Nutrition Coach, Nutritionist, Dietitian - What's The Difference?

Health professionals are very quickly making their way around the online world and throughout social media platforms, providing their health tips, nutrition advice and dietary plans. You may have even heard titles such as Sports Nutritionist, Nutrition Coach and Dietitian, over time these terms start to become synonymous of each other, but who is the real deal and what are their levels of practice?

Each of these health professionals has a different level of education and a different skill set that must be learned and therefore, will then qualify that person to perform different tasks. Firstly, let's determine the education level of each health professional, their duties and their services that they can perform. Whilst each of these health professionals has their place in the field, it's important to choose the right person for your dietary needs.

The Personal Trainer

Length of Study & Qualification:

It takes around 3 months to complete your Certificate III in Fitness and another 3 months to complete your Certificate IV in Fitness, the Cert IV is the certificate you need to be a personal trainer. This certificate qualifies you to perform safe and effective exercise to apparently healthy people and can usually cost around $4,000-$6,000. Most certificates also allow you to choose an elective to be qualified in either children's fitness or older adults. More commonly these days, personal training certificates provide some basic training and education in nutrition and healthy food recommendations for your clients.

Insurance & Scope of Practice:

Whilst many personal training insurance companies do offer the personal trainer coverage for nutrition advice, it is simply that, a personal trainer's scope of practice is to offer their clients nutritional recommendations, advice or suggestions to opt towards healthy foods. They are not covered to give nutrition prescription.

*Nutrition prescription is when you are given a list of foods and you following it exactly, including food weight and time to eat.


A personal trainer's qualification is predominantly around safe and effective exercise and does not include any biochemistry (metabolism) or food science units in their qualification. Whilst many clients would still like to receive nutrition advice or recommendations from their personal trainer, it is really up to the client to decide if the information is right for them and whether they would like to go ahead with the recommendations that the personal trainer has suggested.

The Sports Nutrition Coach / Nutrition Coach

Length of Study & Qualification:

The Nutrition Coach is quickly becoming extremely popular these days, especially online and over social media. The Nutrition Coach is usually an add on certificate for those who are already a personal trainer or alike and can usually cost somewhere between $500-$4,000. It offers more specific nutritional education than the personal training certificate does and a lot of trainers will complete this certificate as it gives the trainer a more solid understanding to assist their client's nutritional needs for the purposes of training and exercise performance. These certificates can normally be completed in as little as a few weeks up to a few months.

Insurance & Scope of Practice:

On completion of these certificates, many of the education providers offer monthly fees which include insurance, food databases, mobile applications and coaching tools. Trainers who hold these certificates are eligible to give nutritional recommendations to general population (these are people with no apparent health complications) and it would need to be in the field that they have studied, i.e sports nutrition, bodybuilding, physique etc. These nutrition professionals cannot obtain insurance or obtain a registered title outside of their education provider and in many cases may lose all nutrition entitlements if they choose to cease their membership with the education provider.


The certificate usually covers basic education in human systems, macronutrients, micronutrients, calories, energy production and other areas. These certificates can sometimes be used as an entry ticket or credit towards first-year university subjects. Trainers who hold these certificates are not permitted to give nutrition advice to special populations (these include people who are pregnant, children, elderly or have any complications or illnesses i.e diabetes, bowel diseases etc).

The Nutritionist

Length of Study & Qualification:

A nutritionist must complete a Bachelor's degree at a university level with the equivalent of 3 years full-time study. These degrees cost upwards of $30,000 and a nutritionist will invest around 3,500 hours into their degree including hundreds of hours inside chemistry labs, laboratory kitchens and in practical work experience hours.

Insurance & Scope of Practice:

On completion of their degree, a nutritionist can register with Nutrition Society of Australia to become either a registered associate nutritionist (after graduation but before 2 years post-degree work experience) or a registered nutritionist (after 2 years post-degree work experience). They can also obtain insurance to practice as a nutritionist and work in consultations, dietary prescription, workshops, interventions and health promotions, and work with both general populations and special populations. They cannot obtain Medicare funding, work in a hospital environment or provide dietary prescription to chronically ill patients.


A nutritionist has studied extensively in biochemistry (metabolism), biology (the human body), physiology (how the body functions), food and culinary sciences, global health promotion, anthropometry (body measurements and analysis), dietary prescription and human health. They also study diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, bowel and digestive complications, food intolerances and more.

The Dietitian

Length of Study & Qualification:

A dietitian must first complete a bachelor's degree and then further complete another 2 years of university study at a Masters degree level. This is approximately another 2,500 hours on top of their bachelor's degree. A dietitian can either choose to graduate as a clinical dietitian or a sports dietitian and can expect to pay upwards of $50,000 for their qualification.

Insurance & Scope of Practice:

A dietitian can register with Dietitians Association Australia (DAA) and obtain full insurance for all of their work. A dietetic level is the highest level of qualification and these nutrition professionals can often be regarded as a food doctor. If you were to visit your doctor about a food, digestive or weight issue, they would refer you to a dietitian. Dietitians can also obtain Medicare funding, work in hospitals and treat all patients of all ages and conditions.


The first year of their Master's degree is similar to the Bachelor's degree but at a more advanced level and their second year is mostly working in research or clinical placement within their field of choice. The profession of a dietitian is to contribute to health promotion and the prevention and treatment of illnesses.

Which One Is Right For You?

Whilst all of the health professionals have invested extensive time and money into their education and qualifications, it is important to choose the right professional for your dietary needs. If you're after just a few healthy food tips, then a personal trainer or nutrition coach may be able to give you a few great pointers, although, if you're suffering from health complications or chronic illnesses, it may be best to leave that type of work to the university qualified health professionals.

It is important to note, that whoever you speak to about your dietary needs, you must feel confident to express any health issues that you may have, especially if you take medications. Certain medications and health conditions can affect how your body absorbs, stores and uses vitamins and minerals and this can be extremely important in conditions such as anemia and osteoporosis.

If you're an otherwise generally healthy person with no complications, then speak to someone that you feel comfortable with and that can provide advice for your needs. These days approximately 9/10 adults suffer from at least one condition and it may be something little like PCOS or a food intolerance, so ensure that you speak to a qualified health professional in the appropriate field, that can provide the best possible care and assistance for your needs.

If in doubt, have a chat with your health professional before committing to any payments or sessions to see if they are able to assist you with your needs.

Kristie Harvey

Personal Trainer & Nutritionist

Bachelor of Science (Nutrition & Food Science)

Physiology & Human Nutrition

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