
- research: universities, research councils and bodies;
- sports: clubs and health and fitness centres, associations and professional bodies;
- weight: management and weight loss organisations and those dedicated to tackling obesity;
- specific organisations: set up to support particular client groups, e.g. breakfast clubs for school children;
- international aid: emergency relief or development projects in low-income countries.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Food Standards Agency Jobs
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- The Nutrition Society Jobs
- Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENR) - for entry on its register that employers and clients can access.
- UK Sport Jobs
There is an increasing emphasis on continuing professional development (CPD) within the nutrition sector.
It is expected that you will apply to become a full registered member with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) within three to five years of joining as an Associate member. A record of CPD activities should be kept as evidence to support this progression.
The Association for Nutrition (AfN) endorses some courses and events to show they reach an approved standard. Details of available opportunities can be found at AfN Endorsed CPD Activities.
Employers may offer training by means of in-house courses, as well as using external providers, which run specialised training in areas such as:
- dietary assessment methods;
- cancer prevention;
- infant feeding;
Many nutritionists undertake courses in the field of counselling and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to improve skills in empathy and behavioural change.
Conferences, events and networking opportunities are organised by professional bodies such as:
- Association for Nutrition
- British Nutrition Foundation
- Nutritionists in Industry
- The Nutrition Society
Such events will assist in updating your knowledge and allow for professional networking.
Scientific journals and online resources available via subscription can help you keep up to date with developments within your field, which is expected of you as a professional.
Relevant resources include the Journal of Nutritional Science and Nutrition Research Reviews, available to members of The Nutrition Society, and Nutrition2me.com.
Following a relevant degree, you can gain Associate Nutritionist status with the Association for Nutrition. At this level you will usually work under supervision, within a team and not normally engage in wholly independent practice.
After getting Associate status and with three years' experience you can progress onto Registered Nutritionist status, as long as you can demonstrate you have the core competencies required in your specialist area.
At this level you will be practising independently with individual clients or groups of people. For more information see AfN Registered Nutritionist.
The direction your career will take depends on your individual interests. Nutritionists can work in a number of areas, including food nutrition, public health, nutrition science and sports nutrition, and it is likely that you will choose one as your specialist area.
Most Registered Nutritionists work at a senior level within the health service, academia and the commercial sectors.
Within research and academia, your career path is likely to be very similar to that of other research scientists. Post-PhD careers might include research assistant/executive in a research institute, public body or in academia.
For experienced nutritionists in all sectors, there may be opportunities available for working in community projects in the developing world with organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).
With significant experience you might consider freelance work or self-employment, working on a consultancy basis for many organisations and companies.