In response to America's ever-growing interest in nutrition and health, many fitness facilities have added nutritional programs to their menu of services. While doing so can potentially lure new customers and add a lot of value for existing ones, finding qualified individuals to provide nutritional care to their clientele can be a challenge. But just as fitness facility owners and general managers look to hire fitness professionals who hold certifications from highly credible organizations, they need to be sure that the so-called “nutritionists” they hire are highly qualified and can provide appropriate nutrition care to their members.

Here are some questions and answers that help clear up some nutrition confusion, and lead fitness managers to highly credible nutrition and health professionals — registered dietitians.

What does it take to become a registered dietitian?

In order to become a registered dietitian, or an RD, individuals must earn a bachelor's degree from a U.S. regionally accredited university or college and complete course work approved by the American Dietetic Association's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. They must also complete a six-month to 12-month supervised practice program and subsequently pass a national examination given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. To maintain RD status, they must receive continuing education credits by attending approved meetings, seminars and workshops.

What is the difference between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist?

While registered dietitian or RD is a legally protected title, there is no standard definition for the title “nutritionist,” nor are there any specified requirements individuals need to complete to call themselves nutritionists. However, many registered dietitians also become licensed or certified as a dietitian or nutritionist — at present, 44 states have regulatory laws for dietitians and nutrition practitioners. Often, the same education and training that is needed for an individual to become an RD can be used to become licensed or certified.

Where do registered dietitians typically work?

Registered dietitians work in many different settings. For example, a registered dietitian may counsel clients in a private practice, at a spa, in a physician's office or at a community center, work as an inpatient dietitian in a hospital, work at a food company or in a food service facility or restaurant, or work as a freelance health and nutrition writer. Whatever they do and wherever they work, all registered dietitians translate emerging nutritional science into accurate, reliable and useful information that people can use to improve their eating behaviors and overall health.

What is a typical salary for a registered dietitian?

According to ADA's 2002 Dietetics Compensation and Benefits Survey, registered dietitians earn a median income of $45,000. However, many, particularly those in private practice, earn in excess of $50,000.

What can a registered dietitian do in a fitness facility?

Having a registered dietitian on staff can be a great asset and raise the nutrition bar at any fitness facility. Through a variety of services including one-on-one or group counseling, workshops or seminars, a registered dietitian does not only provide accurate and reliable nutrition and health information to both managers and clients, but can also help them make sense of the latest nutrition and diet trends and fads.

As a full-time or part-time employee, registered dietitians can create innovative programs or enhance existing ones to meet members' needs and by doing so, can enhance the reputation of the fitness facilities in which they work. Furthermore, registered dietitians are uniquely qualified and equipped to work with a variety of populations including athletes, pregnant women, and people with diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Many registered dietitians also hold additional certifications in diabetes or weight management, or masters or doctorate degrees that further enhance their credibility. Fitness managers who hire registered dietitians can be assured that the expertise and information they receive about nutrition and health from these nutrition experts is sound, up-to-date, and science-based.

How can I locate a registerd dietitian?

To find a registered dietitian in your area, contact the American Dietetic Association, the nation's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals that represents nearly 70,000 members across the nation. Call 1-800-877-1600, ext. 5000, or e-mail the ADA at www.eatright.org.

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN is a New York City-based registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She also holds a master's degree in clinical nutrition, and is certified as a dietitian/nutritionist by the New York State Department of Education. Zied is also certified as a personal trainer by the American Council on Exercise.