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Your guide to becoming a functional nutritionist

nutritionist reviews diet plan with client

Functional nutritionist career overview

Degree required: Varies by state, bachelor’s degree or higher is typical

Education field of study: Nutrition or dietetics

What you’ll do: Work with clients to address the root cause of their symptoms with nutritional and other lifestyle changes

Licensure required: Yes, in some states

Median annual salary: $66,450

Job growth through 2032: 6.6%

Nutrition is a standard facet of holistic medicine, which approaches health as a measure of numerous lifestyle factors instead of just a collection of symptoms. Functional nutrition applies this same way of thinking within nutrition itself.

“A big thing with functional medicine is we’re trying to address root causes,” said Rachel Mistry, lead clinical mentor of the Funk’tional Nutrition Academy and lead practitioner of The Funk’tional Nutritionist. “With a lot of conventional medicine, the thought process is that there’s a pill for every ill. If you have diabetes, take this medication; if you have high blood pressure, take this medication. A lot of dieticians and nutritionists I do believe get into the field because they’re passionate about preventative medicine. How can we help to optimize people’s health before they get that official disease diagnosis?

Many nutritionists and dieticians champion functional nutrition in their practice. If you are thinking of becoming a nutritionist—or if you already are one and wish to evolve your practice in this direction—functional nutrition is one route you may want to consider specializing in.

In This Article

Taking a holistic approach to health and focusing on identifying and addressing the root causes of health issues rather than just treating the symptoms is the main goal of a functional nutritionist.

Where do functional nutritionists work?

Functional nutritionists can find work in several healthcare settings, including:

  • Outpatient care settings
  • Holistic healthcare clinics
  • Natural pharmacies, herbalist shops or other health food stores

It’s also common for nutritionists to set up their own private or group practice. In these cases, they may operate out of an office, from their home or possibly by visiting clients at their homes. Owning a private practice allows for more autonomy and possibly a higher salary since you can set your own rate, but you’re still running a business. You may have to rely more on word-of-mouth and self-marketing to establish a consistent client base.

What does a functional nutritionist do?

Functional nutritionists utilize functional medicine principles in their practice to help clients address their unique health concerns and prevent symptoms with a proactive rather than reactive approach.

“I feel like functional medicine and functional nutrition is really the science of why something is happening…”

“I feel like functional medicine and functional nutrition is really the science of why something is happening,” Mistry said. “We need to figure out what is putting so much demand on the body and the immune system that is creating symptoms in the first place. We think of symptoms not as something that’s wrong with you but as a sign that something else in your body isn’t functioning well. In functional medicine and functional nutrition, we run labs, we look at your environment, we look at your diet. I say this a lot in practice, but I say we go inflammation hunting as well. We’re addressing the whole person and their unique needs.”

To that end, functional nutritionists can expect to perform the following duties as part of their job: 

  • Help clients identify their particular health goals
  • Evaluate clients’ lifestyle factors that could be affecting their health, such as diet, environment, exercise and more
  • Collaborate with clients to create nutrition plans and other lifestyle adjustments to help achieve their goals
  • Order labs and other diagnostic tools
  • Monitor and document patients’ progress
  • Educate the client on ways to improve their health given their unique needs, goals and limitations

Who should become a functional nutritionist? 

Anyone with the desire to incorporate a more holistic and preventative approach to their nutrition practice can learn about functional nutrition. Functional nutritionists possess many of the same qualities as other nutrition professionals, including:

  • Desire to help others achieve their wellness goals
  • Passion for preventative medicine
  • Commitment to be a lifelong learner

Mistry said that finding a niche that you’re passionate about is essential for building a fulfilling career, and there are even niches within functional nutrition itself. “I work a ton with gut health, autoimmunity and hormonal health. I work with other clinicians that are really passionate about body composition and metabolic health.

There are many different niches and specialties that you can definitely find something that you are looking for that you are happy with. When you’re excited about what you do for work, you’re going to want to continue to learn and you’re going to continue to seek out additional opportunities for education as well.”

Requirements to become a functional nutritionist

Relatively few states have licenses solely for nutritionists. It’s more common for states to license dietitians and/or have a dual dietitian/nutritionist license available. It is best to begin by researching the licensing laws in your state to find out whether you need a license at all to call yourself a nutritionist.

For states that either have a nutritionist license or a dietitian/nutritionist license, most require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics, though some require a master’s degree. On top of that, you most likely need to complete several hundred supervised hours with a licensed nutrition professional before you can apply for a license.

If you live in a state that does not offer a nutritionist license of any kind, there are still numerous nutritionist certifications that can provide you with credentials to validate your skills and set you apart in the field. Most of them require a bachelor’s degree or higher in nutrition or dietetics, a certain amount of relevant experience and passing an exam.

These certifications are voluntary but are worthwhile if you want to increase your credibility. Many of the states that do have licenses for nutritionists model their requirements after certain certifications, so it’s possible that by getting licensed by your state, you already qualify for a certification. Certifications are a worthwhile endeavor for anyone in the field, regardless of your state’s licensing laws.

Although it is not technically required to become a functional nutritionist, the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) offers a Functional Medicine Certification Program for people with an active healthcare license, including licensed nutritionists and/or dietitians. Applicants also must possess at least a master’s degree in a health-related field and complete the required courses and exam to get this certification.

How to get experience as a functional nutritionist

There are numerous education and training programs out there to learn more about functional nutrition and incorporate it into your practice. Some colleges and universities offer functional nutrition as a major or as the focus of a certificate program. There are also plenty of independent providers that offer training programs in functional nutrition, such as:

Funk’tional Nutrition Academy which offers a 14-month fully online functional nutrition program.

Institute of Integrative Nutrition offers numerous health and wellness courses as well as health coaching certificates 

Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy (IFNA) offers both a Functional Nutrition Certification and an Integrative & Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner (IFNCP) credential. Both require completing their online training, and the IFNCP credential also requires passing an exam.

Functional Nutrition Alliance has a 10-month online nutrition training program that awards a Functional Nutrition Alliance Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor credential. Graduates of this program also have the option to complete a four-month practicum which provides a Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Practitioner certification.

MindBodyGreen, an online wellness publication and training provider, has a functional nutrition training program that can be taken on its own or as part of their health coach certification.

Mistry also said that there are numerous free educational resources out there to get your feet wet, which may be a good starting point to find out if you want to commit to a formal education or training program. “I would always encourage somebody to get some very foundational exposure to that material and see if it resonates well with you.”

Mistry noted that the following institutions have free webinars and other free educational materials that may be helpful for a budding functional nutritionist to learn more about the field:

Functional nutritionist salary and job outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track data for certain specialties within the umbrella of nutritionists and dieticians. According to their 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, the median annual salary for nutritionists and dietitians is $66,450. Populous states such as California, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania unsurprisingly employ the most people in this group.

California is the state that boasts the highest median annual wage for dieticians and nutritionists at $80,270, followed by New Jersey, Hawaii, New York and Connecticut. 

Dietitians and Nutritionists

National data

Median Salary: $66,450

Projected job growth: 6.6%

10th Percentile: $44,140

25th Percentile: $56,490

75th Percentile: $80,430

90th Percentile: $95,130

Projected job growth: 6.6%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $60,320 $37,210 $80,500
Alaska $74,340 $49,530 $95,100
Arizona $65,440 $49,890 $87,860
Arkansas $53,990 $37,120 $75,730
California $80,270 $30,600 $111,460
Colorado $74,700 $49,620 $92,920
Connecticut $75,680 $51,010 $93,430
Delaware $63,420 $54,490 $101,290
District of Columbia $85,380 $63,980 $103,010
Florida $63,240 $46,240 $81,910
Georgia $61,660 $36,970 $83,290
Hawaii $77,490 $56,490 $94,690
Idaho $62,530 $38,200 $85,290
Illinois $63,970 $42,890 $88,340
Indiana $61,700 $48,070 $81,660
Iowa $61,360 $46,150 $76,430
Kansas $62,590 $49,600 $88,490
Kentucky $61,910 $42,500 $78,520
Louisiana $62,290 $46,070 $81,720
Maine $67,630 $52,000 $129,450
Maryland $71,770 $55,200 $102,480
Massachusetts $66,050 $36,530 $94,180
Michigan $63,680 $48,830 $79,810
Minnesota $66,530 $52,320 $85,910
Mississippi $52,000 $23,550 $77,500
Missouri $59,590 $35,860 $78,670
Montana $60,840 $33,510 $77,440
Nebraska $63,180 $45,610 $80,160
Nevada $64,300 $35,750 $96,710
New Hampshire $67,840 $53,260 $87,840
New Jersey $80,140 $52,440 $107,290
New Mexico $63,960 $46,940 $79,010
New York $76,640 $50,820 $102,540
North Carolina $60,110 $44,350 $83,030
North Dakota $64,820 $50,570 $86,070
Ohio $62,650 $48,000 $79,440
Oklahoma $61,850 $36,670 $81,250
Oregon $75,160 $59,470 $98,410
Pennsylvania $63,320 $45,680 $84,940
Rhode Island $67,590 $51,120 $99,470
South Carolina $61,610 $33,860 $81,620
South Dakota $60,030 $47,720 $86,070
Tennessee $61,490 $31,160 $76,130
Texas $63,690 $43,210 $86,940
Utah $59,170 $33,580 $87,290
Vermont $72,900 $54,980 $96,700
Virginia $68,940 $44,420 $90,110
Washington $75,570 $54,280 $96,250
West Virginia $68,310 $48,870 $88,940
Wisconsin $62,650 $46,570 $81,720
Wyoming $63,510 $38,500 $93,030

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

The employment of dieticians and nutritionists is expected to grow 6.6% through 2032, about as fast as the average across all occupations, though slightly faster. Some studies indicate that there is an increasing need and demand for research in the field of integrative medicine, which nutrition (and functional nutrition more specifically) can be considered a part. This could lead to a higher growth percentage in years to come.

“I think that it’s just becoming more prevalent,” Mistry said. “People are staying sick and are not getting the results that they had hoped for with conventional medicine, so then they start to look elsewhere.” Mistry said that another reason she thinks the field is growing and will continue to grow is due to the rise of telehealth and the ease of being able to offer nutrition services virtually.

How to get started as a functional nutritionist

Seeing healthcare as the synthesis of several aspects of one’s life—physical, mental and even spiritual needs—rather than a collection of symptoms is a perspective of holistic health practitioners and osteopathic physicians alike. Functional nutritionists utilize this approach, too, by focusing on how nutritional health interacts with all those aspects of the individual.

Functional nutrition is not a board-certified specialty, but there are many training programs out there through various academic and independent providers to learn about the field. Although licensing requirements for nutritionists vary by state, all nutritionists should consider getting at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related field if they want to qualify for any professional credentials. A master’s degree is a great choice too for those who already have an undergraduate education. Start researching degrees today to find the perfect program for your career in functional nutrition.

Published: July 12, 2023

kendall upton

Written and reported by:
Kendall Upton

Staff Writer

rachel mistry

With professional insights from:
Rachel Mistry, MS, RDN

Lead Clinical Mentor of the Funk’tional Nutrition Academy and Lead Practitioner of The Funk’tional Nutritionist