carrots on a table

How to Become a Certified Nutritionist

In many ways, the old saying “you are what you eat” holds true. Nutritionists, more than most, know this is the case. As their name implies, nutritionists are experts in nutrition who advise their clients on how food and diet can impact their overall health. With specialized knowledge in physiology, metabolism, food allergies and sensitivities, and the function of the gastrointestinal tract, nutritionists possess a unique perspective that allows them to guide clients in making healthy choices. Additionally, clinical nutritionists are able to educate their clients on how food and nutrition can help prevent and manage disease.

In light of America’s historically complicated relationship with food, it’s no surprise that the demand for nutritionists is on the rise. More nutritionists are being called to help their clients battle ubiquitous conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. If helping people develop healthy eating habits and guiding clients in their nutritional journey is of interest to you, you may want to consider a career as a clinical nutritionist.

Before delving into how to become a nutritionist, you should consider what kind of clinical nutritionist most aligns with your career goals. There are two, primary avenues to becoming a nutritionist today. You can pursue certification as a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) or become a Registered Dietician (RD), instead.

In order to practice as a nutritionist, many states do require you to be licensed. The requirements, however, vary from state to state. Most include earning a degree, completing supervised practice, and passing an exam, such as the CNS certification detailed below.

Here are the various ways you can become a nutritionist today.


Many states don’t regulate the use of this term — anyone with an interest in diet or nutrition can label themselves as such. However, uncredentialled nutritionists are unlikely to find work in a medical office or research facility. Instead, it is more common that nutritionists pursue higher education as a pathway to certification as a CNS.

Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)

Certified Nutrition Specialists are advanced, credentialed experts who work closely with their clients to effect dietary changes. They are qualified to work with people who’ve been diagnosed with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, as well as disordered eating. They’re also able to provide nutrition education and advising to school systems, government agencies, rehabilitation facilities, and community programs. Those who earn the CNS board certification pass rigorous standards. As such, those who hold a CNS title are in high demand and highly valued by employers.


Certified Nutrition Specialists are expected to meet advanced academic requirements. They must earn at least a master’s degree in Nutrition from an accredited university. Certified Nutrition Specialists are required to have completed courses in biochemistry, assessment, evidence-based nutrition, developmental nutrition, among other courses. They must also complete 1000 hours of supervised experience in nutrition, either before or after passing the CNS examination. Some nutrition schools allow you to get a head start on your CNS certification through clinical experiences. For example, the University of Bridgeport provides up to 255 of the required experiential hours online, via a virtual clinic.


Certification as a CNS is earned after passing a 200 question, multiple-choice exam administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). Passing the exam is determined by a pass-fail score. Additionally, Certified Nutrition Specialists are required to finish 75 continuing education credits every five years in order to maintain their certification.

The Nutrition program at UB is a path to certification as a CNS, but graduates of the program must complete their clinical hours and sit for the examination on their own after graduating.

Additionally, CNS certification is a pathway to licensure in some states, but not all, so make sure you check your state’s requirements before choosing a Nutrition program.


As CNS’s are held to a particularly high educational standard, Certified Nutrition Specialists work in advanced medical nutrition therapy and nutritional research. They can also provide education within school systems and clinics, as well as community and governmental agencies. They are also qualified to provide nutritional and dietary advice to individual clients.

Clinical nutrition is an ever-evolving field and the need for qualified nutritionists is ever-growing. Depending on the career path you are interested in pursuing, there are a couple of options open to you. The RDN path requires a Baccalaureate degree from an ACEND-accredited program, supervised practice experience, and passing an exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). The CNS option requires a Master’s or Doctorate degree, supervised practice experience, and passing an exam administered by the BCNS. The RDN is a food and dietary professional who often works in hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. The CNS specializes in functional nutrition and often works in private practice. The choice is up to you!

Interested in pursuing a career in clinical nutrition? Contact us online to get more information about University of Bridgeport’s M.S. in Nutrition.