Sports Nutrition Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Training Info

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What will you learn in a sports nutrition graduate degree program? Read about graduation requirements, the pros and cons of master's and PhD degrees and potential careers.
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Study Sports Nutrition: Degrees at a Glance

A graduate degree in sports nutrition or a related field isn't required for sports nutritionists and dieticians, but some employers prefer master's degree holders. Most states require sports nutritionists to be licensed, registered or certified; typically, requirements for licensure include a bachelor's degree, a certain number of supervised practice hours and a written exam.

Many employers also prefer job applicants who hold the Registered Dietician (RD) credential from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). The requirements for this certification are similar to most states' licensing requirements. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), a PhD can be helpful if your goal is to work in a management, administrative or academic position related to sports nutrition. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that dieticians and nutritionists will see job growth of 20% from 2010 to 2020, which was faster than average.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Students who want to become sports nutritionists/dieticians Those who want to advance their sports nutrition careers or work as professors in this field
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary)
- Dietitian or nutritionist ($54,000 - a master's degree is helpful, but not required for this position; you'll need to be licensed, certified or registered to work in most states)*
Same as for the master's degree, along with the following:
- Postsecondary health specialty teacher ($80,000)*
Time to Completion 1-3 years full-time, up to 6 years part-time Usually 4-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Usually 30-43 credits
- Supervised practice experience
- Thesis or exam
- Typically 30-54 credits
- Candidacy exams
- Dissertation proposal and oral defense
- Dissertation and oral defense
- Teaching experience
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Courses in biology, chemistry and physiology
- Minimum GPA and GRE scores
- Same as the requirements for the master's degree, but some programs also require relevant work, laboratory or research experience for candidates in certain specializations
Online Availability Rare Not at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Master's Degree in Sports Nutrition

Master's degree programs in sports nutrition teach advanced skills, like measuring metabolism, developing menus to fuel athletic performance and adapting nutritional programs to accommodate injuries. Coursework focuses on understanding human biochemistry and how nutrients affect energy and performance.

A Master of Science (MS) in Sports Nutrition may be appropriate if you're already working in this field and want to advance your career. In addition, if you want to get licensed in your state or become an RD, but your undergraduate coursework doesn't meet the education requirements, completing a master's degree program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) can help you remedy this deficiency.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many employers prefer sports nutritionists with master's degrees
  • Earning this degree from a properly accredited program can help you qualify to be an RD
  • Most programs give you the opportunity to gain practical experience, which can be helpful even if you've already completed a practicum as an undergraduate

Cons

  • A master's degree is not required to enter this profession
  • This degree alone will not qualify you for most jobs - you'll also need to complete the requirements to earn state licensure
  • If you complete a program that's not accredited by the ACEND, your coursework will not count toward the requirements to become an RD, and this might limit your career prospects

Courses and Requirements

Master's degree programs in sports nutrition generally consist of core courses, electives and a practicum. In addition, you're typically allowed to choose between a thesis option and a coursework-only option. If you choose the latter, you'll need to complete more classes, and you might have to pass a written exam as well. Some schools give you the additional option of earning the International Olympic Committee Diploma in Sports Nutrition as a part of your degree program. Regardless of the type of program you choose, you'll likely take core courses like these:

  • Statistics and research methods
  • Advanced physiology of exercise
  • Medical nutrition therapy
  • Metabolism

Online Degree Options

Although there are currently no online master's degree options in sports nutrition specifically, it is possible to earn a master's degree in nutrition online. According to the AND, an MS in Nutrition will help you qualify to work as a sports nutritionist. However, you should choose your online degree program carefully - a few online nutrition degree programs are available, but only one is presently accredited by the ACEND. If your program isn't accredited by this organization, you won't meet the education requirements to become an RD, although you may still be able to meet the licensing requirements in some states.

Stand Out With This Degree

While you're still in school, the AND suggests a few steps you can take to increase your chances of gaining employment or finding clients. One possibility is to become involved in sports, which will help you understand your clients' needs better. Also, since self-marketing is vital for many sports nutritionists, you can begin networking to build a pool of potential clients to tap when you graduate. The AND also recommends looking for a business partner with skills that complement your own. Perhaps most importantly, you should earn the RD credential upon graduation. You may also apply to become a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) after you've obtained the necessary experience.

PhD in Sports Nutrition

Sports nutrition programs at the doctoral level are typically unavailable. However, it is possible to enroll in a PhD program for nutrition and tailor your coursework and research to exercise and sports nutrition. A PhD program can prepare you for a career in academia, and the AND reports that some people with PhDs related to sports nutrition also work in administration, research or management.

PhD students are typically asked to choose a broad area of specialization, such as nutrition intervention or epidemiology. You'll take core courses in your specialization and research methods, and then select additional courses that relate directly to your dissertation research. Your course selection will most likely be guided by a faculty mentor who shares your research interests.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • University professors who teach in health disciplines earn higher average salaries than nutritionists, so earning a PhD may qualify you for higher-paying jobs
  • PhD programs in nutrition offer some accepted students tuition grants and living stipends, so you may not have to shoulder the entire cost of your education
  • If you secure a position as a university professor, you'll be able to conduct research that may influence the entire field of sports nutrition

Cons

  • A PhD is unnecessary if you want to work as a sports nutrition practitioner
  • It could take you 5 or more years to earn your degree
  • You won't be able to enroll in a program that's tailored directly to your interests, since there are no PhD programs that focus specifically on sports nutrition

Courses and Requirements

Most doctoral programs require you to take core courses and pass a comprehensive exam. Typical required course topics include the following:

  • Epidemiology
  • Statistical inference
  • Dietary change
  • Research methods

You'll also be expected to develop a dissertation proposal during your first few years in the program, and you may be required to participate in an oral defense of your plan before proceeding with your research. Once your dissertation research is complete, you'll defend your conclusions before a panel of faculty members. Most programs also require students to gain undergraduate teaching experience.

Online Degree Options

There are no online nutrition PhD degree programs at the present time. Depending on your research topic, you may need access to on-campus laboratories, equipment or research materials. In addition, you'll most likely need to be present on campus to fulfill your teaching duties. As a result, completing this degree online isn't feasible.

Stand Out With This Degree

The steps you take to stand out will depend on the career path you choose. If you plan to work as a sports nutrition practitioner, you'll take many of the same steps as a master's degree holder would (getting certified, networking, etc.). However, if you plan to pursue an academic career, you'll need a different approach. First, it's important to build a solid publication record while you're in graduate school. You can do this by publishing your own research or co-authoring papers with professors. Second, you'll want to attend professional conferences to get feedback on your research and network with potential employers.

Popular Schools

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    1. Grand Canyon University

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  • Pullman, WA

    Washington State University

  • Birmingham, AL

    University of Alabama

  • Columbia, MO

    University of Missouri

  • Greensboro, NC

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

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Trident University

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Colorado Technical University

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University of North Carolina at Greensboro