As you may be aware, unlike the title ‘dietitian’, the title ‘nutritionist’ is not a protected term in the UK. A protected title is one that has legal restrictions on who may use it and a governing body, (in this case the British Dietetics Association (BDA)) who ensures that those who use it, have the required training and qualifications to do so. This gives quality assurance to patients looking for dietary support and professional security to trained dieticians. In a Dietetics degree students learn about translating nutritional science and information about food into practical dietary advice. This maybe aimed at the general public to promote health but is often concentrated in a clinical environment, working with individuals with complex nutritional needs and medical disorders. In order to be a registered dietitian an individual requires a degree in Dietetics and three years of signed off clinical practice.
The training and registration process is rigorous but this does not mean that a dietician is the only person properly qualified to advise on diet and there are many well trained and well informed nutritionists and nutrition advisors who have not studied Dietetics. Nutrition degrees are an equivalent academic qualification to Dietetics but the focus is generally less on clinical practice and more on food science and behaviour change. In order to give the title ‘nutritionist’ some of the strength The Association for Nutrition (AfN) has set up a voluntary register of nutritionists. Similar to a Registered Dietitian, individuals on the AfN register have to demonstrate that they have the training and experience, knowledge, skills and competence to work effectively in this role. Generally to be accepted onto this register you need to have a degree in nutrition from a qualifying university and a portfolio of evidence of experience working in the field but people with extensive experience do also qualify.
Another register is the Sports Exercise Nutritionists Register (SENr). This is administered by the British Dietetics Association and is run on an equivalent basis to their registration of dieticians. To qualify for the SENr you need to have a degree level qualification in sports science, sports nutrition, dietetics or nutrition and experience working within sport or performance. Although not a protected or a legal title, it is no longer possible to work within sports nutrition in elite sports or an academic context without this registration. Similar to the registers above, as well as having an academic qualification, for full registration you need to have considerable experience working with clients and for this experience to be acknowledged or signed off by submitting a portfolio of evidence.
On Friday I was in Birmingham at what is called a portfolio day. Run by the BDA and at their offices, it is a chance for individuals to talk about their qualifying experience, learn about the latest research and changes in current practice and seek advice on how to improve your portfolio of evidence before submission. Outside my work for Future Fit I am a sports performance nutritionist, both teaching at a University and working with clients on their performance goals. I have been on the associate register at the SENr for three years and am looking to submit my portfolio this spring.
So – what did I learn? The portfolio needs to evidence a framework of around 50 different competencies, some are quite specific for example having completed an anti-doping qualification and food safety course and others are open to quite a lot of interpretation, for example evidencing your ability to work within a professional team. My strengths are in my academic knowledge, I am doing research at Chichester University looking at nutrition and energy use in junior team sports. However, as I mostly work with children, I do not have the same experience in body composition manipulation or managing injury rehabilitation as many of the others. During the day I learnt a lot from my colleagues about these areas and also about how people working in professional rugby and football are fuelling their teams both for home games and when they travel. I also learnt about record keeping and how important it is to keep very detailed notes of every meeting you have with every client, however brief or unimportant it may seem. This is something I have been quite poor at in the past. Much of this information is the same as you would gather at an initial consultation in Nutrition and Weight Management and it’s important to keep these notes confidential.
The day was really good and I now feel more confident about getting my portfolio together. I learnt lots of new things and met some great contacts. I will certainly be watching some of the professional rugby and football teams with more interest now I know who is setting out their nutrition plan.