By Heidi Williams, Dietitians On Demand
It’s a constant chorus among great registered dietitians: a strong clinical foundation is the key to a successful career.
Sports dietitian Andrea Chapin, RD, CSSD, CNSC, FAND is no different, and if you think sports nutrition doesn’t run parallel to clinical nutrition, think again.
“I hear all the time that students interested in sports nutrition don’t want to work in clinical, but I couldn’t disagree more,” Andrea said. “My clinical background has led me to everything I’m doing now and it has given me such a strong foundation as a practitioner.”
Andrea was always active growing up, and had an interest in sports performance. She does CrossFit, swims, and has crossed the finish line of numerous half marathons and triathlons.
But during her dietetic internship rotations at Sacramento State University, Andrea struggled to find any training in sports nutrition. So while she was wishing for a two-week elective rotation in sports nutrition, she set up an elective rotation at the USDA Western Human Nutrition Research Center at UC Davis instead.
BUT FIRST, CLINICAL NUTRITION
So with sports nutrition tucked into the back of her mind for little bit, Andrea started her career as a clinical dietitian in 2010 and remained primarily in clinical dietetics for eight years.
After she had two years under her belt, Andrea tackled the CNSC exam, and passed!
“I think it’s beneficial for any dietitian in a clinical setting to obtain their CNSC after two years,” Andrea said. “It solidifies your expertise in the medical community.”
MAKING THE DIVE INTO SPORTS NUTRITION
But her passion and interest in sports nutrition never waned and Andrea decided to take matters into her own hands.
She started with self-study reading books by Louise Burke and Nancy Clark, both known for their study of the science of sports nutrition. She also attended sports nutrition sessions at FNCE, sports nutrition workshops, and became actively involved in SCAN and CPSDA. By implementing the sports nutrition science she was learning into her own training, Andrea took 20 minutes off her half marathon time.
In 2015 she was hired at University of the Pacific in Stockton and provided sports nutrition services to Pacific’s 18 NCAA Division I teams. To expand her reach amongst the 350 student athletes, and create that sports nutrition rotation she wasn’t able to have during her own internship, she developed and started a sports nutrition rotation at UOP for Sacramento State Dietetic Interns.
“There are so many parallels between clinical nutrition and sports, or clinical nutrition and other areas of dietetics,” Andrea said. “The physiological responses the body goes through during acute illness … there are many similarities to the body’s stress response to exercise.”
One emerging area where Andrea believes sports dietitians are going to prove their value is facilitating faster return to play from athletic injuries, and is one area where clinical nutrition is put into action.
“If someone breaks a bone, or has surgery, they go through a stress response and then require rehabilitation, and as a dietitian, you use your clinical skills for that,” Andrea said.
And regardless of the setting a dietitian works in, they’re part of a team — in a hospital a medical team rallies around a single patient; in a sports setting the team includes a strength coach, athletic trainer, physician, sports psychologist, sleep specialist – and everyone contributes their expertise.
Never was this more evident to Andrea the summer she spent at the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse. Spurred by her passion to pursue sports nutrition, Andrea left her full-time clinical position in 2018 to pursue dual Masters degrees in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition. Coincidentally, she landed the gig with the Giants that summer.
WHAT’S SHE UP TO NOW?
Today Andrea has returned to San Diego State University, her alma mater, where she’s both a student and a teacher. While pursuing her Master’s degree, Andrea is also teaching (this semester it’s an Exercise Physiology lab), working at the VA Hospital on weekends and volunteering with the sports nutrition co-op to provide nutrition education services to student athletes.
To contact Andrea with questions about sports nutrition, she encourages you to find her LinkedIn!
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