UK Nutrition courses and certifications and how to be a nutrition coach
There are many companies that offer courses on nutrition and that’s a really good thing. It’s a popular industry to be in and if anything we would like it to become more popular; after all if there are more nutrition coaches in the world who are banging the drum of health, then hopefully we, as a collective, can start to have a positive impact on obesity and many of the other lifestyle disease crises we are currently facing on a global scale.
Everyone deserves to be happy, and at a body weight that makes them healthy, confident and content, and this only comes from education on what and how to eat. I believe nutrition is immensely powerful, it changed my life from a once obese man suffering from IBS, eczema and ADHD, into a healthy, lean, happy individual, and it was all down to understanding the power of good food and keeping fit, these are life skills I am indebted too.
These are life skills I want to pass onto others, and I’m not the only one.
It is natural then, that myself and many other people will look to do a part-time nutrition course in order to become competent and able to practice in this area. There are many routes to go down with nutrition training but the main two are University courses and private courses.
Now I will stop for a second and tell you my qualifications in the field of nutrition. The relevance of this will be apparent in a minute;
- CHEK Institute Level 2 Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach
- BSc Sports Coaching & Performance, 2:1, Hull University (module on sports and health based nutrition)
- CISSN – Certified Sports Nutritionist via the International Society of Sports Nutrition
- Many other short courses, seminars and internships relevant to the field
I tell you this because as far as my career goes the qualification I value the least, but the one that many might value the highest, is my degree. A degree is, in traditional terms, the gold standard. It means you have studied hard in an accredited institution and achieved a level of knowledge needed to be given a certificate.
Why discredit my degree?
As an educator and education provider I speak to lots of prospective students on the phone and via email, and the option of a degree often comes up in conversation. “I was thinking about doing a degree in nutrition, or dietetics, what do you think?”
While a degree in nutrition or dietetics is fantastic, my next question is always “what is it you want to do at the end of it?”. Every path should be taken with a rough idea of the end goal in mind. Are you wanting to go into:
- Professional sport
- A clinical practice primarily working with people with serious ailment or disease, either NHS or privately run
- Primary research
- Coaching/Personal Training or a similar part or full time self-employed role
- Owning a gym
The reason I ask the above is, if you are looking to go into options 1-4, then you should probably do a degree in nutrition or dietetics. These jobs will look for and require a degree in this field as a minimum requirement for even applying for a job, and they will often look for courses on top of that as well as work experience.
If you are looking at option 5 or 6 then you do not NEED a degree or any formal qualification. All you need for options 5 and 6 is enough knowledge to be able to practice in an ethical and effective manner, which generally means a broad understanding of the basic principles and the application of those principles to a client. This is the kind of knowledge you will get in a private course. There are many benefits to private courses:
- The teaching is often more practically focused, or at least combining the theory with practice (the nutrition module of my degree was all theory, we had no practical application module or help in this area so while I knew what someone ‘should’ eat I had no way of helping them when they aren’t able to adhere to what I said)
- The teaching is often done online or with weekends away, making it more accessible for a lot of people and making it far easier to do alongside a full time job
- It is often far cheaper than a degree (I still have a £16,000 debt from my degree after paying a 1/3 off already, and it’s the qualification I value the least, that’s a lot of money for something I don’t use all that much)
- You can generally complete a private course in a year or so, which is 1/3 the time of a standard degree
With this in mind we can then revisit the same question:
“What is it you want to do at the end of a nutrition course?”
It its one of options 1-4, consider a degree, do your research and try and get into one of the top universities in the UK for the specific area you want to focus on. If this isn't your aim then do your research and look for a private course that you like the look of, has similar values to you, is evidence based, and operates with a teaching style that suits how you like to work.
While you don’t get letters after your name, you still accomplish the most important task – you get better at your job.
"What’s important is you get the RIGHT education, for the right price".
The reason I also bring up values and course content is you must be inspired and want to work with an education company. If you like the look of what they do and how they speak online via email, video or the content they post on social media, then they are likely a good fit for you. It’s like finding a coach, you have to be able to bond and gel with who you are going to work with, especially if you are investing hard earned money into a course that is going to progress your career.
Finding a course
These, for me, are the most important aspect in finding a course:
- The companies values
- The course content and syllabus / what you will learn
- Practical application of the theory & case study work
- A thorough test at the end of the course to critically test your ability
I am adding point 4 as too many courses have a multiple-choice test, which makes it too easy to look things up in the book, click the right button, and pass. I know this as I’ve taken many tests that are multiple choice and they didn’t challenge me enough as a practitioner. A course exam should be based around a combination of this, long form questions, case study work, and a heavy emphasis on applying the theory into practice with real world clients or simulations of real world environments.
Without this testing format you are never challenged to be the best practitioner you can possibly be because anyone can study and pass a multiple-choice test by remembering what gluconeogenesis means - that doesn’t mean you are good at coaching. To be good at coaching you need to be able to explain things concisely and with empathy, delivering the best outcome for a client in their given situation.
It’s also important to mention all the above as being a nutritionist, nutrition coach, nutritional therapist, or any mixture of those titles, is not a protected term in the UK as of writing this piece. This in theory means anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. This is very important, because it means a course is not necessary in order to be qualified, but it’s absolutely critical in order to be proficient.
Course accreditation, therefore, does not mean that you get something ‘extra’ upon completion by default. It largely means that the governing body which has elected itself as the authority on certain matters simply agrees with what is taught. Non-accredited courses are therefore not ‘bad’ or ‘not evidence based’ per se, although this could absolutely be the case. It can simply mean that they have either not approached a governing body for accreditation or have not found a governing body with which they fully agree.
There very good accredited courses, and not very good accredited courses. There are then very poor non-accredited courses, yet very good non-accredited courses. Accredited or not, courses can be great, or not so great and unless your employer has specified that you need to do a course which has the backing of a governing body you would be better placed using this as one of many markers (others listed 1-4 above) to decide which course is right for you.
For an example of the above, our Foundation Academy is certified by the Association for Nutrition at Level 4 on their Fitness and Leisure framework. The Practical Academy, on the other hand isn’t certified despite being written with the same scientific rigour and to the same educational standard because it doesn’t contain certain things (that are in the Foundation) necessary to meet framework requirements. With that being said it is the Practical Academy which allows for the next consideration.
Another thing that is really important, and this goes for any profession, is that you are insured against your qualifications and the advice you are giving out. So, whether you are considering an accredited course or not, you need to be able to obtain insurance at the end of it so that when you sit down with a client and advise them on their diet, you are protected with any possible negative outcomes.
Now in my experience to date, I’ve never seen a practitioner in the UK have an issue with a client to the extent that insurance was needed. But it is always important to understand the legalities of your profession because it CAN happen. If you ‘diagnose’ someone with an issue which means they have to cut out a food group and they run into problems, or if you give a client an unproven supplement which harms them (this has happened) then you are liable for a large sum of money. In the real world, though, if you aren’t offering dangerous and non-evidence-based advice you shouldn’t have a problem.
I have insurance to do my job, and for me that protects me in giving advice to others. That doesn’t mean I am given a license to be reckless or give out faulty advice of course, I still need to maintain ethics and credibility with my position even if that is for no other reason than it’s my moral duty to do so.
So, what does all this mean?
Choosing a course
When choosing a nutrition course, whether it’s an online nutrition course or an in-person nutrition course, whether you’re looking to practice in the private sector as a nutritionist, nutrition coach, nutritional therapist, and whether that is alongside working as a personal trainer, strength & conditioning coach, masseuse, or other similar fitness qualification, all you need is a course that can up-skill you to a point where you can coach others competently, and be insured against your advice.
Whether you are choosing an accredited course or not, for most individuals working as self-employed practitioners, in gyms, as business owners, or in a similar capacity, it doesn’t matter whether that course is accredited or not, what matters is you choosing a course that you believe in. You should see that the syllabus will help you understand all you need to, you should see that the company’s ethics line up with your own and you should do some research into the teaching style to make sure it’ll help you with what you need to do.
Many education providers in the UK argue that their course is ‘the best’, but what’s important is you get the RIGHT education, for the right price, that meets your career progression as a practitioner, then get the appropriate insurance at the end of it to be able to practice and coach others. Again, courses can be good and bad and be accredited, and the same goes for non-accredited courses, so your primary goal when choosing a nutrition course in private practice is that it offers you a good education, from a company you value and respect, which when certified from that company, affords you insurance to practice as a nutrition coach or nutritionist.
If you are person number 5 or 6, you want to be a great coach, you want to know the practice and theory of nutrition, you want to learn from the comfort of your home, you want to learn from people that have been there and done it for many years, but also be confident you are getting a good education that leads to you being able to be insured against your advice, then maybe consider The Body Type Nutrition Academy. We’re not the only course out there, but we like to think we tick all of the boxes. We’d love to hear from you as we only aim to do one thing, create the best nutrition coaches possible that coach real people, after all, that’s what we do when we’re not teaching others, even though we’ve got the degrees too!