The Truth About Registered Dietitians (And Why Athletes Should See One!)

We are continuing our celebration of National Nutrition Month because today, Wednesday, March 9, 2016 marks the 9th annual Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Day!


Dietitians often get asked, “What’s the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?”


This can be pretty confusing – anyone can call themselves a “Nutritionist” in the United States – it isn’t a legally protected or credentialed title and you don’t necessarily need a degree or certification, whereas Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RD/RDN) need to complete the following academic and professional requirements to earn the “RD/RDN” credentials after their name:

  • Earn at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • Complete a supervised practice program
  • Pass a registration examination
  • Complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration
  • More than half of all RDNs have also earned master’s degrees or higher

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics decided several years ago that there was too much confusion over what the difference between a Registered Dietitian and a Nutritionist was, so they now allow Registered Dietitians to use RD or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) interchangeably. The title “Nutritionist” can be misleading without the words “Registered Dietitian” in front of it – an RD can be called a Nutritionist, but someone who calls themselves a Nutritionist isn’t necessarily an RD. 


Dietitians work in a wide variety of workplaces. RD’s go through the same basic training to be able to work as a member of a healthcare team, administering medical nutrition therapy in hospitals, HMO’s, nursing homes and other health care facilities…but they also work throughout the community in grocery stores, schools, fitness centers, the food industry, food service establishments, in private practice, at universities, in research, and many other settings. Anyone with the RD/RDN credentials after their name has completed the above requirements, but many RDs will specialize in a certain area to become experts in whatever field they choose. 


We aren’t really the “food police!” Dietitians are often called the “Food Police,” but ask any RD and they will probably tell you that they actually don’t just eat celery, beans, flax seeds and salads. That’s part of the fun of being a dietitian – helping people understand that “all foods fit” so they can find a sustainable, healthy eating pattern that helps them improve their health.


Dietitians don’t just tell people how to lose weight…though, if you have a weight loss goal, a Registered Dietitian can help you determine the best individualized plan to achieve this goal! Dietitians are armed with the knowledge to be able to help people manage their weight, manage chronic diseases, go through cancer treatments, help people stretch their food dollars, improve physical performance in sports, and so much more.  There are a LOT of “best diets” out there, but in reality, there is no one-size-fits-all “healthy” diet for everyone  dietitians know that they need to take the whole person into consideration when giving advice.


A lot of athletes come through the doors of the Sports Science Institute, and every athlete has unique nutrient needs based on their performance goals, training schedule, and food preferences. Athletes can benefit from seeing a dietitian because:

  • Again, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for everyone, including athletes…even athletes within the same position in the same sport have different needs.
  • Good nutrition not only allows athletes to push themselves harder during practice and competition, it helps athletes recover faster, which results in better performance at the next practice or competition. 
  • Dietitians help athletes get the most out of their training because meal timing is just as important as determining what foods to eat – a dietitian can help athletes determine what foods to eat, and the best time to eat certain foods to be able to optimize their practices and competitions. 
  • Contrary to popular websites, dietary supplements are the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. No amount of supplements can make up for years of training, genetic makeup, or good general nutrition!

If you live in the Sioux Falls area, the Sanford Sports Science Institute Nutritionist sees athletes of all ages, from all sports, helping them take a food first approach to improving sports performance. You can make an appointment by calling 605-312-7878.

Other great links:

Find an Expert in Your Area || Find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

fANNEtastic Food || Happy Registered Dietitian Day

The Real Life RD || Carbs Do Not Make You Fat

Nutrition Unplugged || Are We Possibly Moving Towards Saner, More Sensible Diets?

Holly Grainger, RD || How to Boost Protein at Breakfast