Can you determine if a nutrition certification program is reputable, a good fit, and something that will boost your career—before you actually sign up?
Absolutely! To do so, you’ll need to:
- Consider why you want to get certified
- Make sure the certification program aligns to your values
- Know what topics the certification covers
- Get familiar with the company’s reputation
- Compare the cost to the value
- Take into account how long it’ll take to get certified
- Decide between online or in-person
- Make sure the whole learning experience is a good fit
This article gives you all the answers.
But they’re not just based on what we here at Precision Nutrition think. Because… we’re a little biased. (We offer the #1 rated nutrition certification worldwide, according to a third-party industry report.)
That’s why we asked five outside nutrition certification experts to help you weigh the pros and cons—so you can choose the best nutrition certification program for you with confidence.
Maybe you’re wondering:
What the heck is a nutrition certification expert?
They’re health and fitness industry professionals who have so much experience with certifications they’ve earned the right to be called experts. A couple of them have dozens of certifications.
One is the 2017 IDEA Health & Fitness Association Personal Trainer of the Year.
Three have Master’s degrees. Two others are registered dietitians, one of whom has taught on the university level.
Put simply: When other professionals are considering a nutrition certification, they turn to these people for advice.
You’ll hear from…
|Michael Piercy, MS, CSCS, a former professional baseball player who owns The LAB in Fairfield, New Jersey. Named IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year in 2017, Piercy has collected 34 advanced certifications from a variety of health, fitness, and nutrition organizations.|
|Jennifer Broxterman, MS, RD—a London, Ontario, Canada-based Registered Dietitian and founder and CEO of NutritionRx—got certified as a nutrition coach after she completed her 1800+ hours of training for her dietetic internship. She’s completed Monash University’s low-FODMAP diet training as well as taken courses in eating disorders, food sensitivities, pregnancy, sports nutrition, nutrition supplementation, and motivational interviewing.|
|Deana Ng, a Sherman Oaks, California Pilates instructor, has certifications from a wide range of organizations: Precision Nutrition, National Pilates Certification Program (NPCP), TRX, Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Buff Bones, The MELT Method, and Osteo-Pilates.|
|Vivian Gill, MA, RN-BC, CPT—a Granite Bay California-based registered nurse, personal trainer, and lifestyle coach—holds more than a dozen certifications in everything from yoga to nutrition, including ones from NASM, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the Strozzi Institute, AFAA, Les Mills, and the Yoga Alliance.|
|Kathleen Garcia-Benson, RDN, LD, an El Paso, Texas-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with Iron MVMNT, studied nutrition at Texas A&M University, completed hundreds of hours of training for her RDN through Oakwood University, and began her career as a dietitian in a teaching hospital before shifting to an online practice.|
This team of experts has experienced it all.
Many reported that their certifications catapulted their business—helping them attract clients, improve their success, and, as a result, generate more referrals and positive reviews.
Have they ever felt like they wasted their money on a nutrition certification? Um, yeah. And, in this article, they reveal three powerful tactics that can help you avoid the same mistake.
Here, you’ll learn what they look for in health, fitness, and nutrition certifications, how they decide if certifications are worth it, and the strategies they use to steer clear of shady companies.
(Sign up for our FREE newsletter, The Smartest Coach in the Room. Every week you’ll get helpful takeaways on the hottest nutrition and health topics and the world’s most effective coaching techniques.)
When choosing a nutrition certification, ask yourself these questions.
This probably won’t shock you: No one certification is right for all people.
So how do you zero in on the right one for you—right now?
According to our team of nutrition certification experts, you’ll want to carefully consider 8 questions.
1. Why do you want to get certified?
At age 15, Michael Piercy, MS, CSCS, had read every fitness book he could find at a store at his local mall. Still, a nearby gym wouldn’t hire him. “We only hire certified trainers,” they told him.
That might have been the end of his prospects had it not been for his “never take no for an answer” mother, who called certification company after company, in search of one that would enroll her 15-year-old. She eventually found a program that welcomed Piercy.
Later, with his new certification in hand, he reapplied and got hired. (Aren’t moms the best?)
Back then, Piercy’s “why” was obvious: It’d help him get a job.
But getting a job is just one of many important reasons to get a certification.
Jennifer Broxterman, MS, RD, took a nutrition certification to dive deep into the science of behavior change.
Vivian Gill, MA, RN-BC, CPT, wanted to expand her personal training and life coaching businesses.
And Kathleen Garcia-Benson, RDN, LD, sought out her nutrition coaching certification so she could brush up on behavior change and motivational interviewing skills.
What do you want your certification to do for you?
Here’s a list of what the right nutrition certification could help you accomplish:
✓ Acquire new clients
✓ Retain existing clients
✓ Gain new strategies to help clients succeed
✓ Get hired by someone who requires a nutrition certification
✓ Improve nutrition knowledge
✓ Feel qualified to coach nutrition clients
✓ Add nutrition as a service
✓ Break into the health, wellness, and fitness field
✓ Reach the next level in your career
✓ Improve your ability to communicate with clients
✓ Overcome problems with difficult or resistant clients
✓ Boost your credentials
✓ Set yourself apart from your peers
✓ Increase your rates
✓ Build credibility and/or confidence
✓ Fill a knowledge gap
✓ Dive deep into a specific aspect of nutrition (for example, pregnancy nutrition)
✓ Learn about successful behavior change
✓ Be more respected by your peers
All of the above? They’re great reasons to undergo certification—but not all certifications address all those reasons, which brings us to the next important question to consider.
2. What are your values?
You might be tempted to just skim past this question, thinking, ‘What does THAT have to do with my nutrition certification?!’
The answer: everything.
Your strongly held beliefs about nutrition, health, and fitness will affect which nutrition certifications feel like a good fit—and which ones just don’t.
For example, maybe you:
- Don’t believe in diets—for anyone. Like ever.
- Follow a strict fully plant-based diet for both spiritual and ethical reasons—and only want to work with clients interested in that style of eating.
- Deeply resonate with the concept of holistic health.
None of those values are universally right or wrong for all people.
But they might be deeply right or wrong for you—and you’ll want your certification to reflect that. Otherwise, you’ll feel like an outsider.
Take Gill. In her nursing career, she’d noticed that, for patients who struggled with wellness, detailed meal plans or sets of food rules didn’t work. These patients had too many other things getting in the way. Like stress. Like insomnia. Like rage eating. Like loneliness. Like lack of support.
As a result, Gill wasn’t remotely interested in:
- One magical weight loss diet. She only wanted a certification experience that showcased a range of ways to eat.
- Lists of universal good foods and bad foods.
- A heavy focus on nutrition science but very little on stress, sleep, and other deep health factors that affect eating behaviors.
Like Gill, Broxterman wanted an open-minded program that taught nutrition in a nonjudgemental way, without heavy bias against specific diets or foods.
“I get turned off by food advocates who go deep down just one rabbit hole,” she says.
Your values may differ from Gill’s or Broxterman’s—and that’s okay.
The point: By knowing your values, you’ll know what you want your certification to cover.
If you want to get an idea of what the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is like, you can try our FREE Nutrition Coaching e-course.
3. What does the nutrition certification cover?
Questions #1 and #2 will lead right into question #3.
Based on your why and your values, you might want a nutrition certification that covers holistic health coaching, plant-based diets, intuitive and mindful eating, and/or any number of other close-to-your-soul topics.
At the same time, you may not want a certification that focuses too heavily on one or more areas.
In addition to your why and your values, our experts suggest you ponder three additional points.
Assess your nutrition know-how.
If your understanding is pretty basic, you’ll benefit from a course that hits on the fundamentals: how digestion works, the role of vitamins and minerals, and the types of foods that contribute to good health.
On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who reads nutrition journals for fun, an overemphasis on fundamentals may put you to sleep.
For example, during one of Deana Ng’s fitness certification courses, an instructor spent hours explaining how to do squats, planks, and other basic moves—all stuff Ng already knew.
The information wasn’t wrong or bad. Other people in the class got something out of it. But Ng stood there thinking, “Why did I waste my money on this?”
Consider how to level up your skills.
If you learn about the neurological impact of aging, for example, could you better attract older clients? Would a digestion-specific nutrition certification help you stand apart from other coaches? If you deepen your knowledge of plant-based diets, could you better serve existing clients who are interested in that style of eating?
Examine your level of confidence.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who would ace the nutrition category on Jeopardy. But when it comes to people skills? You freeze.
In that case, you might want a certification that focuses more on behavior change and less on the nuts and bolts of nutrition.
Many people who come to Precision Nutrition, for example, don’t come just to learn about food.
They seek out our Level 1 and Level 2 certifications for guidance on how to help clients change their behavior. After all, clients usually know what they’re supposed to eat, Piercy says. They just lack the skills to actually do it.
This is especially true right now, says Gill, because clients are struggling with stress, sleep, and mental health—all things that intensify hunger and cravings.
4. What’s the reputation of the nutrition certification company?
This is one of the top questions our clients say they consider when choosing a nutrition certification. To vet nutrition certification companies, our experts suggest you do five things.
Read up on the nutrition certification program and the experts who created it.
Broxterman decided to undergo nutrition certification with Precision Nutrition, in part, because the person who created it, John Berardi, PhD, frequently spoke at a nutrition and fitness summit at Western University in Ontario, Canada.
“He got invited back year after year because of his credentials, background in science, leadership, and knowledge of the business. I felt like I could trust what he created.”
But let’s say you haven’t had the opportunity to hear a lecture from one of the company’s higher-ups. What else can you look at? Our experts suggest a quick Google search to learn more about the company, its founder, and its curriculum team. Try to learn about:
- Educational background: Do the founder and curriculum team have degrees in the nutrition, fitness, and/or health field? Do those degrees match up with the expertise the company claims to have?
- Research background: Have the company and/or its employees published anything that appears on PubMed.gov?
- Presentation background: Do large, reputable organizations invite members from this company to talk to their students, clients, attendees, and/or employees?
- Employment background: Where have high-level employees worked—and how might those experiences have influenced them?
- Recreational and social background: How do high-level company employees spend their free time? Do they walk the talk?
- Company background: Do you see yourself—race, age, class, hobbies—reflected in the bios, photos, and credentials of the people who work for the company? And does the company tend to hire highly-qualified people with advanced degrees and training, such as Registered Dietitians or people with Master’s degrees or Doctorates?
“I looked at a lot of companies,” says Garcia-Benson. “What really helped me feel comfortable with the certification company I chose: They had Registered Dietitians on staff. For me, that was really important. It helped me to know that, as a Registered Dietitian, I would be welcome and the program would be science-based.”
Make sure the company mentions scope of practice.
Scope of practice was a biggie for Garcia-Benson. She’d seen people throughout the fitness industry who were prescribing supplements to treat complex health problems, putting people with diabetes on questionable diets, or continuing to work with clients with orthorexia rather than referring them to professionals qualified in medical nutrition therapy.
For her, this was an ethical issue.
Garcia-Benson only wanted to learn from a company that made it clear what a certified nutrition coach could or could not do—both legally and ethically.
Check the company’s blog and social feeds.
Look for companies that focus on educating others at least as much as on making money.
Vet the quality of the materials, too, checking to see if they:
- Include research to back up nutrition claims, along with footnotes and links to sources.
- Feature advice from people with bonafide nutrition credentials.
- Are clear and easy to understand.
Piercy looks for companies that make everything really simple.
“That way I know I can communicate that information to the people I train and coach,” he says.
Search out people with the certification.
Read reviews from people who have undergone the company’s certification program. Talk to other people in the field, too. When available, check out third-party industry reports that rank certifications and offer pros and cons.
5. How much will it cost?
Whether your certification costs a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, the price must match the rigor.
You might expect a weekend course, for example, to cost a couple of hundred dollars—but certainly not a couple of thousand. On the other hand, for a year-long certification course that’s recognized by people throughout the industry? A few grand might feel like a bargain.
“This is what I tell the trainers who work for me,” says Piercy, “Any certification you get has to pay for itself within the first few months.”
Will a reputable nutrition certification help you earn more money?
In a word: yes.
- One nutrition certification earn slightly more per hour than coaches with none.
- Two to three certifications, earn an average $12 more per hour than coaches with just one.
- A Precision Nutrition certification earn 11 percent more than people with other certifications.
To decide whether a new nutrition certification is worth it, use this advice.
Check to see if the same material exists for less money.
Could you learn everything the course provides from freely available videos? Or by reading a book? Sure, many certifications consolidate all of that information in one convenient place. But worth-it certifications should offer more value. “It has to be about more than just consuming knowledge,” says Piercy, “because you can consume knowledge for a lot less money than it costs to get a certification. It has to help you apply that knowledge.”
Do a cost-benefit analysis.
Revisit your “why” and consider how a certification will improve your life. If it does any of the following, you’ll likely feel happy about the money spent:
- Helps you get new clients
- Improves how you teach
- Boosts your confidence
- Allows you to reach a new client population
- Makes you a stronger component in the healthcare system
Look into hidden costs.
Consider whether the company will ask you to pay more, in the future, to recertify and/or undergo continuing education.
If the company requires re-testing, re-certifying, and/or professional development, vet the quality of those future professional development options. If few, if any, of the future professional development offerings will help you improve your coaching skills, these recertifications can feel like a money-making scheme, says Ng.
Is that nutrition certification worth it? What an IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year wants you to know.
When people ask for advice on whether to sign up for a new certification, Michael Piercy, MS, CSCS, offers a lesson he learned as a professional baseball player.
When searching for hitting advice, Piercy knew he couldn’t absorb any one baseball player’s philosophy 100 percent—because their gifts and strengths weren’t necessarily the same as his. At the same time, he usually gleaned one or two pointers that helped him connect with the ball more powerfully.
When applied to certifications: Any new nutrition certification should teach you one or two things you can start using immediately.
“If you learn something that changes how you coach or train, that’s a game-changer,” says Piercy.
6. How long will it take?
You won’t get as much market credibility from shorter certification courses as you’ll get from longer ones.
“My education was a couple of years of my life and hundreds of documented hours,” says Ng. That’s completely different than someone who is teaching after taking just a weekend workshop—and clients get it, she says.
7. What is the online learning experience?
When choosing an online experience, consider four factors: how you learn, the level of difficulty, how you’ll be tested, and the support you’ll receive.
How you learn
Think about whether you’re the kind of person who needs a deadline for motivation versus someone who thrives in a self-paced program.
Similarly, do you learn more from reading than from watching videos—or the other way around?
And consider how virtual group discussions make you feel. Do you look forward to connecting with others? Or do you cringe every time an instructor says, “Okay, let’s pair up. Please find a partner”?
There are no right or wrong answers here. The point: Your learning style will affect whether an online learning experience feels like a good fit.
The level of difficulty
The honest truth: A program’s percentage of successful graduates drops as standards rise.
Why? Reputable companies with high-standards tend to create certification opportunities that require:
- A few weeks to several months worth of learning.
- Reams of reading.
- Interactive activities, worksheets, and quizzes that force students to think deeply about their answers.
In other words, you have to get through a lot of material. No one is forcing you to study. Therefore, students who don’t put in the time tend to struggle.
In the end, a certification is only worth what you put into it.
How you’ll be tested
For Ng, what she learns is more important than how she’s tested because that’s what matters to clients. They don’t care if you can name every bone in the body or describe the digestive system in intricate detail. They care that you know how to help them change, she says.
The support you’ll receive
In addition to the online learning experience, consider added value services, such as:
- Member’s only virtual communities for students and graduates
- Online materials and handouts to share with clients
- Tangible resources you can highlight, if it suits you to do so
8. What is the quality of the curriculum experience?
Granted, you may not find out what the curriculum experience is like until after you’ve already handed over your credit card, but these tactics can help you get a solid sense of things.
Check out what the company puts out for free.
We mentioned this investigative tactic earlier, as a way to assess a company’s reputation. “I look for companies that are educating generously—not offering a tiny little nugget and then quickly pivoting to a sales pitch,” Gill says.
Also, clear, easy-to-grasp free materials most likely signal that the company’s curriculum materials will be just as clear and easy to grasp.
If you want examples, here’s a shortlist of free resources that Precision Nutrition offers. (It’s also where our bias comes in, but hopefully, you’ll find it valuable.)
- 15+ free courses and guides (learn about nutrition coaching, elimination diets, body transformation, hot nutrition topics, and more)
- 30+ nutrition and health infographics (beautiful, easy-to-understand guides that are also great for sharing with clients)
- The Precision Nutrition Calculator (instantly get a nutrition plan that’s personalized for anyone’s body, eating preferences, and goals)
Consider any bonus resources that the company bundles with the certification.
Years after your certification, you may no longer remember every detail. That’s why it’s helpful if the certification company allows lifetime access to materials so you can refresh your memory, says Ng.
“One of the reasons I decided to get certified at Precision Nutrition: There’s just so much information for free. Not all certifications do that,” says Ng. “You’ve got this whole arsenal, a library of stuff. There are so many tools. It’s like a superpower that allows you to do your job to the best of your ability. It makes you feel like a badass.”
Look for certifications that teach you how to coach with confidence.
Some coaches learn and learn and learn—but never actually take the plunge to start coaching. So advanced certifications that pair them with a mentor and allow time for role play can be helpful for building confidence, says Gill.
What to look for in a good nutrition certification program
We just told you—a lot. Chances are, you won’t remember it all. That’s why we boiled down all of the key points in the handy checklist below. Screenshot it. Print it out. Or just bookmark this page.
Use it to vet certification companies so you can get your money’s worth.
Your Complete Nutrition Certification Program Checklist
Look for nutrition certifications that:
✓ Help you take the next step in your career.
✓ Cover the nutrition topics that interest you the most.
✓ Boost your confidence.
✓ Match your values, level of knowledge, and learning style.
✓ Are highly regarded by other health, fitness, and wellness professionals.
✓ Publish easy-to-understand, evidence-based materials.
✓ Demystify scope of practice.
✓ Offer validation for their graduates, so clients can check to see if their certification is legit and current.
✓ Teach you one to two skills you can use immediately.
✓ Will pay off within six months.
Avoid nutrition certifications that:
✓ Focus on a narrow “flavor of the month” skill that will quickly become dated.
✓ Are promoted by companies that are 100 percent focused on the “hard sell.”
✓ Are priced much higher than similar courses based on rigor and reputation.
✓ Do not staff credentialed experts.
✓ Use social media to spread debunked nutritional claims.
Whether you ultimately decide to get certified by Precision Nutrition or another company, we’re sincerely rooting for your success. (The world needs more great coaches.)