Having already earned my CPR/AED and CPT certifications through the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), I was eager to explore other options that could enhance my abilities and income-earning opportunities as a fitness professional. As I expanded my client base at YouFit, where I started working as a personal trainer shortly after getting my certification, I quickly realized that few understood the basics of nutrition. In fact, it was evident that many people need more help with figuring out how to fuel their bodies rather than how to move them.
I took advantage of the partnership between ISSA and YouFit and scored a discounted rate on a specialization course: the nutritionist certification course. This certification course allowed me to gain an in-depth understanding of how to put together an effective nutrition program. Ripe with helpful resources like video lectures, downloadable client forms, and direct access to ISSA’s resident nutrition expert, the course contains all the tools you need to not only pass the final exam, but also become a more confident and capable health and fitness coach.
This ISSA nutrition certification review provides a comprehensive breakdown of the course materials — including the Fitness Nutrition textbook and chapter quizzes — and covers other key components so you can decide whether to take the plunge and purchase the course. (Hint: It’s well worth it.)
- For about $650, the ISSA nutrition certification course is a wise investment for personal trainers and health coaches who want to expand their business by offering a valuable service to both current and prospective clients.
- Besides going in-depth on scientific topics like macronutrients, micronutrients, metabolism, digestion, and hydration, this nutrition program also addresses important areas like behavior change, goal setting, and motivation — all of which contribute to a client’s success.
- While the final exam contains 100 multiple-choice questions and a six-part essay portion, it’s an open-book test. You should have no trouble meeting the 70 percent threshold to pass, especially if you utilize the study materials and perform well on the chapter quizzes.
What is the ISSA Nutrition Certification?
One of many specializations available through ISSA, their nutrition certification course is a great way to get a leg up on the competition and help your clients crush their goals faster. For certified personal trainers like me who want to provide the best possible science-backed guidance on how to stay properly fueled, it’s hard to go wrong with a program like this. It allows you to work at your own pace as you learn about everything from determining a client’s ideal macronutrient intake to putting together a well-rounded supplement stack to building a nutrition coaching business.
Along the way, your knowledge will be tested with chapter quizzes to see your progress. Pairing the Fitness Nutrition textbook with video lectures provides a solid foundation for learning that you can build upon further with the help of a dedicated Success Coach who you can access via email or by calling the ISSA support line during business hours. Although I didn’t take advantage of this resource, having it available certainly qualifies as a plus for this nutrition program, especially if you struggle with some of the more science-heavy subjects.
By the time you complete the course and pass the final exam, you will be empowered to provide your nutritional expertise to clients who want to lose fat, gain muscle, or simply improve their overall health and wellness. After all, obtaining your cert from an organization that earned accreditation from both the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) gives validity and added value to you and your growing business.
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ISSA Nutrition Certification Course Highlights
Registering for the ISSA Nutritionist course is the first step in becoming a more effective certified personal trainer and lifestyle coach. You will immediately gain access to a guided study program that includes the online version of the Fitness Nutrition textbook, nearly 20 video lectures, and dedicated chapter quizzes designed to prepare you for the final exam. The program is meant to be completed in 10 weeks, but because you can complete the course at your own pace, you may be able to obtain your nutrition certification even faster.
As you make your way through the course, you will gain an in-depth understanding of everything from energy systems to fad diets to common vitamin deficiencies. Even though the breadth of information might seem overwhelming at times, rest assured that you will be a superior coach by spending the time, money, and energy on seeing this nutrition program through.
Once you complete all the quizzes, you will then be able to take the final exam, which consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and six essay questions. You must earn at least a 70 percent overall to earn a passing grade from ISSA. The test is untimed (it took me about two hours) and open-book, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble hitting that mark on your first attempt.
Overall, I thought the ISSA nutrition certification course was worth it for multiple reasons. First, I received all the tools I needed to deliver high-quality programming and guidance for my clients, including downloadable forms. Second, I had the option to utilize resources like the online student forum and Nutrition Educational Bootcamp for further support. Finally, it set me up for more financial success in the future by giving me another avenue to earn income as a fitness professional.
Who Should Get the ISSA Nutrition Certification
- Coaches who seek more in-depth knowledge on nutrition than what’s provided in standard personal trainer certification programs.
- Coaches who want to get better results from current clients or be better-prepared to help new clients reach their goals.
- Entrepreneurial-minded individuals who want to attract more business by providing a valuable service that other trainers may not offer.
- ISSA-certified personal trainers who want to satisfy their continuing education unit (CEU) requirement and save on recertification fees.
Who Shouldn’t Get the ISSA Nutrition Certification
- Anyone who wants to prescribe medical nutritional therapy (treating medical conditions with diet), as this does not fall under the scope of practice for a nutrition coach.
- Anyone who desires to work as a registered dietician, which requires a bachelor’s degree from an approved supervised clinical program, passing the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) final exam, and completion of CEU requirements to maintain registration.
- Certified personal trainers who have a formal education in sports nutrition or food science, as they will likely already be familiar with a majority of the course material content.
How Much Does the ISSA Nutrition Certification Cost?
Without any discounts, the ISSA nutrition certification typically costs just north of $600. Keep in mind, though, that the organization regularly offers specials throughout the year that may lower that total. You can also save money by pairing the ISSA CPT course with a specialization like the Nutritionist course to become a certified Fitness Coach for less than $1,000.
Moreover, ISSA makes it easier for students to afford their nutrition program by offering three payment plan options. If you rather not pay in full, you can choose between a six- or 12-payment setup. Not only does that give you the flexibility to spread out the total cost, but it also comes with the benefit of being interest-free.
ISSA Nutrition Certification Course Materials
Registering for this self-paced course gives you access to a wealth of study guide materials and other useful resources you can even use after you earn your nutritionist certificate.
From video lectures that further explain some of the topics covered in the online textbook to quizzes that reinforce key concepts and help prepare you for the final exam, let’s take a look at what ISSA provides students:
Fitness Nutrition Textbook
Featuring contributions from nine individuals — including Daniel Gastelu, ISSA Professor & Director of Nutritional Sciences, and Adam Seal, a postdoctoral researcher at California Polytechnic State University’s Department of Kinesiology and Public Health — the Fitness Nutrition textbook spans 19 chapters and is nearly 500 pages long. Revised in September 2022, it is well-organized and fairly user-friendly, with plenty of images, tables, and graphs that provide additional context.
While the chapters vary in length, most fall between 10 and 20 pages. Each one is separated into multiple sub-topics, with some featuring as few as two (Chapter 2: Cells, Organ Systems, and Digestion) and others being broken down into far more sections. For instance, the chapter on protein covers 10 topics ranging from protein’s role in the body to how it’s digested to why athletes need it for optimal performance.
Here is a complete list of the chapters in the latest version of the ISSA’s Fitness Nutrition textbook:
- Cells, Organ Systems, and Digestion
- Metabolism and Energy Balance
- Water and Hydration
- The Role of the Nutrition Coach
- Stages of Change and Motivational Interviewing
- Client Assessment and Goal Setting
- Business in Nutrition Coaching
- Dietary Guidelines
- Product and Supplement Labels and Claims
- Navigating Successful and Trending Diets
- Special Nutrition Scenarios
As someone who signed up for the certification course with a solid foundation of the fundamentals of nutrition, I still found the textbook to be a valuable resource. That being said, some of the earlier chapters were quite science-heavy and not necessarily the most pertinent for a personal trainer. The chapters on cells and organ systems and metabolism and energy balance made me feel like I had been transported straight back to high school biology — which wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.
However, after getting through those more complicated chapters, I found a majority of the textbook to be directly applicable to my role as a personal trainer and fitness coach. Sure, some of the information on macronutrients had some crossover from the ISSA CPT course. But the in-depth material on micronutrients, hydration, and the psychological and business aspects of being a nutrition coach certainly gave me a more well-rounded understanding of all the aspects it takes to steer a client in the right direction.
From a coaching perspective, I particularly appreciated the “Product and Supplement Labels and Claims” chapter for providing detailed tables of the requirements needed to make claims like “All Natural” and “Good Source Of” on food labels. Since the general public is largely unaware of these intricacies that can have a major impact on their health and wellness, this is exactly the type of easily digestible information that we as certified personal trainers need to educate our clients on.
To supplement the textbook, ISSA also provides video lectures that highlight key points from complex chapters. Throughout the 10-week guided study plan, visual learners can brush up on their knowledge by watching videos on topics like common digestive orders, protein bioavailability, simple vs. complex carbohydrates, and psychology and food marketing.
In total, there are 19 video lectures included with the ISSA nutrition coach certification course. However, because most of them fall under the two-minute mark, you certainly shouldn’t (or can’t) rely on them to give you all the information you need to comprehend the associated chapter.
The ISSA nutritionist program challenges you to demonstrate your understanding of the course material through a series of 18 open-book quizzes. Each one contains 10 multiple-choice questions that stem directly from the textbook.
While it’s important to obtain a high score for your own understanding, there is no minimum threshold you must meet. Plus, you can take the quizzes as many times as necessary. I found the majority of them to be fairly straightforward, requiring an average of about 30 minutes or so to complete.
Speaking of completion, you will be able to access and start your final exam only after you finish all of the 18 quizzes.
Nutritionist Educational Bootcamp
If you need more assistance than what the textbook and lectures provide, ISSA has you covered. The Nutrition Bootcamp takes things to the next level with five weeks of direct access to high-level experts.
During the five hour-long video sessions, ISSA Elite Trainer & Senior Content Developer Jenny Scott and Lionel University faculty member Dr. Alex Hoffman deliver comprehensive lessons on study skills specifically aimed at certain chapters. For example, their Week 5 Nutrition Bootcamp covered test-taking tips, special scenarios for nutrition coaching, and building a business.
For more individualized support, the duo hosted open office hours for five live one-hour sessions. Although I didn’t participate, other students can benefit greatly from getting direct answers to their questions in preparation for the ISSA exam.
Client Forms Library
Available in the “Downloads” section in ISSA’s student portal is a collection of forms and handouts that can make life much easier if you’re a personal trainer.
Here’s what’s included:
- Client Intake Form
- Exercise History Questionnaire
- Exercise Physical Activity Readiness (PAR) Questionnaire
- Health History Form
- Medical History Form
- Three-Day Dietary Log
While you don’t have to utilize these forms, it can save you a ton of time from having to create your own. Because YouFit provides personal trainers with their own forms for gathering client data, I didn’t use the ones available through ISSA. But anyone who’s looking to go into private coaching can rely on this resource and use the recognizable ISSA branding to bring instant credibility when working with a new client.
Final Exam for the ISSA Nutritionist Certification
Once you’ve completed all the quizzes and utilized the study materials, you should be prepared for the last stage of the ISSA nutrition certification program: the final exam.
Like the ISSA personal trainer certification course, the exam for the nutrition course is untimed, meaning you can take breaks and pick back up where you left off. On the other hand, the structure of the final exam differs in that it consists of both multiple-choice questions and essay questions, such as describing and explaining the role of the three macronutrients and providing the recommended dietary allowances for each.
I found it to be more challenging than the ISSA personal training certification test, especially with the addition of a written portion. For transparency’s sake, I scored an 86 on the multiple-choice section and received 92 out of a possible 120 points on the essay section for a cumulative score of 81 percent.
Expected Study Time
ISSA breaks down the course into 10 weeks, with some weeks covering multiple chapters from the textbook. Because some of the science-heavy content can be challenging to comprehend, you may spend more time studying some chapters than others.
From my experience, it took about an hour and a half of study time per day for just over a month for me to complete the course from start to finish. However, fitness trainers who aren’t familiar with the basic tenets of food science may need longer.
Just how difficult is it to hit that 70 percent mark on the ISSA nutritionist final exam? With a pass rate of 85 percent, it’s clear that the course materials do a more-than-adequate job of getting students ready to earn their cert. Still, it’s interesting to note that the pass rate for the ISSA CPT certification exam is slightly higher at about 90 percent.
Don’t fret about any financial ramifications if you fail to pass the final exam on your first try. The ISSA provides one free retest for its nutrition certification program. And since the exam is open-book, you should be able to achieve at least a 70 percent if you have to retake it.
However, if you don’t pass on your two free attempts, there is a $99 resubmission fee per subsequent attempt.
ISSA Continuing Education Requirements
If you obtained your personal training certification through ISSA, you must complete at least 20 continuing education units (CEUs) through workshops, seminars, other certifications, or other approved activities every two years. Luckily, going through their nutrition certification program will not only take care of that 20-unit requirement, but also allow you to skip out on having to pay a $99 recertification fee.
Although that wasn’t the primary reason I signed up for the course, I gladly welcomed this added bonus with open arms. And with my CEUs already taken care of, I can focus my efforts on getting the best results for my clients.
Nutrition coaching can be a solid career choice if you know how to market your services. According to ZipRecruiter.com, as of September 11, 2023, the national average salary for a nutrition health coach was $43,270. Most coaches can expect to make around $21 per hour, though that figure varies by state.
While that salary range won’t make you a millionaire, you can boost your earning potential by establishing a strong online presence. Building a loyal following on social media and learning how to consistently reel in new clients via testimonials and engaging video content can help you stand out in a crowded field of certified personal trainers and nutrition coaches.
Other ISSA Certification Programs
Whether you want to start your career as a CPT or add a specialization to your resume, ISSA offers a wide range of courses that you can complete from the comfort of your own home.
In addition to Nutritionist, here are some of their most popular fitness certification options:
- Master Trainer
- Elite Trainer
- Corrective Exercise
- Fitness Coach
- Certified Health Coach
- Online Coach
- Bodybuilding Specialist
- Powerlifting Instructor
Plus, there’s even a second nutrition-based program you can partake in through ISSA: the Precision Nutrition Certification.
Precision Nutrition Certification
Should you find yourself in need of even more nutrition tools, there’s another option available, albeit at a much steeper price. At a cost of about $1,200, the ISSA Nutrition & Fitness Coach certification program allows you to obtain two world-class certifications thanks to a partnership with one of the biggest leaders in the fitness industry: Precision Nutrition.
Partaking in this two-part course allows you to earn ISSA’s top-rated personal trainer certification and Precision Nutrition’s Level 1 Certification for a fairly affordable price. You can take both courses at your own pace, and each final exam is open-book. Ultimately, though, if you’re focused more on training than delivering ultra-detailed nutrition protocols, you’ll be safe with signing up for the standard ISSA nutritionist course.
ISSA vs. NASM
Like ISSA, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has a pathway for personal trainers to become certified in nutrition coaching. Written and reviewed by 20 leading experts, the NASM Certified Nutrition Coach Certification (CNC) curriculum includes 24 in-depth chapters across three sections: Nutritional Science, Behavior Change Strategies, and Nutrition Coaching. The course culminates in an open-book final exam that contains 100 multiple-choice questions, which you must finish within 90 minutes.
To earn the NASM CNC, you must obtain a score of at least 70 percent. You are allowed to retake the test two more times if you do not pass initially. If you fail all three attempts, you must contact the Member Services team via phone to discuss your options. From a cost perspective, NASM is slightly more expensive than ISSA, checking in at around $750. However, the organization also offers interest-free financing as an incentive.
ISSA vs. ACE
Compared to ISSA, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers a more affordable option for nutrition certification. At just under $500, their Fitness Nutrition Specialist Program might be more palatable if you have a limited budget. Not only does the course include an eBook, video lectures, and quizzes, but it also features a podcast that goes through the details of each stage of the behavior change process.
Just like ISSA, ACE requires students to score at least a 70 percent on the final exam to earn a passing grade. Not only do you get to take the test at home, but you are allowed unlimited retakes. Keep in mind that because the ACE nutrition program is a continuing education course, you must already hold an NCCA-accredited certification to be able to make the claim of “specialist.”
Parting Thoughts on the ISSA Nutritionist Certification Program
As someone who underwent a major weight-loss journey, I can sympathize with those who struggle to get their nutrition right. However, going through the process of shedding 75 pounds and finding my calling as a personal trainer and fitness coach taught me how important it is to be aware of everything you put into your body. Building off that first-hand experience by taking the ISSA nutritionist certification program sharpened my skills and knowledge, opened more doors to make more money, and most importantly, put me in a stronger position to help other people achieve their own physique and health goals.
So, if you’re ready to take your career as a fitness professional to the next level, don’t hesitate to sign up for a specialization program that both you and your clients can benefit from for years to come.