Q&A: Nutritionist vs. Dietitian


Caitlin McKee is a registered dietitian at Block CrossFit in Redlands, California. She breaks down the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian.

BP: How do you define a nutritionist?  

CM: “Nutritionist” is a non-accredited title that may apply to someone who has completed a course in nutrition or someone who considers themselves to be particularly knowledgeable about the topic. Some states may require nutritionists to obtain an occupational license from a Board of Nutrition, while other states allow individuals to practice as nutritionists without any education, training or work experience.

BP: How do you define a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)?

CM: A registered dietitian must hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree, have completed at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice and have passed a national certification exam. Many dietitians go on to complete additional training in specialized fields such as sports nutrition, oncology, pediatrics, etc. In addition, to maintain their certification registered dietitians must complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years in order to stay current in a field where new science emerges rapidly.

The bottom line is that a registered dietitian is a nutritionist, but a nutritionist is not necessarily a registered dietitian.

BP: What are the key differences between the two? 

CM: The primary difference between a dietitian and nutritionist rests on the fact that dietitians have advanced academic knowledge, proven skills, and the specific training to work with a variety of clients and a myriad of diagnoses.

BP: When it comes to the CrossFit community, how do you provide education about this difference? 

CM: I personally try to educate clients about the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist during our first interaction. Our owners and Coaches at Block CrossFit have done a great job of educating the members about the difference as well. They actually cover it in the foundations class for new members and talk about not only the differences between the two, but how much of an impact nutrition has on health, performance and recovery.

BP: Should a dietitian have specific sports nutrition knowledge? 

CM: Plenty of dietitians don’t specialize in sports nutrition and did not have that area as part of their dietetic curriculum. Someone credentialed as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) has gone above and beyond the basic requirements needed to become a registered dietitian and has specialized in his or her field. A CSSD designation represents the gold standard for dietitians who work specifically with athletes and nutrition.

BP: What advice would you give Affiliates when it comes to partnering with a nutrition expert? 

CM: 1. Make sure the dietitian actually practices what he or she preaches.

2. Find out what experience the dietitian has had with CrossFit and their personal athletic background. Would the dietitian be comfortable giving recommendations to CrossFitters? They should be able to give sport-specific advice, because athletes’ needs vary greatly between sports.

3. Has the dietitian worked with athletes in the past? If not, that is a red flag.

4. Do they have people skills? Can they connect with members or fit the culture that is at the Box?

Heather Hartmann
Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.