Case study

Performance nutritionist — Nora

From writing menus to carrying out athlete interviews, NĂ³ra's role with the Irish Rugby Football Union has lots of variety

How did you get your current job?

Following my degree in nutrition and dietetics and MSc in applied sports and exercise nutrition, I worked as a locum dietitian to consolidate my dietetics knowledge.

At the same time I volunteered with the Irish Institute of Sport, which involved extensive travelling.

This combination of experience and dedication boosted my application and interview for my current position.

Focus on getting some experience and progress your opportunities by attending conferences and networking with sports nutritionists

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My studies were essential for my current job. My degree in dietetics provided very strong technical knowledge of nutrition, as well as the soft-skills of dietary counselling.

My Masters gave me an opportunity to learn more about physiology and sport-specific nutrition and was a minimum requirement for the role.

What are your main work activities?

Typical tasks can include one-to-one athlete interviews, checking urine samples to check hydration levels, group education presentations and inputting food diaries into nutritional analysis software.

Significant time is spent writing menus for the hotels where squads are training, ensuring that players don't get food fatigue and that the timing of the meals and snacks fits around travel, training and matches.

I'm also developing a nutrition education programme for the country's best young rugby players and developing module content for an IRFU e-learning programme.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I have moved from clinical dietetics into sports nutrition, so rather than advising patients on the dietary treatment of disease, our athletes are getting their diet right to optimise their performance.

I'm really enjoying the education side of my job and it's nice to be in charge of a project from conception to completion. Because sports nutrition in Ireland is a very new field, I have to define my own career path sometimes.

One of my ambitions for the future is to provide nutrition support at the Olympics.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety and autonomy I have in my work. Innovative thinking is encouraged and getting to spend all day thinking and talking about a topic I love is fantastic.

Sometimes during tournaments or training camps the hours are long, or I'm required to travel and this can add to the variety of my work or become a challenge depending on how you look at it.

It's great to be part of a winning team and to be very performance driven in your job. Seeing an athlete play better because you've helped them to gain muscle or fuel properly for their match is very rewarding.

Sports nutrition is a really exciting area to work in at the moment with a lot of sector growth.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Currently I look after a lot of squads and that involves a lot of head-space and organisational skills.

There is also less job security in sports than in a lot of other industries and part of my work is self-employed, so I've had to learn about how to run a business.

Working in a male-dominated arena like sports isn't always easy.

What tips do you have for securing a sports nutrition post?

Study hard and really get to know the basics of nutrition and sports nutrition. Focus on getting some volunteer experience and progress your opportunities by attending conferences and expos and networking with sports nutritionists.

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