Sports Nutrition with the VFL Cats

Sports nutrition is a popular area that many of our nutrition and dietetics graduates want to pursue a career in. Master of Dietetics final-year student Alysha Stevens shares her experiences from the voluntary work she has been doing with the VFL Geelong Cats.

The world of sports nutrition sounds amazing, but how do I become a part of that? Being an Accredited Sports Dietitian sounds prestigious and wonderful, but how do I become one of those? These were my wonders and became my goals after completing my Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science undergraduate degree. I soon realised completing a Masters of Dietetics would be the next step, so I enrolled at Deakin and became a student dietitian!

The Master of Dietetics course has been super challenging, rewarding and has introduced me to areas of dietetics I had no idea about. I developed sparks of interest in other areas, however my focus has always been on becoming an Accredited Sports Dietitian.

skinfold pic 2

Part of the hands-on role of a sports dietitian: taking skinfolds

Before my final semester, a volunteer opportunity came up with the VFL Geelong Cats team as a Nutrition Advisor.  How perfect it was! So, of course I applied for it. I went to Simonds Stadium in Geelong for an interview, and was successful! I became aware of the great partnership Deakin University has with the Geelong Cats Football Club; part of which includes Dr Dominique Condo, a sports nutrition lecturer at Deakin, who also is the Geelong Cats AFL team Accredited Sports Dietitian. I was pleased to find out that she would be my supervisor and mentor at the club.

The role of Nutrition Advisor in the world of sports nutrition sounded exciting, energetic, prestigious and competitive, all rolled into one challenging volunteer role. But what did it actually involve though?

I travelled to the club on one of their training days each week, and my responsibilities involved skinfold measurements of players, individual consultations, player group presentations and collaboration with other members of the fitness and performance team. Individual player consultations have a focus on meal planning, fuelling up for training and games, recovery nutrition, hydration and achieving body composition goals. Another important aspect has been ensuring that players are taking only safe and approved supplements.

I have used a lot of the knowledge from my dietetics degree in my role. Players’ health and wellbeing is of number one importance, and, just like any other general dietetic client, athletes can have challenges such as food intolerances, gastrointestinal issues or other clinical conditions to manage and work around. Support from the AFL club Dietitian has provided valuable insight, knowledge and guidance for my practice with the team.

AFL clubs and some other professional sporting teams are now required to have an Accredited Sports Dietitian as part of their high performance team. Part of gaining this accreditation involves being a fully qualified dietitian with some clinical experience as well as completing the Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) four day Sports Nutrition course. This puts dietitians at the forefront of scientific and evidence-based sports nutrition to best support athletes with performing their best in a safe and ethical way.

It has been an amazing experience and a privilege working with the VFL Cats. It has fuelled my passion for sports nutrition and spurred my endeavours and direction in the dietetic field. I have learned that sports nutrition is more than carbohydrate loading, loads of protein, sports drinks, supplements and sweaty athletes. It is about being part of a whole team of athletes and staff working together to achieve the same outcome: success.

Alysha Stevens

School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University

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