Nov 29, 2023 • 7 min read

What is a Nutrition Coach? What Do They Do?

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If you’re looking to improve your diet, you may be considering working with a nutrition coach.

But what is a nutrition coach and what do they do?

A nutrition coach is a professional who has received a certificate for training in the area of nutrition. They help clients create healthier eating habits to optimize their health.

While nutrition coaches are required to have some education in nutrition to receive their certification, they are not the same as Registered Dietitians (RDs) or nutritionists. Nutrition coaches are only required to complete a small subset of training which is typically done online to receive their certification. 

A nutritionist is a broad term that can include a nutrition coach, someone who has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics, or someone without any credentials at all. This means anyone can call themselves a nutritionist even if they don’t have any education in this area.

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a protected title that can only be used by those who have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics, who have completed a minimum of 900 supervised hours of dietetic practice, and who have successfully completed the examination to become registered.

This means that when you are seeing an RD, you know they have had a rigorous education in the field. Because of this, it is preferable to seek help from an RD to ensure you are getting the proper information and guidance. Your appointments are also much more likely to be covered by insurance.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t work with a nutrition coach. 

This guide goes over what nutrition coaches are, how they help clients, how to find one, and what to expect at your appointment.

What is a nutrition coach?

A nutrition coach is a certification that you can obtain from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Nutrition coaches can provide guidance with healthy eating, portion sizes, label reading, and achieving sustainable weight loss and lifestyle habits. 

This is a common certification obtained by fitness instructors and personal trainers as it’s a natural complement to their work.

To obtain the certified nutrition coach (CNC) certification, you must register for the CNC program, complete the online self-guided study materials, and pass the certification exam. You can get certified through other programs however, NASM is the most widely accepted.

Mostly anyone can become a nutrition coach. In fact, many certification programs don’t require any education. This means you don’t even need to have a college degree to become a nutrition coach as long as you can pass the certification exam. 

It’s important to note that while RDs can also be nutrition coaches or nutritionists, not all nutritionists or nutrition coaches are RDs.

Nutrition coaches vs. nutritionists vs. registered dietitians

Nutrition coaches, nutritionists, and registered dietitians are often used interchangeably; however, they are very different titles with varying degrees of education. They are also different from doctors.

Of the three, RDs have the most extensive knowledge base due to their rigorous training in both academic settings and supervised practice. RDs are considered diet professionals and have a larger scope of practice compared to nutritionists and nutrition coaches.  

RDs help their patients by providing guidance on healthy eating as well as nutrition care, education, research, health promotion, disease prevention, and more. Because of this, RDs are the preferred source of nutrition information. They are also much more likely to be covered by insurance.

Because of their background, RDs are often also considered nutritionists. RDs can also be nutrition coaches, but nutritionists and nutrition coaches are not RDs unless they have obtained the RD credential.

This is because nutritionists and nutrition coaches do not require the same background. “Nutritionist” is not a protected title which means that anyone, whether they have a background in nutrition or not, can call themselves a nutritionist.

However, a nutritionist can also be someone who has a bachelor’s in nutrition but never completed their supervised hours to become an RD. Someone can also become a nutritionist by completing a certification similar to a nutrition coach.

These certifications are offered through many different programs and typically include signing up, completing the necessary study materials, and then successfully passing the certification exam. 

As you can see, there are many ways to become a nutritionist or a nutrition coach that include varying degrees of education which means it’s essential to ensure you know the educational background of your nutritionist or nutrition coach before working with them.

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How do nutrition coaches help patients?

Nutrition coaches can work in one area only, and that is nutrition. This means they can help their clients with diet changes which include label reading, making healthier choices, learning portion sizes, and more.

Below is a list of different areas in which a nutrition coach may be able to help their clients: 

  • Weight loss
  • Healthy weight gain
  • Meeting nutrient needs
  • Managing diabetes
  • Managing high cholesterol
  • Managing high blood pressure 
  • Managing food allergies and intolerances
  • Creating healthy diet habits
  • Label reading
  • Portion sizes

When should I see a nutrition coach?

Nutrition coaches can help with a wide range of areas involving diet. If you are struggling with any of the following areas below, you may want to consider seeing one:

  • Losing weight and keeping it off
  • Making healthy food choices
  • Reading food labels
  • Managing portion sizes
  • Meeting your nutrient needs
  • Managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure

What should I expect in my appointment with a nutrition coach?

If you are scheduled for your first visit with a nutrition coach, you may be wondering what you should expect. Below is a breakdown of what a nutrition coach might go over during your appointment depending on if it’s a new visit or a follow-up.

Initial appointments

During an initial visit with a nutrition coach, you can expect to complete some type of food journal, most commonly a three-day food log or a 24-hour recall to give your nutrition coach insight into your current diet.

Your nutrition coach may also ask you a series of interview questions that include your current goals, struggles, past experiences, and current lifestyle. These questions help your nutrition coach to better understand where you are so they can begin to create a plan to help you.

It’s best to prepare for your first visit to ensure you are getting the most out of your time with your nutrition coach. If you haven’t already, be sure to ask your nutrition coach what you should prepare before your appointment so you can show up ready to go. 

Follow-up appointments

During follow-up visits, your nutrition coach will likely begin by assessing how things have gone since your last visit together. You will typically pick up where you left off during your last session.

You may have set some goals together when you first met and can expect to be asked what you tried and what barriers, if any, you encountered. This will help your nutrition coach to determine how to help you move forward to meet your goals. 

How to find and choose a nutrition coach

While it is preferred to get your nutrition information from an RD due to their more extensive training and expertise, you may still choose to go to a nutrition coach. Whether this is due to availability, cost, or simply preference.

Before choosing a nutrition coach, be sure to clarify their credentials so you know that you will be getting accurate information and recommendations from them. Below is a detailed list of steps to take to help you find a nutrition coach or an RD to work with.

  1. Search for a nutrition coach or RD near you. You can use sites such as Zaya Care to find one in your area that accepts your insurance and offers your preferred type of visit.
  2. Find a provider that fits your needs such as visit type, specialties, location/online, etc.
  3. Determine if your insurance will cover visits and how much they will cost
  4. Book a consultation or initial visit.
  5. Schedule follow-up sessions for as long as needed. 
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How many nutrition coach appointments are typically necessary?

How frequently you will need to meet with your nutrition coach will depend on the reason you are seeing them. You may have some questions about diet and only need one session, whereas if you are looking to lose weight or better manage a chronic condition, you may need many sessions.

If you are unsure how many visits you need, be sure to ask before scheduling your initial appointment. You can also inquire about this during your first session so your nutrition coach can tell you what to expect.

How much do nutrition coaches cost? Does insurance cover appointments?

How much you can expect to pay to work with a nutrition coach will vary. Nutrition coaches can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per session which is typically one hour or less while RDs may be more costly due to their expertise. 

A visit with an RD can cost anywhere from $0 if you have insurance coverage to $100 – $200 per visit without coverage. Some insurance companies cover the cost of a dietitian as a specialty service but not many will cover non-credentialed nutritionists or nutrition coaches.

Learn more about costs and insurance coverage with these guides:

How Zaya Care helps you book registered dietitians covered by your insurance

Here at Zaya Care, we’re dedicated to helping people find dietitians based on their preferences, needs, and insurance.

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

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Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando. Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.