Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD)

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So you love sports. You love nutrition. And you can’t get enough of the science to help athletes level up in their performance. Are you ready to become a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics dietitian?

A CSSD Dietitian can work with athletes, individually or with a whole team. A CSSD dietitian assesses, educates, and counsels athletes and other active individuals, of any age. 

The CSSD credential is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) and has been available since 2005.

woman grabbing bottle of water from table

What is the difference between an RD and a CSSD dietitian?

Registered dietitians (RDs) are the nutrition expert. RDs are also called Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs). All RDs are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are RDs, kind of like all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. 

Regulations about the scope of practice to work as a nutrition professional vary by state. Being an RD means the same thing in every state, but most states don’t regulate the term nutritionist. That means anyone, even that personal training at the gym, can call themselves a nutritionist. To make things even more confusing, some HR folks write job descriptions for registered dietitians as a “nutritionist”. 

There are robust minimum requirements to become a registered dietitian. In order to become a registered dietitian, you have to first complete your didactic program at an approved college or university. This might be a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, depending on your previous education. Next, complete a 10-month supervised practice internship experience. Study for and pass the national board exam and finally, complete any state licensure requirements. Starting in 2024, it will be required for all new registered dietitians to complete their master’s degree (1). 

In order to maintain your RD credential, you must complete continuing education, usually 12-15 hours per year, from an approved provider. This might include webinars, attending conferences, and self-study programs. 

RDs can focus on any segment of the population – infants, the elderly, family nutrition – and any disease state – kidney disease, diabetes, PCOS – and many other avenues, including freelance writing, brand ambassadors, research, teaching, product development and more. The sky is truly the limit with this science-heavy degree. 

A CSSD dietitian is an RD with extensive additional experience related to sports nutrition. You must pass the board exam in order to become a CSSD, but there are several steps that you must take before even being eligible to take the exam.  

If you’re thinking about becoming a CSSD Dietitian, you might reach out to local CSSD dietitians to ask them questions and to shadow them as they perform their job functions. 

dumbbells and workout clothes on a white background; cssd nutrition study guide on an ipad

How to become a CSSD Dietitian

In order to be eligible for the CSSD exam, you must meet the following criteria (2): 

  • Be a registered dietitian (RD)
  • Have been practicing as an RD for a minimum of two years
  • Documentation of 2,000 hours of specialty practice experience as an RD within the past five years (1,500 if recertifying)

The application takes place through the CDR website. You’ll fill out the form with your name and address information, then your employment history, professional experiences (such as presenting at a conference, publishing a peer-reviewed journal article, related continuing education experience and completing the International Olympic Committee Diploma in Sports Nutrition. An additional college degree can count for some of the required professional experience. 

Of course, you’re going to need to study hard to be ready to take this test. We recommend using our CSSD study guide to coach you through the content and help you feel ready to ace the test. 

The fee to take the exam is currently $450 and testing is available year-round. 

In order to maintain the CSSD credential, CSSD Dietitians have to document 1,000 hours of specialty practice as an RD within the past five years. 

Maybe you would like to have the opportunity to do a self-check of your sports nutrition knowledge, before taking the official exam? The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) has modules available for purchase to assess what knowledge and skills you currently have in a particular nutrition area, including sports nutrition. Their course, Sports Dietetics: Nutrition for Athletic Performance, is approved for 5 units of continuing education and currently costs $45.99. 

While not required, many CSSD dietitians have additional certifications in athletic training or exercise science (3). 

Benefits of becoming a CSSD Dietitian

Why would you want to consider becoming a CSSD certified RD? This is a credential that may open more professional doors for you, help you to leverage your next raise, bolster your expertise and confidence, and help you to network. 

The training to become a registered dietitian is intense – it is essentially a pre-med undergrad degree. But it also covers a lot of ground, less in-depth. 

The purpose of the RD degree is to cover a multitude of topics and teach you how to think critically and continue learning. As you decide what area of nutrition you want to delve deeper into, you will know how to critically evaluate information and apply it to your unique setting. 

Some of us are very disciplined and able to work through personal tasks and goals without external deadlines. You’re up to date on the literature, know the best sports bars and can calculate macros at the drop of a hat.  

However, many of us benefit from an external framework to move through and appreciate the support and guidance of a formal program and fellow students to network with. Becoming a CSSD dietitian may be the framework that helps to propel your career forward. 

Speaking of networking opportunities, have you heard of SCAN? That is the Sports, Cardiovascular and wellness Nutrition practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Join more than 6,000 sports nutrition loving dietitians on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can also pin great posts for later!

Becoming a CSSD dietitian distinguishes you from those dietitians who may just dabble in sports nutrition. The requirements for this credential are rigorous – you should be proud if you complete this training!

A phone, notepad, pen and croissant on a white background with a green leaf and candle

Your next job opportunities as a CSSD dietitian

There are many avenues to support athletes and fitness lovers with personalized, evidence-based nutrition as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics RD (4). Your nutritional guidance could be what helps an endurance runner reach their next personal record!

One option for your work as a CSSD dietitian is to start your own private practice. This may sound like a huge undertaking, and it is, but you can absolutely do it. Our blog post is a great place to start, but also know that there are plenty of RDs who have paved the way, learned from their own wins and mistakes and share their knowledge. There are plenty of clients for all of us. 

As a private practice owner, you may work with an individual or even contract with sports teams. Your local high-schools and colleges may be thrilled to have you speak to their athletes. It is never too early to set the foundation for healthy eating to improve performance! You may connect with your ideal clients by hosting a nutrition challenge at your local gym!

Another option for a CSSD dietitian is to contract with hospitals, the military and even in product development. Do you want to help create the perfect running snack, hydrating drink or electrolyte filled gummy? You can!

A CSSD dietitian can also write a curriculum to teach in college, design and conduct scientific research, be a media spokesperson, write articles for the public and for professional organizations, as well as develop and host presentations and workshops or create handouts. You can check the SCAN website for their current job postings

Resources for Sports Nutrition Professionals

Read to wow local athletes? Save time by shopping our Fitness and Sports Collection of products and tools that you can use to better serve your sports clients. Save time so that you can make more money!

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