PhD or Master's Degree in Nutrition & Exercise Science

Nutrition and exercise science graduate programs may award masters and doctorate degrees, as well as graduate certificates at either level. They may also offer courses online or on campus to fit students with a variety of lifestyles and learning needs.

Exercise science and nutrition graduate programs explore the many ways diet and exercise impact health. A few different areas of study within each field may be available. For example, in nutrition graduate programs you could examine nutrition in a clinical context or discuss nutrition education strategies. You might also study the management of large scale nutrition programs or focus on food-related research and engineering.

Or, you could opt to pursue exercise science graduate programs, which focus on the relationship between physical activity and overall wellness. Here, you could study how to help people exercise safely and effectively. What unites these disparate topics is a commitment to keeping people healthy.

Exercise Science Graduate Programs

If maintaining your diet is one half of wellness, exercise is the other. Students in exercise science degree programs study the relationship between physical movement and people’s overall health. They may learn about how the human body works, conditioning techniques, and various injuries and their prevention.

Like nutrition graduate programs, exercise science programs may vary in their approach. Each could mirror a different way one might apply expertise in the field. Here are a few examples.

  • Community health exercise science degree programs focus on developing fitness programs within a community, such as for a specific populations or as public health initiatives.
  • Performance-focused exercise science degree programs may center on the tools and knowledge to help clients maximize their overall physical capability.
  • Clinical exercise science programs may look at the role of fitness programs in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, and residential care facilities.
  • Research-focused exercise science programs examine the use of data and research methodologies to better understand how exercise impacts the body, community health, and other relevant issues.

The above examples may not describe every exercise science graduate program offered. Different schools and programs may combine the above, or have unique options not listed here at all. For more information on the different kinds of programs offered, the facilities you might be able to train in, and other relevant details, reach out to the school in question.

Food Science Graduate Programs

Food science graduate programs center on the research and technology behind food in all it stages of production. In other words, unlike nutrition, they’re more interested in studying food in and of itself. Some food science programs, for example, could focus on agriculture. They might discuss the challenges and opportunities inherent in producing the raw materials we need to make food. Others might be more engineering-oriented, centering on the machinery used to produce food, the technology behind food packaging, and similar topics.

Apply to Exercise Science & Nutrition Graduate Programs

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Nutrition & Dietetics Programs

Nutrition graduate programs focus on people’s relationships with food. In other words, while food is a big part of nutrition, these programs are person-centric. They emphasize how students could use their nutrition expertise to help individuals and families thrive. Some might focus on helping people develop better dietary and fitness habits, such as in weight management programs. Other programs might examine nutrition in the context of medical treatment, or take a holistic approach and focus on overall wellness.

Nutrition graduate programs may also differ in the types of nutrition practice they concentrate on. These might reflect professional roles one might seek in the field.

  • Clinical Nutrition: Clinical nutrition focuses on nutrition as it is applied within a care facility or healthcare plan. Courses may discuss how nutrition could be used to treat different illnesses, as well as various health conditions that impact nutritional needs.
  • Public Health: These programs may discuss how students might use nutrition expertise to help communities ensure access to food and nutrition resources. This could also touch on how to educate the community and help people make positive nutrition choices for themselves and their families.
  • Management Dietetics: This area of focus centers on helping to facilitate nutrition programs at an organizational level. Programs might discuss the challenges inherent in organizing and managing a food program in different setting, food safety, and the array of skills one might need in this kind of role.

What Is Dietetics?

Some nutrition graduate programs may go by the name of dietetics. Dietetics could be considered a sub-set of nutrition. Generally speaking, a dietetics program is designed to help student work toward earning the necessary credentials to be a licensed or registered dietitian. Because the credentialing requirements and overall regulations may differ by state, the specific differences between the roles of a dietitian and a nutritionist may vary. If you’re not sure which path you prefer, reach out to the program you’re looking into for more information.

Exercise Science & Nutrition Graduate Degree Levels

Exercise science and nutrition graduate programs may issue degrees and certificate programs at multiple levels. Generally, programs could be broken down to three categories.

Nutrition & Fitness Graduate Programs

  • Masters in Nutrition and Exercise Science: Exercise science and nutrition masters programs may focus on clinical application, public health, research, or potentially education. Some programs may be designed to help experienced nutrition and fitness professionals hone their skills or further specialize their practice. Others might be designed to support students new to the field, providing research opportunities and guided field experience. Application requirements at the masters level may vary, depending on the goals of the program and the type of students the program is designed to serve. Prerequisites may include things like professional experience, relevant prior education (e.g. a related bachelors degree from an accredited school), professional credentials, and GRE scores.
  • Doctorate in Nutrition or Exercise Science: Nutrition and exercise science doctorate programs may either be practice-oriented, or focus on performing research and/or educating at the university level. These programs may even be interdisciplinary, combining scientific rigor with practical and administrative skills, to prepare students to lead in a variety of health-related settings. Prerequisites for admission may vary. However, some example requirements include relevant? bachelors and masters degrees, GRE scores, and professional experience.
  • Exercise Science and Nutrition Graduate Certificate Programs: Exercise Science and nutrition masters certificates and post-masters certificates are often shorter than degree programs and offer a more concentrated course of study. They may focus on one specific topic, such as the nutritional needs of specific populations or certain approaches to nutrition practice. This may allow current professionals to expand their knowledge and earn additional credentials without committing to a full degree program. Some certificate credits may also be transferable to a later degree. However this differs by school so be sure to talk to an admission advisor if this is a goal.

Example Nutrition & Exercise Science Curriculum

Because exercise science and nutrition graduate programs focus on helping people stay healthy, their curricula tend to center on exactly what that looks like in practice. That means taking courses not just about food or exercise, but about how it impacts the body, how the body functions, and identifying different conditions that could impact nutritional and exercise needs.

While the specific curriculum may vary depending on degree level and the type of program you choose to attend, below are some examples of courses you might take in a nutrition or exercise science program.

  • Nutritional Epidemiology: This course may focus on nutrition in a clinical setting, particularly with respect to treating specific health conditions. Students may learn to identify these conditions and formulate nutrition plans to manage them.
  • Pediatric Nutrition: Nutrition programs may spend time on the nutritional needs people have at different stages of life. While pediatric nutrition focuses on children, programs may also have courses discussing different stages of life.
  • Nutrition Education: In addition to helping students hone their own nutrition knowledge, courses may discuss how students can share that knowledge with others, in individual and group settings.
  • Nutrition Research: While not all programs focus on performing nutrition research, many at least spend time discussing its methodologies and challenges. Students may develop an understanding of the larger body of nutrition research that informs practice.
  • Biostatistics: Related to epidemiology, biostatistics is a branch of statistical analysis unique to biology and health sciences. It may involve the collection and analysis of data in general, as well as explore the unique challenges of studying a living organism.
  • Advanced Exercise Physiology: This broad course topic examines exercise and physical activity from an anatomical perspective. Students may examine how different types of exercise impact different body types, how exercise could address or prevent certain diseases or conditions, and injury prevention.
  • Biomechanical Analysis: This exercise science course focuses on how people move. It ties not only into safe exercise, but also touches on different injuries that could impact motion and how to prevent and manage them.

In addition to classtime, some exercise science and nutrition programs may have a practical component, especially if it’s a program that looks toward clinical application. This could involve field experience, working with patients in a real-world setting under the guidance of experienced professionals. Requirements depend heavily on the level of the degree, the goals of the program, the format, and the individual school, so make sure you contact your selected program for details.

Nutrition & Exercise Science Graduate Program Formats

Exercise Science and Nutrition Graduate Programs may be offered in a variety of formats to accommodate the diverse needs of today’s students. Whether you want to dedicate all your time and attention to your studies and research, or need to balance your nutrition graduate program with the needs of your clients, you could choose a program that works for you.

  • Graduate Online Nutrition Degree Programs: Online nutrition degrees and online exercise science programs are designed to be flexible enough to accommodate students’ real lives. Often, courses are available online 24/7 so students might continue to work and balance family obligations. Bear in mind that online nutrition programs may still some have in-person requirements. Examples include clinical rotations or thesis presentations. However, details may vary on a case-by-case basis, so follow up with your selected programs to learn more.
  • Exercise Science and Nutrition Graduate Schools: Many nutrition and exercise science graduate programs are offered on campus to give students access to valuable resources a school may offer. These could include nutrition laboratory space, simulated clinics, or exercise science equipment such as physical training space. Some programs may even offer online coursework or weekend and evening courses to accomodate busy students. The specific format, services, and resources at each graduate school program may vary, so make sure you follow up about it with your chosen school.

Nutrition & Exercise Science Career Info

Whether you’re studying nutrition or exercise science, you might pursue a variety of fascinating careers dedicated to helping people get and stay healthy. In many cases, entry level employment may only require a bachelors degree. However, earning a masters degree or higher could help develop more advanced knowledge and may even be preferable to some employers.

Some example career paths nutrition and exercise science students may be interested in are listed below.

  • Dietitians and Nutritionists: 2016 Median Pay $58,920i
  • Exercise Physiologists: 2016 Median Pay $47,340ii
  • Athletic Training: 2016 Median Pay $45,360iii

These and other related positions may have additional requirements. For example, some states may require nutrition or exercise professionals to hold and maintain certification or licensure. For more information about professional credentials, reach out to your selected school or state board.

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