Nutritionists use their food science knowledge to help individuals and groups make the right choices about what they eat
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.
Nutritionists often work within community settings or local authority public health teams, focusing primarily on health promotion. On occasion, nutritionists are based within health service nutrition and dietetics departments. However, you won't lead on the diagnosis, management or treatment of medical conditions - in this setting you'll work directly with acutely ill or hospitalised patients under the supervision of either a dietitian or other suitable, regulated, health professional.
Types of nutritionist work
You'll usually specialise in one (or two) of the following areas:
- sports and exercise nutrition
- public health nutrition
- nutrition science
- food science/industry
- animal nutrition
Carrying out your work in non-clinical settings in both the private and public sectors, including:
- educational and research institutions
- food retailers and manufacturers
- local authorities
- the media
- the National Health Service (NHS)
- overseas aid and health charities
- sports organisations.
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 workforces 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.
- 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.
If you work for the NHS your salary will be set by Agenda for Change - pay rates. For newly qualified nutritionists this usually means starting on Band 5 and rising to band 6 with experience.
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, day or 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.
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 in 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.
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 honours degree-level nutrition science.
Details of accredited undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are available at AfN Accredited Programmes.
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 scientific 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 can demonstrate you have the required level of nutritional knowledge and understanding. This entry pathway will no longer be permitted after 31st December 2025.
Registration with the AfN on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) as an 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 an accredited postgraduate degree makes you eligible for direct entry on to the SENr Graduate Voluntary Register and enables you to use of the term SENr Graduate Registrant.
If you have an HND or equivalent in nutrition, you may be able to work in the community and healthcare sector at Band 3 or 4 as a nutrition assistant, for example. To progress further, you'd need substantial experience or additional qualifications. This is popular with career changers who have an interest in nutrition.
- an aptitude for science
- good communication skills including verbal, presentation and written
- passion, enthusiasm and empathy
- the ability to encourage and motivate others
- effective teamworking 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 (CPD).
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.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
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:
- Jobs.ac.uk - for jobs in research and lecturing
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- Association for Nutrition Jobs
- The Nutrition Society Jobs
- UK Sport Jobs
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' 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).
To become a registered nutritionist, you must meet competency requirements in one or two of the following six specialisms:
- healthcare-medical (only available if you are also qualified in medicine with a GMC licence to practice)
- nutrition science
- public health
- sports and exercise.
While working as an ANutr you would not normally carry out any wholly independent practice but will have a mentor or supervisor to provide support. It's possible to apply directly for registration as a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the right degree, scientific knowledge/understanding of nutrition and sufficient experience of applying this within your professional practice.
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 registrants improve their practice and increase their knowledge. See AfN Endorsed CPD Activities for a list of forthcoming activities.
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.
In addition to being a registered nutritionist (RNutr), you can become a Fellow of the Association of Nutrition (FAfN) with at least five continuous years RNutr registration and having made a significant and sustained contribution to the profession.
The direction your career takes will depend on your individual interests. Once you're a registered nutritionist (RNutr), 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.