Directions toward a career in fitness – part 3

2009 November 17
by Alan Aragon

To RD or not RD – that is the question

This actually never was a question for me. I decided to major in nutrition with the intention of remaining a personal trainer. I knew a good handful of independent trainers without a degree who were making at least double the per-hour rate that most RDs made, so my frame of reference was quite different from the typical dietetics student. I figured that since ALL trainers dish out nutritional advice (and are frequently asked for nutritional advice), a nutrition degree would be the perfect way to strengthen my competitive edge in this department.

As far as I knew, I was the only undergrad dietetics student in my class without the intention to become an RD. My professors wondered what on Earth I was gonna do with my life, obviously unaware of personal training as a bona fide career. To be fair, in the early 1990’s, very few who even heard of it thought of personal training as a real job. Luckily, I never gave a damn about whether a job was real by conventional standards, as long as it paid decently for doing something that truly interested me.

I want to make it clear that for anyone with the intention of working in a clinical setting, or anything non-entrepreneurial in the realm of nutritional counseling, becoming an RD is almost essential. Employers tend to seek out the RD credential because it instantly weeds out most of the wackos and quacks. If you plan on working in a clinical facility based on mainstream medicine, there’s no question you’ll need to be an RD. Since I don’t fit any of those molds, being without the RD credential was never a limitation. I’m self-employed, working with the healthy to athletic population referred to me mainly by trainers and existing clientele. The scant minority of my clients come from doctor referrals.

Take note that California is more lenient than other states in terms of the legal repercussions of practicing medical nutrition therapy as a non-RD. But again, that’s not what I do, so I’m exempt from that concern. For further reading about nutrition credentials, Stephen Barrett has covered it here and here. For more information about becoming an RD, the American Dietetic Association has it laid out here, with an FAQ page here.

My take on sports nutrition certifications

On the subject of boosting credibility, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has targeted trainers and coaches for the promotion of their sports nutrition certification (update: the ISSN now has a certification available for those without a 4-year degree). The reason I’m reiterating the ISSN’s certification is because it’s perhaps the first certification developed by individuals who have published a significant amount of peer-reviewed primary research in the area of sports nutrition. The ISSN also has its own scientific journal dedicated to sports nutrition-related research.

There are other sports nutrition certifications out there, but their name-credibility and admission requirements are pretty low. An exception to this is the Comission on Dietetic Registration’s certification in sports dietetics (info here), for which being an RD is a prerequisite. For the record, I don’t hold any nutrition certifications, but I also am n0t gunning for acceptance by an employer or larger organization, nor do I place a lot of value in stringing letters after my name. Maintaining a sports nutrition certification is a great way to keep knowledge current, but in my case, writing AARR each month takes care of that in excess.

My take on personal training certifications

As far as personal training certifications go, the most marketable ones in my opinion are offered by the “big 3” organizations: the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The American Council on Exercise (ACE) trails a bit behind the aforementioned in terms of prestige, but is still considered one of the frontrunners.

Though these certifications are likely to have similar quality of learning material, the Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification by the NSCA has the most marketability among sports and fitness circles. A close second would be the Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) by NASM. The reason for the CSCS’s marketable edge over these is the stricter admission requirement of a 4-year degree. Also, the PES is relatively new, whereas the CSCS has been around for a while and has racked up an extensive list of highly respected recipients. ACSM certification is generally perceived as more clinically oriented, and has thus not been as popular in sports and fitness circles as the rest.

One more certification I want to add here is the Resistance Training Specialist (RTS) developed by Tom Purvis, who formerly headed NASM but decided to start his own program and kick things up several notches. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the RTS program is the most in-depth training certification available, particularly in terms of applied biomechanics. It’s expensive, has multiple modules, and requires travel, so it’s not nearly as popular as the others. As such, it’s not as well known. This can potentially hinder its marketability to employers who are not highly informed about the available certification programs.

The initial allure and subsequent utility of an MS

Upon completing my undergrad degree in dietetics, my colleagues all filed off to internships en route to becoming RDs. Having the desire to stay competitive with them prompted my pursuit of a master’s degree in nutrition, despite my intention to remain a personal trainer. In an unplanned twist of events, this led me to switch my focus away from training. As I pounded through the degree, I gained a keen interest in the researching, writing, counseling, and teaching aspects of nutrition. It was also during this period that I began spending a lot of time online, discussing topics on fitness and bodybuilding message boards. Getting in epic debates (and winning them consistently) is what caught the attention of the forces that led to my writing career. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Having both the undergrad and graduate nutrition degrees under my belt, I saw a clear lack of sports nutrition education in the dietetics curriculum. So, I decided to teach RDs how to become better sports nutritionists. Since RDs need to receive continuing education units in order to maintain their credential, I knew I could fulfill a niche here. In addition to putting together and promoting my own courses (which was more expense than it was worth), I was invited to speak at various dietetics conferences, including a few biggies at California State University at Northridge, University of Calilfornia at Irvine and the heavily guarded FDA headquarters. Without an MS in nutrition, I would not have been given these opportunities to provide continuing education to RDs. I’ll also speculate that the combination of my training certifications with the advanced nutrition degree was marketable for lecturing to conservative dietetics audiences about the integration of nutrition and exercise.

Having built a good reputation in the fitness and dietetics communities, I was invited to speak in the corporate wellness context to the upper management of companies such as the Pfizer and Tesco. Although these speaking gigs only happen a few times per year, they pay $1000-2000 for less than 2 hours of lecture. It has crossed my mind to actively pursue a career in corporate wellness presentations because of the high pay per unit of time. However, I’d rather keep speaking engagements as occasional events rather than having a lifestyle involving a lot of dressing up and a hectic travel schedule. Sorry folks, but I’m very happy at home at the computer, close to my family, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.

Writing, speaking, & research: the final frontier (for me)?

At some point back in 2006, Lyle McDonald told me that with all the knowledge I had, I needed to write a book. After some deliberating, I decided to go for it, and Girth Control was completed in early 2007. In a very ironic twist, Lyle’s mentioning of a factual mistake I made in the book (which was corrected immediately) gave me the impetus to start my research review. My aim was to create a vehicle that forced me to stay entrenched in the current research to a ridiculous degree. I will say with zero reservation that AARR is the project I’m most passionate about. It allows me to combine scientific research findings with ongoing client experience for the benefit of other fitness practitioners and serious enthusiasts. If that sounds too much like a gratuitous plug, consider it a dead-honest one.

As I mentioned earlier, I had many prodigious debates online that caught the attention of people who ended up facilitating my writing career. Alwyn Cosgrove gets credit for alerting features editor Adam Campbell about my writing mojo, and the next thing I knew, Adam offered me a regular spot in Men’s Health magazine, as well as a position as their nutrition research consultant. This led to a friendship (bro-ship?) between me and fitness editor Adam Bornstein. I’m currently writing an article for Men’s Health on fat loss supplements, and the cool thing about Men’s Health is that they don’t have any supplement sponsors that they cater to or tiptoe around when it comes to product critiques. The big print magazines pay anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar per word. Men’s Health can afford to pay the latter, since they’re the largest men’s magazine in the world.

Online article writing was another unplanned avenue that surfaced. Lou Schuler invited me to write for (which then was called, resulting in A Musclehead’s Guide to Alcohol. In related news, my dealings with Tmuscle went south in an amusing chain of events which I’ve described here. Lou is no longer with Tmuscle, but is probably on better terms with them than I am. I’m still involved with online article writing, currently working on my third article for (which is done now, here it is). My latest writing milestone was making it into the peer-reviewed literature by co-authoring a nutrient timing review with the very gracious & wise Brad Schoenfeld.

Speaking of Brad, an avenue that recently opened up for me was writing peer-reviewed scientific literature. Brad and I have co-authored the #1 most viewed article in the history of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), full text here. I subsequently co-authored a meta-analysis on protein timing with Brad Schoenfeld and James Krieger, full text here.

I would encourage those with a knack for writing to start by seeking contributorship to online magazines since the chances of publication aren’t as remote as they are in print mags. Clearly, there’s a demand for good content to draw site traffic. Maintaining scientific integrity might be a challenge with companies that aggressively hype marginally supported products, but legitimate alternatives are out there. Online outfits pay $250-500 per article depending on word length and notoriety of the author. This isn’t enough to pay your kids’ college tuition, but it’s great exposure, and also a good medium for observing the public’s non-vested critique of your material.

Speaking at conferences and continuing education events has also become a major part of my career. I’m now a regular presenter in conferences by the NSCA, the Fitness Summit, and the AAUKC. This has forced me to bring up my game of direct communication with diverse audiences all over the world. The ongoing interaction with the full range of health & fitness professionals is incredibly enjoyable and rewarding.

In case anyone’s interested…

Earning statistics of dietitians:

Earning statistics of trainers:

That’s a wrap!

Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of this opus. Future writing projects are in the works, and I’ll alert you to them as they materialize. Your best course of action is to get familiar with your options (many of which I provided in this series), and match your career choice with your strengths and interests. Yes, I know that’s easier said than done. Feel free to review the elements I’ve discussed, and I’ll try to address your questions the best I can.  [back to part 1]

PS – here’s a related related article you might like: [Credentials Vs. the Fitness Industry]

Microsoft Word - AARR wide banner 1.doc

86 Responses
  1. Chris Nunz permalink
    November 17, 2009

    Hey Alan, thanks for posting this.

    Though I feel like my questions a bit more specific to my personal situation that what you explained here, can I e-mail you?

    I feel like, out of everyone I’ve researched in the Nutrition field, you’re the best person to get advice from – especially since I’ve been following your posts on for years now.


  2. Jeana permalink
    November 18, 2009

    I really enjoyed reading and reminiscing about your epic journey. You never cease to amaze me with your wealth of knowledge and your generosity in sharing it through your many talents. Simply said…you’re awesome and I’m loving your new blog.

  3. November 18, 2009

    Chris – Got your email, hopefully I can help steer you right.

    Jeana – Thanks so much.

  4. November 18, 2009

    In the realm of fitness consultation, content is king. Countless health and fitness titles are released each year by authors with no academic training, vetted only by their six-pack abs or buns of steel or whatever. The recent liberalization of web site design has certainly shaken things up. Gone are the days of unipolar web hegemony, the small handful of sites who once dominated the information architecture around bodybuilding, nutrition, and sports performance. When everyone and anyone can blog by virtue of our online democracy, the quality stuff in the end is parsed from the trash by the industry readership.

  5. BMJ permalink
    November 18, 2009

    Where did you attend college for your nutrition degrees? CSUN?

    Gonna start my Dietetic Internship in January for the 2010 year, but might try to add on some sort of PT cert as well, probably CSCS. Not sure if I should further my education with a Masters in Nutrition, or a stronger science like Physio or Biochem, any thoughts?

    Thanks Alan, awesome job!

  6. Jeremy Partl permalink
    November 18, 2009

    So Alan, do you think that the ISSA is alright to obtain a certification from?

  7. Chris Nunz permalink
    November 18, 2009

    Thanks Alan. Please, take your time. I know I came at you hard. 🙂

  8. November 18, 2009

    BMJ – Yup, CSUN. Whether you go with nutrition or something more micro would depend on what type of work you wanna end up doing. Whether you go for the MS or not would mainly depend on a couple things: a) self-employment vs company employment, b) how much you ultimately want to earn if you don’t choose self-employment. When you work for a company, unless you hold a commission-based sales position, the higher your degree, the higher your salary cap, generally speaking. If you work for yourself, the MS would really only come into play if you plan on giving continuing ed courses in nutrition. Otherwise, you can pretty much create your living out of thin air, regardless of formal credentials. Advanced degrees can be an advantage, but really don’t matter much when you’re self-employed. Ultimately you have to sit yourself down and decide what you want to spend your workday doing. This will determine what educational direction you should go.

    Jeremy – My initial impression of ISSA wasn’t good, since it was through a really crappy article warning about how fruits are fattening. And to think that they offer nutrition certifications makes me hope they’ve updated the info they dish out in this regard. The fact that the course & exam can be done 100% online reduces its credibility compared to an on-site or formally proctored exam. I’m sure ISSA isn’t bad, after all they’ve been around a while and have some accomplished people on their advisory board. However, you have to weigh the pros with the cons. If you want a certification just to say you’re certified, then I don’t see the big problem. Clients will NEVER ask who you’re certified by, and many won’t even ask whether you’re certified or not. My philosophy about certifications is to go for one of the biggies if you’re gonna go through the trouble at all. If you’re thinking of employment, higher-end gyms will look at a NASM, ACSM, or NSCA more favorably than an ISSA cert. Lower-end gyms might not give a crap.

    Chris – I gotcha, man.

  9. November 18, 2009

    Ryan – thanks for stopping in. I totally agree with the concept that since fitness professionals & the public can voice their opinions through online media like blogs, it’s tougher for censored forums & the like to keep the veneer of their choice over the facts of any given matter.

  10. BMJ permalink
    November 19, 2009

    Thanks Alan, that was pretty much my thinking too, but wanted to get your thoughts on the matter, thanks for sharing!

    Nice to see a fellow CSUN Matador representing;)

    Graduated from there a few years ago myself with the dietetics/food science degree(s):)

    I look forward to reading your book, thanks!

  11. November 19, 2009

    Thanks BMJ!

    I speak at CSUN’s annual career symposium, so maybe you drop in on the next one. They usually have it in April or May.

  12. November 19, 2009


    You should also be aware of the IOC’s Diploma in Sports Nutrition. Check out

    I was the first (and at the time only) American to receive this credential. Highly recommended.

  13. Jeremy Partl permalink
    November 19, 2009

    Thanks Alan!

  14. James Anthony permalink
    November 19, 2009

    Hey Alan, I’m a new subscriber to AARR and I just want to thank you for all the work you put into it. There’s really nothing like it out there. For anyone on the fence about subscribing, don’t even hesitate.

  15. November 19, 2009

    Nice to see you’ve got a blog going, Alan. I added you to my blogroll.

  16. November 20, 2009

    CL – Thanks for the tip, I hope other check out that link as well.

    JA – I’m honored by the compliment. Glad you like the material.

    JK – Thanks for the add, you’ll definitely be on my blogroll when it’s up.

  17. November 20, 2009


    If you weren’t working in this field what would you be doing.

    jamie hale

  18. November 20, 2009

    Hey Jamie,

    That’s a damn good question. I honestly have no idea. Thought about this for a while after seeing your question, & I’m still at a loss. Probably paint on canvas.

  19. November 21, 2009

    Good stuff, Alan.

  20. Pete Brown permalink
    November 21, 2009

    Hey Alan,

    You were the catalyst for me. It was such a relief to find unbiased research driven answers to all my questions (not to mention have you take your time to answer them). It was through you that I found others like Leigh, Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, Jamie Hale, Stu McGill , and the list goes on and on. My bookshelf continues to grow and so does my passion. Very excited for the blog! Thanks Alan. All the best.

    By the way AARR continues to be the best purchase I have made!

  21. November 22, 2009

    Roland – Much appreciated.

    Pete – Education is such a great thing because you can make a lifelong journey of it. I’m glad to have introduced you to some quality peeps, as well as AARR.

  22. November 22, 2009

    You have such an interesting journey Alan. I went the total academic route, but am not sure where I’m going to end up – currently looking into postdocs so I can live a cushy life in academia. But, then I question that choice. Maybe I need to pass into my thirties before I figure out where my life will really go.
    Any chance you need a guest writer for AARR? I’d really like to do this as well, but want to focus on women’s-only topics.

  23. November 22, 2009

    Howdy Cass,

    I think you’re in a good position to do whatever you damn-well please 🙂

    I just sent you an email. Check your spam box if I’m not in your inbox.

  24. Arthur Lange permalink
    November 23, 2009


    For someone who’s main passion is training, what’s the best way to go about handling nutritional suggestions that clients will inevitably throw my way? While I still like to do quite a bit of nutrition-related reading on my own time and try to have a fairly sound working knowledge of it, the fact remains that it is still, in the most literal sense, beyond my scope of practice and my patchwork of nutritional knowledge pales in comparison to someone with your credentials and background in scouring research and distilling its pertinent essence.

    Usually I try to offer up sound basics and then direct folks to sources like you for more serious in-depth treatment. While I enjoy personal study, I still don’t think I have even a sliver of the drive, nor the mental capacity, of someone like you. As such, I feel that I’d be doing myself a disservice by trying to force myself to become something that isn’t really me (or might not even be a fit for me, even if I scratched and clawed with all of my mental might). Additionally, I’d be doing my clients a disservice by offering up my relatively simplistic advice that may not always be up-to-the minute accurate when there are a small handful of experts like you out there who, quite literally, stay right on top of all of the latest happenings in the world of nutrition.

  25. Arthur Lange permalink
    November 23, 2009

    I should add for the record that my general philosophy on giving advice (when solicited) is to pass along ideas that promote fitting your eating habits to both your goal(s) and lifestyle as best as possible and talking about what might constitute some solid food choices without promoting any particular food as a panacea nor demonizing any food and saying that it should be tossed out entirely. Basically I’d like to be as helpful as possible without unwittingly screwing over a client on account of my not being right on top of the absolute most current information nor having the drive to be that on top of things (although I have immense respect for those who can do so).

  26. November 24, 2009


    I think that you’re taking the right approach. As long as you steer clear of giving nutritional advice intended to treat or cure a disease condition, then you’re good. When clients throw nutritional questions at you that deal with improving body composition and/or athletic performance, just know that trainers can legally answer these questions. The fact that you don’t pidgeonhole foods as either ‘almighty’ or ‘evil’ tells mre that you have a healthy perspective of things.

  27. Smudge permalink
    November 26, 2009

    Thank you so much for writing this series of articles! You have had such an interesting journey, thanks for helping others in seeing the path clearer for where they might want to proceed 🙂

  28. November 26, 2009

    Smudge – you’re welcome.

  29. December 16, 2009

    Hey Sofia,

    Tell me how you found out about my blog, tell me what interests you specifically. I’ll tell you why I’m asking after I get your response.

  30. Kim permalink
    December 17, 2009

    Hey Alan,
    You’ve mentioned the “big three” for certification as a trainer. I was wondering if you had any idea as to whether or not those same apply to certification in Canada or not. I’m looking for certification training as a personal trainer as well as sports nutrition in Canada and am overwhelmed. You can only google so much before you wonder how much of it is just a big fat steaming pile of B.S.

  31. December 19, 2009

    Kim — I’m not familiar with the Canadian certifications or how the US ones would apply. Here’s a link that looks pretty “international” to me, got this from Chad Landers:

  32. December 21, 2009

    Hi Alan,

    I’ve been following your work etc for the past 2-3 years now!

    Simply put: I love your work! (or what I’ve read so far 😉 )

    Quick question: What’s your take on homogenisation/homogenization of milk? Also, would you say raw milk (i.e. unpasteurised, unhomogenised, grass fed etc.) is the best milk one can consume? That is, if one can get hold of it.

    Thanks Alan and keep up the great work!

  33. December 21, 2009

    thehealthblogger — Glad you like my work! No, unprocessed milk is generally not a good idea since the risks outweigh the benefits. Here’s more reading:

  34. Josh Bostic permalink
    December 27, 2009

    Hello Alan,
    My name is Josh Bostic. I have been following your work for some time now (I’ve been following along with your posts on for about 3 years). I have always loved your website and recently I started following along with your blog. I just finished reading your series on pursuing a career in fitness. I had a quick question for you. In part 3, you mentioned that the top 3 personal training certifications were the NSCA, NASM, and ACSM. I was wondering which one you would recommend over the others to someone just getting started in the field? I am currently a freshman at Virginia Tech studying Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. My career goals are to become a Physical Therapist specializing in sports medicine. I just want to get a personal training certification in order to make a little money on the side during my undergrad work. Thank you for your time.

  35. December 27, 2009

    Josh — since you’re not yet done with your undergrad, I’d get the NASM cert. After you get your degree, then you might consider getting the CSCS.

  36. Josh Bostic permalink
    December 28, 2009

    Thank you for your help. I will look into the NASM cert. I will most likely complete it over the summer break.

  37. January 30, 2010

    Just read through this series…very entertaining Alan! I share a lot of the same life-philosophies as you. Nice work!

  38. Mario permalink
    February 3, 2010


    Just got through this series. Well done! I must say I was reading the portion regarding P/T certs with my traditional skepticism when lo and behold you mention the RTS cert! Instant credibility!

    I’ve done all the major certs at one time another and hold a graduate degree in Exercise Physiology yet upon completion of my very first RTS course I was absolutely flabbergasted at the sheer amount of points I wasn’t considering before touching another human being. Tom Purvis is a very bright man and while he certainly didn’t invent the concepts presented (How does one patent the concept of a moment arm for example?) his packaging and merchandising of these fundamental physical laws and how they must be considered before attempting any activity should be mandatory study for anyone who considers themselves a trainer.

    What are you’re thoughts on Roskopfs Muscle Activation Technique? While a distinct entity from RTS they are rather inexorably linked conceptually and practically.


  39. February 4, 2010

    Mario — Yeah, the Tom Purvis NASM days = good lectures, great discussions. Although many see Tom as a smug prick, he’s quite brilliant, and deserves a lot of credit for shaping the evolution of personal training by emphasizing the analytical side of it. As for Roskopf’s Muscle Activation Technique, I’m not gonna pretend to know jack diddly about it, nor am I gonna pretend I didn’t need to Google it upon your mentioning. Here’s what I found:

    It looks interesting, but as with all things, I would like to see it put to the test, with the results published in a good peer-reviewed journal. I’m not automatically opposed to innovative ideas that have not gone through a lengthy crucible of efficacy testing, but I’d at least like to see the literature that either directly or circumstantially supports it. With that said, I have not at all looked into this regarding MAT.

    Bret — Thanks for stopping in. I’m looking forward to meeting you at the JP Fitness Summit in May.

    Josh — Good luck, happy studying!

  40. Joshua Hockett permalink
    February 4, 2010

    That was some jam packed solid information Alan! Nicely explained indeed. I am on the opposite end of you what did. Going for the BS and MS in exercise science while getting certificates and many, many elective courses in nutrition and sports nutrition. I am very eager to try and get the ISSN certificate as well when I find the money to do so. Still trying to find my own entry to the industry of sports and fitness myself.

  41. Tom McDonald permalink
    February 8, 2010

    Hi Alan, I am using your nutrition recommendations from the August 2009 Men’s Health. I caculated my calories to be 170 lbs at 2550 calories. Do I need to replace calories burned in my workouts until I hit 2550 or do I stay at 2500 calories no matter what I burn. I have adjusted your formula for 7 hours a week so does this already allow for workout calories?

    Thanks for your time and help,
    Tom McDonald

  42. February 9, 2010

    Tom — 1st off, the best that formulas will ever do is provide a rough starting point for those who have eaten haphazardly/inconsistently enough to be unaware of their maintenance requirement. If you know how many calories maintains you, cut back if you want to lose, increase it if you want to gain. Also, you could work the output angle and cut back exercise volume if you want to gain, and increase volume of you want to lose. It’s a bit more complex than that in some cases, but that’s the gist.

    Importantly, note that the formulas of mine that Men’s Health runs are biased towards an audience whose primary goal is weight/fat loss. If your goal is to gain mass, in many cases you’d have to change the “addition” factor (the number you add your average total training hours to), which has been published as somewhere between 9-10, and increase it to 11-12. Ultimately, if any formula doesn’t suit your sensibilities or seems significantly off from what you know historically has worked for you, scrap it.

  43. Jean Paulo permalink
    February 14, 2010

    Hi Alan!I wanna say thanks again for writing endless useful stuff especially the Girth Control journal.I was really able to break my plateaus and improved my knowledge about fitness and aesthetics(vanity for some lol).I would also like to thank you for writing this article since I’m currently reviewing for NASM CPT test,it gave a confidence that at least I’m heading towards the right path.By the way,regards to the Men’s health formula you wrote on July/August issue about consumption of starchy carbs,shall I count banana as 1 serving of starch out of 2 during training days?Would you also consider shiratake noodles as a starchy carbs?
    Thank you again and God bless!

  44. Jason Brown permalink
    February 28, 2010

    Hello Alan, could you please tell me how much appearance plays into people hiring you as a PT. I’m 42 and have been told I look great for 42. I’ve been consistently working out now for about 15 yrs. I’m ready to give PT a try as a side job. I’m leaning towards NCSF. I would like to focus on obese kids in junior high & High school. That is a subject that has been popular in the news lately. Do you have any recommendations?

  45. February 28, 2010

    JP — Just hit your target macros for the day & don’t sweat the details. Bananas are fruits, not starch. Most people who aren’t lowballing carbs should be getting fruit daily. I wish I had a MH subscription so I could know what everyone’s talking about when they refer to stuff I’ve said in MH, lolz. Thanks for reminding me to hit MH for a subscription. I need to sharpen up my how-to-properly-handle-a-chick skills.

    Jason — Appearance only matters as much as your personality (this includes intelligence, communication skills, wit, sense of humor, etc) can compensate. If you have the personality of a piece of driftwood, but you look great, then you still have a chance, because employers realize that looks are very marketable; they draw you in, while getting the client results is what keeps the client. On the other hand, if you look like a piece of chewed bubble gum, but you have an amazingly charming personality, then you can still make a good impression on the employer. Those are 2 extremes, where you fall along that continuum is something only you can know. Of course, the goal is to be right in the middle by looking great & coming across well in conversation. But my point is that you can compensate for your weaknesses with your strengths.

  46. March 18, 2010

    Would love to hear your take on the “micro-certifications” – where you take a class, study a book, and then are tested/certified in a particular system (or brand).

    Berardi just announced PN certification and with the growing popularity and visibility of PN I wonder if this is actually not a bad idea….

    My current status is no certifications, no degrees, just a crap load of research and some college physiology & nutrition courses, and personal experience.

    Thanks so much, and I’m hugely disappointed I can’t make the summit this year to see all of you guys again….

  47. March 18, 2010

    Hi Andrea,

    There’s always next year’s Summit!

    Regarding the PN certification, since it doesn’t carry the recognition that something like the ISSN’s cert does, I’d just buy the study material if you’re that interested. If I’m not mistaken, the PN certification is more expensive than the ISSN certification…without the same prestige or marketability. Let me also add that while any certification is bound to have some questionable or outdated material (it’s unavoidable), I’m hoping Berardi has fixed some of his previous nutritional recommendations that were not based in science (ie, avoid carbs + fat, and other such nonsense). This is not a malicious knock on the guy, he does have some good material. I’m just not convinced his cert would be a better bet than the ISSN.

  48. Helloween permalink
    March 18, 2010


    I’m considering a career change into fitness and looking for some guidance. Here is what I would like to do on a daily basis: provide a tailored nutrition and exercise plan for people who’s goals are to improver their body composition by either losing fat or building muscle (self employed). I am not interested in being in the gym showing people how to do the exercises I recommend, counting reps, etc. I’d like to leave that up to someone else. What would you call that occupation?

    Currently, I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering and am employed, but it is not my passion. What’s the best route to take to get started from here? Would a BS in Nutrition or Exercise Science suffice? How about some hybrid of the two? I appreciate any advice you can give.


  49. March 19, 2010

    Helloween — If you want to work in a hospital setting, then you’ll have to get a BS in nutrition, go through a 1-year internship, and pass the RD exam. If you don’t want to work in a clinical setting, then you can go the quick route & get an ISSN certification, and a personal training certification (I recommend NSCA or NASM). This will equip you with enough basic technical knowledge in order to start coachin/counseling clients. Then you’ll have to figure out what setting you want to work in, whether it’s n office in a gym, or a standalone office typa situation. I suggest you review all 3 parts of this series & get a grasp of some of the pros & cons.

  50. Shades permalink
    March 30, 2010

    Alan –
    I loved this series and it has really helped me organize my thoughts about what I want my career to be. Question for you – I know you were a trainer while you were in college for nutrition, so did you get your training certification before you entered college?

    Thanks in advance, feel free to email me if you wish

  51. md3sign @ bb permalink
    April 10, 2010


    Great read as always. I’m going to start working on getting my first PT certification (still researching which one to go for first), but I also have an opportunity to get a master’s degree in something related to physical fitness. My bachelor’s degree is in idigital design, but I love training, I now “train” some friends I met at the gym pro-bono, and I want to pursue the fitness field professionally. Right now my goal is personal training. Are there any particular masters degrees you recommend? Certifications may be enough to get started, but it may be worth it to get a masters? Also, I’m sure something related to nutrition would help? My friends whom I “train” do ask me nutritional questions and I give them advice, but it’s based on personal experience and just somethings I read here and there.

    I remember all your contributions on the bb message boards; you’ve definitely answered a lot of my own questions there and some of the advice I now dish out is thanks to you.

  52. Dylan permalink
    May 26, 2010

    You don’t know how much this 3 part series helped me out! Thanks Alan!

  53. Rachelle permalink
    June 10, 2010

    Thank you for providing insight into your journey into this career, i have some additonal questions is it possible for you to email me.
    thank you

  54. June 10, 2010

    All — You’re welcome.

    Shades & Rachelle — I’ve contacted both of you.

  55. Kristina Bushman permalink
    August 10, 2010

    Thanks for this awesome article. It really helped alleviate some stress about completing my four year degree. I didn’t think it was possible to excel without it.

    I just recieved my NASM Cert, and am wondering what other Nutrition Certs there are… I was looking at the AFPA ( They have a HUGE list of certifications you can take that look very similar to NASM’s design, only the test it looks like can be taken right from your home… is it legit?

  56. August 10, 2010

    Kristina — I haven’t heard of that certification body. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have valid material, but it doesn’t necessarily help with marketing to go with a relatively unknown company. I’d personally stick to the more recognized outfits if you can, but if you don’t have a 4-year degree, then your options are more limited. Whether or not it’s legit can be very subjective, since the only thing fundamentally ‘legit’ that any practitioner can do is stay current with the latest research.

  57. Erik permalink
    August 29, 2010

    Thanks alot Alan for a great article, this has steered me into the right direction as both a student and someone seeking knowledge. I now know what to aim for when I decide to partake in the fitness industry and perhaps look into sports specific training/nutrition

  58. August 30, 2010

    Erik — It’s my pleasure. Let me know what questions you might run into as you make your trek.

  59. Greg permalink
    September 27, 2010

    Hey Alan, great articles. The objective assessment of the different fields was nice to read, I’ve found they can be hard to find.

    I did have one question. Well, two. – I’m about 2 years off from finishing my undergrad degree, I’m dual majoring in nutrition and exercise science. I had always planned on getting my masters in nutrition but I’m unsure of where I should consider going, are there any schools that you would recommend that stand out for having good programs?

    Also, in your experience, how important are internships for finding future work in a professional setting? (Assuming you have the M.S. already).

    Thanks for the tips!

  60. Phillip permalink
    October 5, 2010

    Alan, just out of curiosity, you’ve never thought about supplement stores? Seems like you’d be the perfect candidate. Knowledgeable, minimal employees, low stress…..or do you think that’s a dead end street with the online retailers segmenting the market?

  61. Dan permalink
    October 6, 2010


    I have been an RD for over 18 years and am recently CSCS, NSCA-CPT, and ACSM-HFS certified. I’m interested in focusing more on writing and becoming a CEU provider.

    Do you have any additonal advice on how to proceed?

  62. October 7, 2010

    Greg — I’m not a good source for recommending which schools have the best programs. This is something I haven’t formally investigated, and frankly, it’s not something I cared all that much about, since I feel that the main part of what makes a good program is one that covers the fundamentals, which they probably all do. I tend to feel that it’s the student who can ‘make’ a program good or bad. I’m sure with some digging you can find out which ones are renowned, but I just haven’t (yet) had the incentive or interest to do that.

    Phillip — I have a few friends who own supplement stores, and they seem to be content with their lives. Also, I’ve only seen these types of operations expand or remain static; I haven’t seen any shut down. Personal observational data is obviously limited, but I’d venture to guess that you can make a good go of this since there will always be a large segment of the population who would rather drop by a store and pick stuff up rather than ordering online. If you provide good service and good Q/A sessions with the customers and build good relationships, I don’t see why you couldn’t succeed with a physical store, granted you can get enough starting capital to cover your inventory, rent, etc.

    Dan — Wow, you’ve been in this a long time, and that’s a impressive list of certs. As far as providing CEUs, each organization has their own sector, and as long as you pay up, you should have no problem getting approval to provide CEUs from all of the organizations you listed:

    As far as writing goes, you’ll have to knock on some doors if no one just decides to draft or approach you (as what happened in my case due to my extensive online activity on forums). I’d suggest that you first get good at writing, and by that I mean get good at not the technical aspects, but the elements that grab readers. Writing for online mags is more realistic than writing for major print mags, which are truly a matter of them coming to you, or you having a close friend up there in the corporate ladder. For online writing, you have to figure out what audience you want to cater to, and that will determine which doors you knock on for article publishing. Big print mags are kind of a long shot, but smaller publications such as Planet Muscle are worth looking into. As far as self-publishing a book, I go through a company called Vervante. There’s quite a bit to this topic, and I’ll be blogging about it soon; I’ve been getting a lot of career-related questions lately that would be good to address formally and more in-depth.

    Thank you all for the comments/feedback/questions.

  63. October 11, 2010

    Thanks a lot for this series Alan, very helpfull! 🙂

  64. October 29, 2010

    You you could edit the post subject Directions toward a career in fitness – part 3 | Alan Aragon's Blog to something more catching for your blog post you write. I loved the post nevertheless.

  65. Gina Juenger permalink
    November 2, 2010

    Great articles! I found them to be very helpful! I debated on getting my RD as well and decided to go for it 5 years ago, along with my masters and CSCS. However, I knew going in I never planned to work in the clinical nutrition setting. I currently work in corporate wellness and wondering what’s next as I don’t feel like this field challenges me intellectually. This article really helped me think through some things on a personal level as to where I want to take my career. Thanks for the advice and tips!

  66. Yi-Ming Law permalink
    November 21, 2010

    Like many others have said, this is a great article. As a nutrition student, I’m definitely realizing how little the dietetic internship prepares you for a career in sports nutrition.

  67. Kenny permalink
    November 25, 2010


    Thanks a ton for posting this.

    I also need some specific career guidance and I am really hoping to receive some input from you. Like some of the other people in the comments that you emailed – I am hoping you can email me as well. I do not see your email anywhere here though. Could you please email me? Thanks!

  68. January 18, 2011

    Great stuff in these three posts. Thank you for taking the time to write them. I just passed the personal trainer cert for ACSM and hope to start a career in personal training or similar in the fitness industry. I was actually interested in applying for the internship with Results Fitness so I guess I read these posts at a great time.

    I struggled with the idea of becoming and RD and/or nutritionist a few years ago, as nutrition is incredibly important to me but decided against it since I’m not a huge fan of the conventional teachings- however, I’m happy to read all that you have written on your experiences with pros and cons of that industry and the fitness ventures…

    Anyway, thanks!

  69. Ben permalink
    January 20, 2011


    Reading your article sparked my interest in obtaining a training certification once I finish my degree in exercise science (I’m currently a senior in my final semester.) I’d like to go for the NSCA CSCS due to the marketability you mentioned and the requirement of a bachelor’s degree for certification. My question is about the relevancy of this program to training individuals. On the NSCA website they present the CSCS as a certification designed for coaches and trainers working with groups or teams, not with individuals. Their CPT program is recommended for those working with individual clients, but does not require a bachelor’s and I suspect lacks much of the prestige and marketability of the CSCS. Is the CSCS an appropriate certification for those looking to train individuals, or is more suited to team coaching and/or bootcamp style personal training?

    Thanks for the article!

  70. Tom permalink
    February 18, 2011


    Thanks for emailing me and giving me the link to your blog Parts 1-3 on this issue of directions
    toward a career in fitness.

    Although, I still disagree with you not have the CN (Certified Nutritionist) next to your name, I do agree with your thoughts on the career, credentials, etc…

    I am still going to stick to my opinion which I have mentioned to you before and that is, I believe anyone trying to become a certified nutritionist, should do so by getting their degree in nutrition first, then submit for their license for RD or CN with ones State.

    This way if any client a fitness professional is working with in ones State, the trainer who is titled CN or RD is covered for liability in the event whatever dietary program or plan you have them follow goes south and they try to sue you, you are covered for any liability because you are an actual CN or RD, not a wannabe CN from any of the those unaccredited groups.

    This includes the ISSN, because they too are not accredited with NCCA, DECA, or other governing agenices, not to mention, they are not approved like many others with ADA, FDA, or any other dietetics or nutrition governing bodies/agencies.

    Unfortunately, the fitness and nutrition worlds are crossing paths every day and no matter what people write or tell me, I truly believe the reason all these wannabe certifications, ISSN included are popping up is because of MONEY….in business it’s always about the BOTTOM LINE and when guys leave companies or branch off on their own, the certs, products, books, articles, etc….seems to be the growing trend, rather than the real reason we as fitness professionals got into this biz in the first place, TO HELP PEOPLE.

    Don’t get me wrong, we all should get paid generously for our time and effort with whatever we do as fitness professionals, but at what cost.

    So many guys and gals are popping up as experts in fitness and even in nutrion, but they never go thru the formal process of getting the degree in nutrition and becoming a RD or even better yet and real CN with ones State, license and all.

    You know I respect what you do, but truly believe even you Alan, with your Masteers in Nutrition, should have your CN in your State of California, if not for just to cover yourself legally in case that one client has a problem with your nutritional advice or plan that doesn’t work for them and then something happen to their health and they try and sue you. I think every guy or gal that wants to become a nutritionist should follow the proper route and the same goes for guys or gals becoming trainers.

    Unfortunately, like I stated in your other blog post, the industry is going to have to crack down and become more regulated and this will weed out the true fitness or health professionals that really want to be the CSCS, PT, or RD or CN and get the proper education and credentials.



  71. February 19, 2011

    Tom — We just got done emailing at length w/you so I’ll just add that I think you should be aware that only 20% of the RD exam is research-based, and even less of it relates to nutrition for performance or body recomp purposes. Sorry, but I’m not interested. As for doing it to cover myself legally, that would be as practical for me as would wearing a bulletproof vest every time I went to work. I’m not trying to come off as an asshole, by the way. I’m just illustrating a point based on my experience in this field spanning back to 1993. I do appreciate your concern & opinon, nevertheless.

  72. February 19, 2011

    Ben — According to those who I’ve spoken with that got the CSCS cert, it suffices for training individuals as well as groups, although the NASM cert might get a little more detailed & persnickety with individual assessment.

    All – Thanks for reading & pitching in.

  73. Axel permalink
    September 19, 2011

    Hey Alan i really enjoyed your article. I have been thinking about switching my major from Psych to Dietetics. After schooling i want to become either a social worker or Psychologist, recently i have really started to enjoy everything about Nutrition and the Dietetic major. In your opinion would it be wise to switch majors? Or would a Psych major open up more careers for me in the future compared to dietetics?


  74. Alex X. permalink
    October 5, 2011

    Alan, Shades asked a question that I have as well. Could you also email me your answer? Shades said, “did you get your training certification before you entered college?” Also, how much can I expect to make conservatively speaking as a personal trainer while going to school full time? I’m very interested in this career field and plan to go back for my BA. Thanks in advance and I admire your work!

  75. October 6, 2011

    Hey Alex,

    I haven’t checked this post in a while, so I’ll also email you this response. I just updated the post with this info that you might find useful (I’ll email you this as well, be sure to check your spam box because AOL always throws me in there):

    Earning statistics of dietitians:

    Earning statistics of trainers:

  76. Alex X. permalink
    October 6, 2011

    Thanks Alan! I got your email also.

  77. Anthony permalink
    August 19, 2012

    Hi Alan,
    I am about to finish my bachelors in Chemical Engineering and I wanted to go to graduate school after I finish up my undergraduate degree. Do you know if it’s possible to do a “double” or joint masters in food science and nutrition? Even without my undergraduate degree in nutrition? Very helpful article, thank you.

  78. Neeta permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Hi Alan,

    It’s possible you may not be able to answer, but it’s clear you’ve got unusual insight into your own processes: What was your decision-making process like, at each stage of your education and career? To what extent were they informed by intuition, vs logical reasoning?

    It seems you were fairly certain about what you wanted. How did that come about? Was it an obvious outgrowth of an ‘obsession’ that started early?

    Why do you think you were able to maintain an independent, critical perspective, when the job you wanted didn’t even exist?

    What gave you the confidence to strike out on your own, and to trust your ability to survive, given the framework you faced? Do you think you would make similar choices in this economy?



  79. Alan Aragon permalink*
    January 22, 2013

    Hello Neeta,

    My decision-making process at the very beginning (in early college) was to strike a balance between what I thought would be most enjoyable & what would enable me to earn a decent living. This was born from me trying to be practical, so my choice was personal training – and I knew people who were making a good living at this, so it wasn’t an imagined thing that PT could be a viable career. At the time, I wasn’t aware of how much I’d enjoy writing & teaching. As for the job that didn’t even exist, are you talking about AARR? If so, I have always had a firm conviction that in this life, you HAVE to do what you want to do. You HAVE to do what moves you & gets you excited about living, since there is always a similar chance of following a ‘safer’ but less enjoyable path – and still failing. You might as well pursue what deeply interests you, regardless of social norms or expectations, since doing this will give you an edge on succeeding. I think this approach works especially well in the current economy since everyone is scared of stepping outside of the box. This means that your competition is minimal, and this gives you a greater chance to stand out as special or unique.

  80. Christine permalink
    February 23, 2013

    Alan, thank you SO much for writing these articles. I was planning on going back to school once my little one is in school himself, and along my recent journey back towards physical fitness post pregnancy, I have discovered a serious passion for it. I love working with people and helping them achieve their goals, and having the ability and opportunity to truly change someone’s life through fitness and nutrition seems like a perfect fit for me. I also love writing (I was going to school the first time planning on majoring in writing) and being able to see that as a possible fork on this path is exciting as well. I feel really equipped with the necessary info to start taking these steps! I also have the same question about the certifications: post or pre college?

  81. September 18, 2013

    “I would encourage those with a knack for writing to start by seeking contributorship to online magazines since the chances of publication aren’t as remote as they are in print mags. Clearly, there’s a demand for good content to draw site traffic.”


    I’m currently looking for opportunities to write for some online magazines, and websites in general. Do you have any leads/ideas of sites that would consider unsolicited material? Here’s an article that I recently wrote:


  82. Bryan Estrada permalink
    April 14, 2014

    Alan Aragon, I must say you have been a true inspiration. I have learned so much from you since 2013. I originally wanted to do the whole personal trainer thing/physical therapist (kinesiology degree). But diving deeper into proteins and amino acids it got me interested in Neuro-“chemicals” and their influence on people. Now I’m doing the whole Pre-Proffesional biology Degree at UNLV to go to med school and study neurology. lol I look forward to more of your pink alien piss spottings and nutritional bashings of greatness. Stay strong stay real.


  83. Dr Shreyash Gujrathi permalink
    September 1, 2014

    Alan, i must say, out of all the Articles i have read online [to give me a clear picture of the field i am about to enter], this one has been the best so far!
    I am a doctor [from India], and about to get into Fitness Industry, and i am not one of those who would just enter an industry and just be there all my life, i would like to enter and blast it! and make a difference…
    As i am from India, the picture of Fitness Industry here in India is way different than it is there in your country, after reading your article i am relieved but i dont know why i still have doubts, rather “FEARS” i must say. Fear of failure (ouch).
    i would like to have a more personal interaction with you and for that here is my facebook id… hoping and waiting eagerly for your message…

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