Many employers expect you to have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in nutrition science and registration with the Association for Nutrition

As a nutritionist, you'll generate, assess and deliver scientific evidence-based nutritional advice in a variety of settings to improve health and well being and to promote a healthy diet and lifestyle.

You'll work in non-clinical public and private settings such as:

  • educational and research institutions
  • food retailers and manufacturers
  • local authorities
  • the media
  • the National Health Service (NHS)
  • overseas aid
  • sports organisations.

Nutritionists often work within community settings and, on occasion, are based within health service nutrition and dietetics departments or local authority public health teams. However, you should not work on the diagnosis, management or treatment of medical conditions and only work directly with acutely ill or hospitalised patients under the supervision of a dietitian or other suitable regulated health professional.

Responsibilities

Depending on your area of work, you'll typically need to:

  • create, deliver and evaluate a range of practical and educational food-based initiatives to encourage healthy lifestyle changes
  • support individuals, communities and workforce's, to make positive, practical changes to their food choices and general health
  • advise sports professionals on how diet can optimise their performance, enhance recovery from injury and achieve optimum body size and build for their sport
  • deliver presentations and workshops on areas such as health education/promotion, behavioural and lifestyle change, weight management and eating for performance
  • provide nutritional information for food production and help to secure approval for health claims on packaging
  • develop and analyse menus, e.g. for school meals, sports teams on tour, residential care settings and workplace restaurants
  • provide specialist advice on healthy eating to particular client groups, such as maternal, infant or elderly, and work in specific areas like bone health and salt or sugar reduction
  • promote nutritional advice via the press, website content, e-learning tutorials and webinars, seminars, audio and video podcasts and social media
  • review literature and undertake market research and product surveys
  • write reports and publish papers
  • conduct dietary surveys, food research and clinical trials to develop and enhance the evidence base
  • advocate change, and lead on and write policy.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for nutritionists are in the region of £15,000 to £25,000 for public sector and £20,000 to £25,000 for private sector roles.
  • With experience, you can earn between £30,000 and £55,000.
  • Senior roles, such as principal lecturer or chair of public health, can be in the region of £45,000 to £80,000.

Income for self-employed nutritionists is extremely variable. For example, fees for those working with individuals are typically £45 to £75 for an initial consultation, then £30 to £50 for each follow up session. You may charge £15 to £30 for a recipe analysis and £30 to £50 for a diet analysis report.

You'll usually work either on an hourly or per project rate, depending on the type of work you do (for example, with individuals, for industry, local authorities, research, reviews or writing), or a combination of both if you have a mixed portfolio of work. You could also combine part-time employment with part-time freelance work.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

If you take on an employed position, you'll usually work a standard week (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), although you may need to be flexible and work some evenings or at weekends. If working on a freelance basis, you'll typically work flexible hours that will regularly include evenings and weekends.

Opportunities are available for part-time work, job share and full-time work, as well as on a self-employed consultancy basis. Career breaks may be an option depending on the employer.

What to expect

  • If you work in the community, you may need to travel within the local area to children's centres, nurseries and schools, GP surgeries and community centres.
  • Research work can be based in laboratory, community, clinical or classroom conditions.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK and overseas.
  • Freelance and consultancy work is an option within both public and private sectors once you've gained experience.
  • If you're working as a sports nutritionist, you may need to travel to accompany sports professionals on training camps and tournaments.

Qualifications

There are no specific entry requirements to become a nutritionist. However, employers usually expect you to be registered with the Association for Nutrition (AfN), which requires a minimum of degree-level nutrition science.

Undergraduate degree programmes accredited by the AfN are available in areas of nutrition such as:

  • animal nutrition
  • global/international nutrition
  • human nutrition
  • nutrition and exercise
  • nutrition and food science
  • public health nutrition
  • sports nutrition.

Graduates from AfN-accredited nutrition degrees are eligible to apply for registered associate nutritionist (ANutr) registration via a simple direct entry path.

If your degree isn't accredited, or is in a different science subject, you can study for an accredited Masters qualification. Alternatively, you can apply for registration by submitting a portfolio of evidence (portfolio entry) if you have the required level of nutritional knowledge and understanding. Details of accredited undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are available at AfN Accredited Programmes.

Registration with the AfN on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) as a registered ANutr shows you have met the high standards required for nutrition science knowledge and understanding, and your commitment to adhere to the AfN's standards of ethics, conduct and performance.

If you want to work in sports and exercise or performance nutrition, you could also consider undertaking an undergraduate degree in sport science and a postgraduate degree in nutrition (or vice versa). The British Dietetic Association (the trade union and professional body for dietitians in the UK) holds the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr). Undertaking a postgraduate degree accredited by SENr makes you eligible for direct entry on to the SENr Graduate Voluntary Register and use of the term SENr graduate registrant. See a list of accredited courses.

If you have an HND or equivalent in nutrition, you may be able to work in the community and health care sector at Band 3 or 4 level as a nutrition assistant, for example. To progress further you would need substantial experience or additional qualifications.

This career is popular with career changers who have an interest in nutrition.

Skills

You will need:

  • an aptitude for science
  • good communication skills including verbal, presentation and written
  • passion, enthusiasm and empathy
  • the ability to encourage and motivate others
  • effective team working skills
  • the capability to multitask and work independently
  • time management skills
  • proficiency in data research, evaluation and reporting
  • self-motivation and a good head for business, particularly if setting up your own consultancy
  • commitment to continuing professional development.

Work experience

Entry into the profession is competitive and getting relevant work experience can help you stand out. Your degree programme may include a placement in industry, healthcare or with a research body and this can help you get practical experience and build up a network of contacts.

Experience of working in the community with a food bank, for example, can also be helpful and you may find relevant opportunities with charities and not-for-profit organisations.

It's also possible to get some work in a related food area such as food technology, product development or food safety and then move into a nutrition role.

It's worth becoming a student member of The Nutrition Society as you'll benefit from reduced fees for relevant publications and events, and can network with other students and professionals. You can also take advantage of graduate membership for two years after finishing your degree.

Employers

Nutritionists are employed by a range of public and private sector organisations in areas such as:

  • 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 client groups: 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.

Job roles and titles include nutritionist, food scientist, nutrition analyst, community food lead, health improvement practitioner and nutrition scientist.

It can be challenging to identify nutritionist roles as employers will recruit sporadically. In many cases employers offer just one vacancy, so competition can be fierce.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

As a registered associate nutritionist (ANutr), you'll usually work under supervision as part of a team. You'll receive support from experienced nutritionists in the form of mentoring and won't normally undertake wholly independent practice.

After around three years of relevant professional experience (out of the last five), you can apply to transfer registration status on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) to registered nutritionist (RNutr).

In order to register as a registered nutritionist, you must demonstrate your evidence-based practice in one or two specialisms and will need to keep a record of your continuing professional development (CPD) activities to support your application. The five specialist sub-categories are:

  • animal
  • food
  • nutrition science
  • public health
  • sports and exercise.

It's possible to become a registered nutritionist (RNutr) without having been registered as an associate nutritionist first if you have the required amount of professional experience (approximately seven years) and degree-level nutritional knowledge, skills and experience. The Association of Nutrition (AfN) governs the UKVRN and full details are available on their website.

The AfN provides quality assurance on a range of CPD activities organised by other professional bodies such as:

These activities include courses, conferences, events and networking opportunities to help members improve their practice and increase their knowledge. See AfN Endorsed CPD Activities for a list of courses.

If you're interested in working in research, you will usually need a Masters-level or PhD qualification. Taking a postgraduate degree may also be useful if you want to progress into a senior role.

Career prospects

The direction your career takes will depend on your individual interests. Once you're a registered nutritionist, you can practise independently with individual clients or groups of people in your chosen area (or areas) of specialism.

Many registered nutritionists work at a senior level within the health service, academia and the commercial sectors. For example, in public health nutrition, you could be leading a team of nutritionists, providing advice on nutrition to government.

Within research and academia, your career path is likely to be 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 to work in community projects in the developing world.

With experience you might want to set up your own business and work on a consultancy basis.