Episode 1 - What's the Difference Between a Nutritionist, Dietitian and Sports Dietitian?

What's the Difference Between a Nutritionist, Dietitian and Sports Dietitian?

A question I get asked to answer all the time! 

Australia currently does not regulate the professional titles ‘nutritionist’ or ‘dietitian’, leaving a wide market for misinformation if you don't do your own research.

In this episode, I break each profession down, what their qualifications are and what each is ‘legally’ allowed to do. I also show you some quick and easy ways to check you're getting your nutrition advice from someone that's qualified to be providing it.

Please do your research and make sure you’re looking for the right professional for what it is you need help with.

In this episode you will learn:

  • What the difference is between a Nutritionist, Dietitian and Sports Dietitian in Australia
  • What to look for when you're seeking help from a nutrition professional
  • Why I get offended when you call me a nutritionist! ;)
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Show Notes

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Episode Transcription

Episode 1 - What's the Difference between a Nutritionist, Dietitian, and Sports Dietitian?

Welcome to this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. Today I wanted to explain to you what the difference is between a Nutritionist, a Dietitian and a Sports Dietitian. Because I get asked this question all the time. And also, wanted to try and explain to you what the heck a Sports Dietitian actually is and why I get offended and will always correct you when you call me a nutritionist.

I also want to show you some quick and easy ways to check that you're getting your nutrition advice from someone that's qualified to be providing it. Because you don't go to an optometrist for a sore foot, right? Or you don't go to your cardiac surgeon for a runny nose. So it makes sense to get your nutrition advice from a qualified dietitian, right? Right! Well, I think so.

And I guess my passion really is to promote dietitians and sports dietitians as the experts in our field. I don't feel like the public really gets a grasp on that. Like we're happy to get our nutrition advice from influencers on Instagram or just the internet or our best mate or our Mum or magazines. And it's really important that, you know, you're getting qualified advice from somebody that's an expert in that space. And I guess that's part of my passion. And also, one of the reasons why I started this podcast - because there's just so much shit out there and I really want to change that.

So part of the problem with people not understanding what a nutritionist and a dietitian is, is in Australia, in particular, we don't actually regulate the professional titles “Nutritionist” or “Dietitian” and that leaves a wide market for misinformation if you don't do your own research. I find also that the media tends to use the two terms interchangeably. So it doesn't really make distinctions between qualifications. It makes that really hard and it only causes more confusion. So I totally get why you're confused and I think, if you listen to the podcast today, you should have a better understanding of which each profession is and what they do and where you should go depending on what you're looking for.

So let's break each one of them down. I'm going to go through the qualifications in Australia here and also what each profession is legally allowed to do.

 

Nutritionist

So, nutritionist first – let's start here. I think this is probably the most confusing of the three. And that's because of a range of things, but I guess there's varying levels of qualification that result in the title nutritionist. It could be somebody that's done a three-year university degree and that's a legit, you know, university level qualification. And you have to keep up lots of continual professional development points like I do. So we actually have the same regulatory body here in Australia. But there's not any current regulations over that title in Australia. Meaning that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist if they want to. Even you could. It could be somebody that's done a 20-minute online lecture or a short course in nutrition coaching. It’s really hard to differentiate from that, somebody that's done 20 minutes online or a quick upskilling program on the internet with somebody that's spent 3 years slogging their guts out in a pretty hectic university degree.

So the problem is, regulation of the title and the Nutrition Society of Australia is currently attempting to clear up that confusion with a voluntary registration that requires a minimum 3 year tertiary degree or relevant years of work experience to gain that title of a registered nutritionist. So you want to look for that after somebody's name and if you're searching for a nutritionist in particular, then you want to look for an ‘Accredited Nutritionist’ or ‘AN’ after their name as well if we’re talking about the same regulatory body as me. So there are two things that you want to look for after a person's name if you're looking for somebody that's an actual qualified, like university level Nutritionist.

So what they study at Uni is they do more community and public health stuff, a bit of food science and food policy. So they're qualified to offer more broad health advice. So population-based stuff. They're actually not qualified to deliver individualised medical nutrition therapy like a dietitian would and I guess that's a difference between an accredited nutritionist and accredited practicing dietitian. Now here’s more confusion. In Australia, every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist can call themselves a dietitian unless they've undergone that complete further study to get there. So 3 years undergrad is nutritionist and 4 years undergrad is dietitian. You could also do post-grad dietetics as well. Super confusing, right?

I know a lot of dietitians that actually call themselves a nutritionist and particularly in the media, I think because it's much more sort of common to understand what a nutritionist is, but people don't really kind of get what a dietitian is. So that opens up a fair bit more confusion as well.

 

Dietitian

So let's go through what a dietitian is so you can understand why I get annoyed when you call me a nutritionist and I will always correct you. A dietitian is a person with a 4-year undergrad Uni degree, or you can do an undergrad degree and then do 2-years in masters or post-grad. So my degree was called Nutrition and Dietetics. It's a Bachelor of Health Science. But there's a few other degrees around now, back then when I studied, back in the dinosaurs, there wasn't sort of any different offerings. I only had one choice of undergrad, but there's a few more available now.

So we are qualified to provide more individualised and evidence-based nutrition advice. Because we've done a whole degree with substantial theory and practice in medical nutrition therapy. And it's a pretty hardcore degree. It's like medicine, but food. We do heaps of chemistry and biochemistry. We do anatomy, physiology and then we do deep, deep medical nutrition therapy. It's what's actually recognised by Medicare and DVA and many private health funds which means that if you have private health that has dietitian cover, you can actually get a rebate for coming to see me if you have that. So not all of the expenses of seeing a dietitian have to be out of pocket if you have dietitian cover.

Now as a dietitian, I have to maintain a whole heap of CPD or Continual Professional Development points each year to re-register and also maintain my qualification. So I guess that helps with credibility is that you don't just do an online course or a nutrition coaching program and then here's your piece of paper and that's it. For me to stay registered, to give you individual nutrition advice, every year I have to do a certain amount of professional development experience points to maintain that qualification. Otherwise, I’ll lose that qualification.

So if you're looking for a dietitian in Australia, make sure you're looking for an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. So you want to see ‘APD’ after their name. Now, dietitians can specialize in lots of areas and like when you start out, you know a little bit about everything, kind of like a GP, but with time, you get more experience and you kind of potentially niche down into a certain area that you are passionate about or you enjoy working with, or you fall into.

So there's dietitians that are quite specialist with diabetes or chronic kidney disease or gastro health, or there's some good fertility dietitians out there now that just sort of deal with fertility. So depending on what you need, then you want to look for somebody that's actually specialised in your area that you need help with. So you would see a general dietitian if you need assistance with a chronic disease or weight management, or just want to improve your overall health.

 

Sports Dietitian

Now the next one, which is a bit more specialist, again, is a sports dietitian. And I want to explain what a sports dietitian is and how you get there. And I'm going to refer to Australia because that's what I know. But in Australia, you need to be an accredited practising dietitian first and back then, again, dinosaur land, you had to have a minimum of 2 years of clinical experience before you even did that further study. Now I think it's only 1 year, so it's a bit shorter. But you have to have a degree first in dietetics before you can even step into the sports nutrition realm. You have to be registered with the Sports Dietitian’s Association in Australia as well. So I'm registered with SDA and as well as the Dietitian's Association. So both of them have separate CPD that I need to complete every year and both of them have fees, of course. So it's a fair bit to uphold my qualification every year to stay registered as a dietitian and give advice.

Now a sports dietitian is a specialist, right? We are gurus in optimising athletic performance through food. So we've got general nutrition from dietetic days. And then we've got the extra layer on top of that to specialise in people that are active. Now I talk about athletes, but when I talk about athletes, I mean, anyone that exercises on purpose, you're an athlete. So you don't have to be an elite athlete to see a sports dietitian. I think they are really useful for elite athletes, but I see everyday athletes. And so you're an athlete in my mind.

Now sports dietitians also specialise in certain areas. So there's fighter dietitians, there's boxing sort of sports dietitians, working with those sports that need to make weight. There are team sports dietitians like rugby and AFL and soccer. And then there's endurance sports nutrition specialists like me.

Now a little bit about my experience just quickly. So I've done a 4 year undergrad degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. I then did the sports nutrition course with the Sports Dietitians Australia. I then also did a two-year IOC diploma and that was in sports nutrition. So further post-grad study to really specialise in sports as an area. I was also really lucky to do a fellowship at the AIS and that I did with Triathlon Australia, I was their dietitian. And then off the back of that, they contacted me personally and I've done that for the past 6 years. So working with our elite Australian triathlon and para-triathlon team to be their dietitian, which is like so cool. Coolest job ever!

So endurance sports nutrition really is my specialty area. Like triathlon, I think is my jam. I live it. I breathe it all I do most days is triathlon nutrition. So you wouldn't come and see me if you were a boxer or a fighter like I'm not a specialist in making weight. I also don't do team sports sort of stuff like rugby league players and things or a golfer. You're not my people. Like I work with triathletes day in, day out. You are my people.

Because my superpower is I know exactly how much carbohydrate is in a whole range of sports drinks or gels or bars off the top of my head, because I'm doing that all day every day. I also understand the logistics of the sport – having competed in it myself. And I'm a practitioner. I can translate the deep science into practical advice that you can implement and understand. So you don't need to try and figure it out on Dr. Google yourself. So they're my superpowers and that's what makes me more of an endurance sport dietitian specialist.

So you would come to see me if you're a swimmer or a cyclist or a runner or I've got a few mountain bikers. Particularly the crazy types like Emma, who does 24-hour races. And I guess my bread and butter is triathletes and ironman athletes. Right from sprint, Olympic, 70.3, up to Ironman athletes and a few sort of multi day events as well. They're pretty cool, but I guess not as many people do those. So I haven't had a heap of athletes, but I've done a few.

So I hope that helps you understand the different types of professions. So nutritionist, dietitian, sports dietitian, and depending on what you're looking for, who you would need to go to see that.

So just like you have a medical professional, or you'd go and see a physio if you needed to see someone for a sore muscle or whatever it is, you don't go and see an optometrist for a sore knee. Like you really want to try and find a specialist for what you're looking for. And I think that's really important.

So I hope that helps and I hope that helps you to understand why I will correct you if you call me a nutritionist, so make sure you are looking for the right professional for what you need.

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