October 28, 2011 damonhayhow

Everything you need to know about the ISSN SNS Exam


The Sports Nutrition Specialist (SNS) qualification is the entry-level certificate from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). It was designed specifically for Personal Trainers and Coaches who do not have a related degree qualification.

As the Australian Ambassador for the ISSN, I represent the ISSN in Australia. Visit my Recomp website to learn how it ties into Body Recomposition Specialist Certification and the only nutrition insurance available to Personal Trainers.

Getting SNS Certified

Certification is awarded for achieving 70% or greater in an online, 120 multi-choice question exam.

There is no long-winded and expensive course to attend because the ISSN assumes you will already possess a solid background in nutrition and exercise science before sitting their exams. If you do not have such a background, the ISSN is not for you; yet. You will need to do some study and develop some experience first.

How to Study for the SNS

The content of the SNS exam is self-studied from the ISSN’s textbook: the Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplementation (ESNS). To the average coach studying for the SNS, the textbook is overwhelmingly technical! So much that many competent coaches have been scared off sitting the SNS when they actually had more than enough knowledge to pass.

It needs to be understood that the ESNS textbook was written for the much, much more technical and difficult CISSN exam; not the SNS! And this is why the textbook goes so far beyond the depth required for the SNS.

The SNS exam tests understanding of how to APPLY the latest science described in the textbook. But there is not a single question in the SNS requiring the memorization of biochemical processes, names of chemicals or details about research studies. The questions are not cryptically designed to trick, confuse or baffle. The SNS questions are the sorts of things a good Sports Nutritionist should know in order to correctly advise their clients on what to do. For any Trainer who has been competently advising their clients on diet, the SNS is not hard.

The Textbook

The textbook is divided into 5 sections. The first 2 sections cover Exercise Science and are relevant only to the (significantly harder) CISSN exam; but not to the SNS. Only the last 3 sections of the book need to be studied for the SNS. They cover Sports Nutrition, Supplementation and Special Topics.

The 5 sections of the book are further divided into chapters and at the end of every chapter are 30 multi-choice questions. Again, these questions are designed to help with studying for the CISSN; not the SNS. Though a few of the easier chapter-end questions reappear in the SNS, mostly they are much more difficult (and confusing) than the questions in the SNS. In some cases, the questions at the end of the chapter cannot be answered from the chapter in which they appear. And in a few cases, the questions cannot be answered from anywhere in the textbook! It is further proof of the ISSN’s expectation of pre-existing knowledge before you sit the CISSN.


My personal recommendation for a busy coach who understands nutrition and wants to do the minimum study to pass the SNS exam is:
1. Ignore the first 2 sections of the book. There are no questions from them in the SNS.
2. Ignore the study-guides. They are aimed at developing the deep technical understanding required for the CISSN but are way beyond the SNS.
3. Ignore the almost 100 pages of references. Again, it is a tremendous resource to have available; but there are no questions in the exam about study names or their authors.
4. Ignore the almost 100 pages of the Supplements section that describes the biochemistry behind numerous supplement ingredients. It makes an exceptionally good reference guide. But for the purposes of the exam, you do not need to memorise all the different names, doses and chemical processes described.
5. Do not dwell on the complex biochemistry or chemical pronunciations. Focus on understanding the outcomes and the relevant action points – if there are any – as that is what is being tested.
6. Do not dwell on the America-centric content.
7. Possibly ignore the questions at the end of the chapters. They seem to do more to sap confidence in sitting the SNS than help understanding. They are mostly far more difficult than the exam itself.
8. Make sure to read the Sidebars! Not only are they fascinating; many of the questions come from the sidebars.
9. Make sure you know the ratios/doses of carbs, proteins, fluids and their timings that studies have shown most effective for athletic performance. These are the sorts of practical prescription issues that you do need to know.
10. Do not put the exam off for a month or more. The people who should be sitting the SNS already advise people on nutrition and already understand the principles questioned in the exam. Spending more than 2 weeks studying the textbook will only result in getting bogged down in the scary biochemistry you don’t need to know. If you need to learn nutrition from scratch then you probably need to get some experience and practice dieting for your own sport or body composition before sitting the exam.

Personal Feelings

Having sat and passed both the SNS and CISSN exams, I cannot overstate the difference in difficulty between the two. The SNS is basic. The CISSN is biblically hard! Having passed both exams I can also reveal that I could not easily answer many of the questions in the textbook itself. Some were so obscure I failed to find the answers even by searching the Internet! So do not be put off by the questions in the textbook.

Final Words

The SNS is a fair test of relevant knowledge. An inexperienced Personal Trainer who has only been exposed to the nutrition taught in Cert 4 will struggle tremendously with the content and test. Even a degree-qualified dietician would probably not pass without study as the latest science discussed in the ESNS contradicts university curriculums. In fact, just over 25% of the people I have put through the exam have failed! But for any experienced trainer who has, for example, prepared figure or bodybuilding athletes for competition will find the textbook interesting and the exam simple.

If you follow my recommendations above you will have barely 200 pages of textbook to read which is only 15 pages per day for 2 weeks. Its only 1/2 an hour per day of reading and that’s all you should do to not panic about not completely understanding the biochemistry.

Given that there are only 100 questions in the exam, there is only one question per 2 pages of relevant content. Obviously this leaves no room for highly technical questions or irrelevant questions to pad out the exam. It really is a very fair exam that any good coach with an interest in sports nutrition will not find hard.