Pursue an Online Degree in Nutrition and Fitness

Earning a Fitness and Nutrition Degree Online: Everything You Need to Know

Earning a fitness and nutrition degree online could potentially be your entry-point to helping others make healthier choices! From learning what goes into a nutritious meal plan to understanding the biomechanics that come into play during exercise, your program could teach you more about the body and what it needs to perform at its best.

Earning a Fitness and Nutrition Degree Online: The Basics

Online nutrition degree or fitness degree programs tend to focus on lifestyle choices that impact health, wellbeing, and performance. So, you could learn about interventions and methods for helping people address health concerns or reach personal goals like weight loss or athletic achievement.

You may also study human anatomy and body processes, like how food is metabolized or how muscles recover after exercise. You may explore the laws and ethics involved in fields like nutrition and fitness. And, you may even delve into business topics that could apply to your field – like entrepreneurship or marketing.

Here’s what else you might learn in your online degree in nutrition and exercise science program:

  • Sciences related to the body, like physiology, anatomy, and biomechanics
  • Knowledge and techniques for personal training, strength & conditioning, coaching, and fitness instruction
  • The relationship between nutrition and athletic performance, including macronutrient utilization, body composition, sports products, and more
  • Nutrition throughout the human lifecycle, including the needs of infants, children, and woman who are pregnant or nursing
  • The science of food, including microbiology, nutritional analysis, and food safety
  • Strategies for nutritional assessment, intervention, and education

Types of Online Degrees in Nutrition and Wellness

From dietetics to exercise science, there are several types of degree programs that deal with the impact of lifestyle choices on the human body. These include:

  • Bachelor of Science in Dietetics: This program may be aimed at those who hope to pursue dietetic registration and/or licensure (state requirements may apply). The curriculum may cover foods and nutrition in health care settings as well as public or private food service. In addition, a bachelor degree in nutrition and dietetics online program may explore the science behind nutrition; the social, environmental, cultural, and psychological factors behind food intake and accessibility; nutritional needs throughout the human lifecycle, and more.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nutrition: This program teaches aspects of nutrition science, including digestion, absorption, and metabolism, how food choices can impact an individual’s lifestyle, and how to apply healthy eating concepts in an organization or community setting. A health and nutrition bachelor degree online program may also cover topics like food science and safety, planning a therapeutic diet, and even the administrative and professional knowledge you may need to pursue your career goals.
  • Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and Fitness Training: This program may focus on the fundamentals of personal fitness training and exercise science, including topics like physiology and biomechanics, sports nutrition, techniques for strength training and conditioning, and more. Plus, you could focus on the motivational and instructional knowledge you may need to potentially lead fitness classes, train an athlete, or even coach a sports team.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • 59% of fitness trainers and instructors were employed in fitness and recreational sports centers, as of 2016. 11% were self-employed.[i]

Associates Degree in Fitness and Nutrition Programs

Most of the fitness and nutrition degree programs you may find online are at the bachelor’s level. That may be particularly true of nutrition programs, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that earning a bachelor’s degree is required for pursuing a nutritionist career path.[i] That said, you may find associate’s degree programs that could help you pursue your goals. These may include:

  • Associate Degree in Applied Exercise and Fitness: This type of program may cover knowledge and skills areas like group exercise instruction, weight management and nutrition, and implementing cardio-respiratory and flexibility programs. In addition, you could study areas of business and finance knowledge that apply to gym operations or starting a fitness business.
  • Associate of Science in Applied Nutrition: You may pursue a foundation in nutrition knowledge, including the biological, behavioral, and social sciences involved in food choices, as well as the math that goes into calculating nutritional components. You could also work on soft skills and knowledge like critical thinking and communications. And, you could apply what you learn to various nutritional problems and scenarios.

Earning a Nutrition Vs Dietetics Degree: What’s the Difference?

Nutrition and dietetics degree programs may be aimed at students with differing goals. A nutrition degree program usually covers areas like food chemistry, cell biology, and biochemistry – with a focus on the science of food and nutrition, of course. Students may learn how to provide a nutritional assessment and plan a diet that has therapeutic goals.

The field of dietetics shares a lot in common with the study of nutrition. However, a dietetics program may be designed for students with the goal of pursuing registration or licensure, such as the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential. With that in mind, a dietetics program may offer courses that focus on community nutrition, food-systems management, and nutritional needs throughout the human lifecycle, with an eye on the field’s many complex issues and requirements.

So, What Are Nutritionist Education Requirements?[ii]

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nutritionists typically must earn a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, or a similar area. Requirements may also vary by state. That said, many employers may prefer candidates with the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential.

Education Requirements for becoming an RDN include:[i]

  • You must earn a bachelor’s degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
  • You must complete a Dietetic Internship (DI) with at least 1,200 hours of supervised experience.
  • To maintain your credential once you’ve achieved it, you must earn 75 continuing professional education credits every five years.

Keep in mind that while you could potentially earn a bachelor degree in nutrition and dietetics online, you’ll need to pursue a dietetic internship in person if you’re interested in working toward the RDN credential. Contact your prospective online program to learn more about how you could fulfill this internship requirement.

Pursuing a Fitness Certification Vs. Degree[iii]

Certification may be required for certain kinds of fitness trainer or instructor career paths. In addition, some employers may prefer to hire certified trainers and instructors. A variety of certification programs exist, and they all require a written exam which may test you on your knowledge of areas like human physiology, exercise techniques, ability to assess clients’ fitness levels, and more.

That said, pursuing certification is not a replacement for earning a college degree. Some employers may prefer candidates who hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a health or fitness field – like exercise science, kinesiology, or physical education. And, some exercise science degree programs may be designed to help you prepare for certification – such as Certified Personal Trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Jobs for nutritionists and dieticians are projected to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, a rate that’s much faster than average for all occupations![iv]

What to Look for in a Prospective Online Degree in Nutrition or Exercise Science Program

As you browse fitness and nutrition degree online programs to find your ideal match, here are a few considerations you may want to keep in mind:

  • Look for Accredited Online Nutrition and Fitness Programs: You’ll want to make sure the college or university you are considering is accredited by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This may ensure your school meets certain academic standards. However, besides institutional accreditation you may also wish to consider programmatic accreditation. For example, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredits certain dietetics and nutrition programs. Choosing an ACEND-accredited program may be required for pursuing the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential.[ii]
  • Flexibility…But Not the Yoga Kind: Earning nutrition or fitness degrees online may be the ideal path for students who need to fit their studies into a busy schedule, or who live far from colleges or universities offering these programs. Flexible features to look for may include mobile-friendly platforms, no set login times, and 24-7 support. Some online programs may even let you try a course to see if the learning format suits your style.
  • A Nutrition or Fitness Curriculum That Gets You Pumped. Are you eager to explore kinesiology, interested in best practices for food safety, or hoping to study the business side of the fitness industry as well as the science that goes behind it? Try to find a program that satisfies your interests and gets you eager to start learning.
  • Potential Student Outcomes and Career Possibilities. Is your prospective program designed to help students prepare for a particular career path, such as Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), or is it more open-ended? It’s important to find out if the degree you are considering could potentially help you pursue your career goals. Don’t be afraid to ask about reported outcomes for recent graduates, and always research your prospective career path to learn as much as you can about education requirements.

Applying to Online Degrees in Nutrition and Wellness

So, what might be required of you as you apply to a fitness, health and nutrition bachelor degree online program? While it’s best to check directly with your program of interest, here are some typical admissions requirements:

  • Academic Transcripts – Generally, you’ll need to send transcripts from high school and/or any previous colleges you have attended. Many schools require official transcripts, which must be mailed in a sealed envelope by your high school counselor or registrar.
  • Minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) – Some schools and programs state minimum GPA requirements for admissions.
  • ACT or SAT Scores – Some schools may require these, while others make test scores optional or waive them for students who have been out of high school for a while.
  • Letters of Recommendation – Some schools may request letters of recommendation from those who can attest to your college readiness, such as teachers and guidance counselors.
  • Personal Statement or Essay – If submitting an essay is required or optional, it may be a great chance to help your prospective school learn more about you, your interests, and your goals.

Search Fitness and Nutrition Degree Online Programs That May be the Perfect Fit

Get matched to online fitness and nutrition degree programs that may help you pursue your career goals – whether you’re hoping to inspire healthier food choices, help others achieve their personal fitness goals, or something else! Simply fill out the form on this page to get started.

 

[i] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm#tab-3

[ii] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm#tab-4

[iii] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm#tab-4

[iv] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm#tab-1

What’s the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

Both dieticians and nutritionists undergo significant training to become experts in their fields, but the certifications, theoretical approaches, and coursework may vary slightly between the two titles. Often, the term “dietician” and “nutritionist” is used interchangeably to refer to the same professional, but sometimes these terms signal a different level of training, kinds of certification, or a distinct approach to the question of food and proper intake. 

Some dieticians (RD) who have undergone educational training, supervised hours, and received a board certification classify themselves as “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist” (RDN) which signals that they look at nutrition in a broader way than just the amount of calories taken in. Other professionals who sometimes have less training or want to distinguish themselves from mainstream dietitians refer to themselves as “nutritionists.” They may not have a dietitian’s exact background but still build careers advising the health of individuals and often come from a more holistic background than is supported by the medical industry.

There can be pros and cons to each type of practitioner and they may find work in varying or overlapping fields, depending on what their specialties are and which series of nutrition classes they take online.

Most practitioners in the various nutrition disciplines have at least a bachelor’s degree in food science, counseling, public health, or a related field along with significant experience working with health clients directly or as interns in a supervised clinical setting. The coursework during such dietitian or nutrition degree programs may cover courses in dietetics, psychology, chemistry, biology as well as counseling. Many dieticians go on to earn advanced degrees and, depending on the requirements of their state, will need to take additional educational courses to stay up to date every year on changes in the field and to maintain their certification status.i

Becoming a registered dietician or nutritionist is not the only path to guiding individuals in making healthy choices. Some who have pursued coursework in diet and nutrition have also pursued nutrition communication and food studies which prepare students to design marketing campaigns or design food for purchase. In addition to undergraduate online nutrition programs, there are advanced online nutrition degree options available such as a PhD in Nutrition, a Master of Science in Nutrition Education, and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Wellness or certificate programs in Plant-Based Nutrition, Nutrition Counseling, and Healthy Living.

Did You Know?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) supports low-income Americans accessing benefits to have adequate food intake. ii

What Kinds of Classes Might I Take During an Online Program in Nutrition?

While the exact courses you may take as your pursue a degree in nutrition online depends on the level of study you are pursuing and if you plan to become a RD or RDN, many degree programs offer a wide selection of coursework in psychology, economics, biological sciences, food and exercise science as well as theories and practices of nutrition.

Often, students are required to undergo significant internship experience and are often placed in positions where they can receive supervised clinical hours if they are on a path towards board certification. With all of this possible academic diversity in mind, some of the courses you may take during your online degree program in nutrition may be:

  • Nutrition in the Life Cycle
  • Introduction to Foods
  • Community Nutrition
  • Nutrition Applications in Food Service
  • Medical Nutrition Intervention
  • Health Communication
  • Vitamins and Minerals
  • Changing Health Behavior
  • Strategies in Weight Control
  • Sports Nutrition
  • Understanding the Person
  • Diseases of Affluence Course
  • Plant-Based Nutrition
  • Energy and the Role of Carbohydrates
  • Nutrition and the Digestive System

Fitness majors and nutrition majors may have some coursework in common – like Sports Nutrition, Human Anatomy and Physiology, and general education courses such as English Composition or College Algebra. Much of the core coursework within each major will be different, however.

Courses you may take in a fitness or exercise science program include:

  • Body Systems
  • Fitness Screening and Testing
  • Cardiovascular Training and Programming
  • Resistance Training and Programming: Stability/Mobility
  • Coaching Psychology
  • Functional Kinesiology
  • Fitness for Special Populations
  • Ethics in Sport
  • Business Aspects of Fitness

NUTRITION AND FITNESS CAREER PATHS AND POTENTIAL SALARIES

Nutrition and dietetics is a field concerned with the health of communities and individuals, and the economy is responding. The nutrition sector is growing by approximately 15% which is much faster than average. Pursuing an online degree programs in nutrition or dietetics may allow you to pursue a career in this thriving sector. But what are the job titles and earnings for those who are employed in this field?

By referencing the list that follows, you will see the salary information for 2017 collected by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). All the information provided below is based on the median annual salary data.

Dietitians and Nutritionists

Dietitians and nutritionists are experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease. They advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.

  • Median Salary: $59,410 per year iv
  • Job growth through 2026: 15%  (Much faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Bachelor's Degree

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

  • Median Salary: $45,360 per year v
  • Job growth through 2026: 16%  (Much faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Health educators need at least bachelor’s degree. Some employers require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential.

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) care for people and teach them and society about different health and medical conditions. They also give general day-to-day support to patients in their care. RNs can be employeed anywhere: from hospitals, hospices, and clinics to nursing care facilities, from doctors’ offices to private homes where they provide personal, on-site services.  

  • Median Salary: $70,000 per year vi
  • Job growth through 2026: 15%  (Much faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-Level education: RNs need at least a diploma from an approved nursing program. Some employers require either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN). RNs must also be licensed as professionals.

Food Service Managers

Food services managers oversee the operations of kitchens in places like restaurants, cruise ships, school cafeterias, hospitals, or anywhere food is prepared and served.

  • Median Salary: $52,030 per year vii
  • Job growth through 2026: 9%  (As fast as average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Food services managers need at least a high school diploma. Some employers may prefer that workers have some additional experience from a community college, culinary school, technical or vocational school, or a 4-year college or university.

Dietetic Technicians

Dietetic technicians prepare food and create nutritional programs, with the supervision and oversight of a dietitian. They may also teach people about food and its nutritional values, and guide them in creating better eating plans.

  • Mean Annual Salary: $29,610 per year viii
  • Projected Job growth: 3%  (Slower than average)

Social and Human Service Assistants

Social and human service assistants provide psychological, rehabilitative, and social support to members of the public.

  • Median Salary: $33,120 per year ix
  • Job growth through 2026: 16%  (Much faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-Level education: High School Diploma or the equivalent thereof

Interested in food science? Want to counsel people to better health?

From food service manager to health educator to registered dietitian, find an online nutrition degree program that is perfect for you! By exploring the programs shown here, you could take the first step to pursuing a career in nutrition. Get started!

(i) bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm#tab-4  | (ii) bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/mabli-malsberger.htm   | (iii) bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm | [v] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm | [vi] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm | [vii] bls.gov/ooh/management/food-service-managers.htm | [viii] bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes292051.htm#nat | [ix] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-and-human-service-assistants.htm