My name is Lizzie Kasparek, and I am the Sports Dietitian for the Sanford Sports Science Institute (SSSI) located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My main job duties include performing one-on-one consults and group presentations for local teams and athletes, consulting one day a week at the University of South Dakota, as well as managing nutrition for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the G-League Team for the Miami Heat.
1. What is your educational background and how long have you been an RD? Do you have any additional credentials relevant to your position?
I originally graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Russian from the University of Wisconsin, but during my senior year, I took a nutrition class which inspired me to pursue a second degree in Dietetics. I then was matched to St. Louis University through their Nutrition and Physical Performance dietetic internship and Master of Science Program. I graduated from that one-year program in 2015 and became a dietitian. I started my job here at the SSSI shortly after that, have been here for just over 2.5 years, and just recently earned my CSSD!
2. How did you achieve your position/ how did you get started with your current position?
I was applying to jobs all over the Midwest, including this job. My interview was over skype and had never been here before moving for the job, but the position blended all my favorite parts for my internship and grad program focusing on athlete testing along with working with athletes of all ages, levels, and sports.
3. What key areas of knowledge/experiences did you need to have before this job?
You definitely need experience and knowledge of exercise physiology and exercise science, so I was grateful of my wonderful grad school professors, shoutout to Dr. Weiss, who is awesome!
4. What are the highs and lows of your position?
One “high” is when I can make a difference in what athletes CHOOSE to eat. You’ll see kids coming into the weight room with nuts and PB&J’s instead of supplements (although, you still see those), which is great to see. Another “high” is when athletes come into my office to ask me questions. My office is right outside the weight room, so it’s great to be able to be that resource for them when they need an answer to a nutrition question.
A typical day can vary for me. I spend a lot of time doing independent projects (making worksheets, handouts, blog posts, etc.), or working one-on-one with athletes (middle school, high school, collegiate or adult) or doing group presentations/preparing for group presentations. We do athlete testing here at the Sports Science Institute, so we also get athletes coming in for services, such as Resting Energy Expenditures using our metabolic cart, body composition testing, VO2max, lactate threshold testing, and sweat testing/heat tolerance testing using our environmental chamber. I spend one day a week at the university meeting with student athletes, working with teams, providing grocery store tours, etc. I also consult with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, making them snacks on practice days and organizing their pre-game meals from a local restaurant. I am working on a nutrition-related research project as well, with research participants coming in every month to investigate the impact of beetroot juice on running in a hot-humid environment using our environmental chamber. It seems like a lot, but I just wear a lot of hats!
6. What advice would you share with an RD (or RD2be) that is interested in a similar career path?
If an RD is interested in working in a training facility, I definitely would recommend to get experience or take classes in exercise physiology, exercise, and/or athlete testing. In addition to exercise physiology knowledge, public speaking is hugely important for working in this field. You can’t be timid when you’re working with big groups because I feel they can sense if you’re nervous.
7. What is your greatest strength/weakness as a dietitian?
I would say my greatest strength is public speaking and coming up with answers on the fly for interviewers, athletes, groups, etc. My weakness is standing tall against opposition. In nutrition, and sports nutrition especially, there are so many factors going into why people eat a certain way, think a certain way about a food, etc., and it can be hard to say, “That’s really interesting. If you’re willing, I’d like to share what I’ve found in the research on that…” in a non-confrontational way.
8. What are some of your interests outside of work?
Outside of work, I love to hang out with my dog, who is an 8-month-old cattle dog mix, and my husband. We recently bought a fixer upper in the historical district, so we are frequently peeling wallpaper and ripping rooms apart. I also love running; my husband and I are running a 17 mile trail race next month and a 50K race in June in the Black Hills of South Dakota! I’m looking forward to training for another triathlon over the summer, as well.
9. What aspect of sports nutrition (or any other area of dietetics) interested you to pursue it as a career?
I love sports nutrition related to fueling for endurance events. I ran my first marathon my freshman year of college and had no idea what I was doing. My roommate biked alongside me for conversation, but I don’t think I ever brought fuel with me (or water!), which ended in a lot of “bonking” and days laying on the couch feeling lousy post long-run. Once I figured it out (and figured out that people could talk about food and running as a CAREER), I went back to school for dietetics. Even though I work with quite a few team sport athletes now, I love working with endurance athletes!
10. Why have you decided to work with athletes or similar groups?
Sports nutrition is a field where I feel like I can make an impact on the lives of the people around me. I get to work with a variety of different clients, and they’re usually seeking out my help and truly want to change their nutrition. It’s fun to see the changes they make and brainstorm how to optimize their performance based on previous races/games and how they usually fuel.
11. How do you deal with the daily stresses presented to you in your career?
Honestly, going running definitely helps me deal with the daily stresses. I also try to write lots of lists. Another RD threw out the idea to make a weekly task list, which definitely helps me stay on track. I usually don’t have daily deadlines for every single task, so keeping that weekly tally helps me think ahead for next week. Setting goals is something I’m trying to do more. Thirty day, sixty day, and beyond goals could help me stay on task and feel less stressed by tackling big projects early on.
12. Prior to getting your credentials, did you have any experience in nutrition (ie. food service, volunteering, etc.)?
Not really – I had experience running and fueling for marathons and had quite a big of clinical experience from working for several years as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and as a volunteer in the E.R. My job as a CNA is probably what got me the most interested in being a dietitian; I had always wanted to be a doctor, but seeing elderly people struggle with different health issues made me think that I would want to work more on the preventative or wellness side of things. Additionally, learning about my patients with diabetes and how insulin works intrigued me!
13. What do you love about your career/job?
I love how no day is the same and that I have a lot of independence with support from my team to build my program.
14. Is there a course you took in undergrad or grad school that has helped you in your current role?
My grad school courses in exercise physiology at St. Louis University were the most helpful to my current role! I honestly loved all my food service classes as an undergrad especially my beer and cheese making course at the University of Wisconsin, but the exercise physiology classes were the most helpful to my current role because of all the athlete testing we do and the variety of different clients we work with from different sports!
15. What are some of the unique nutritional considerations you must consider for the group(s) you work with?
Some days, it can be difficult to shift gears from working with endurance athletes, team sport athletes, weekend warriors, people starting out on their fitness journey, and professional athletes. Everyone has a different motivation level, background/where they come from or preconceived notions about nutrition (especially working with the Skyforce, where many of the players aren’t from the Midwest or different collegiate student athletes who are out on their own trying to gain a competitive edge, so they’re researching like crazy on the internet and aren’t always coming up with evidence-backed ways to fuel their bodies!) Sometimes, I work with families, and the parent might have some nutrition knowledge or opinions. Teaching a kid about sports nutrition might go against what the parent thinks (for instance, chocolate milk is full of sugar, or people shouldn’t eat dairy, or maybe they follow a Paleo diet at home, but I’m making a general recommendation to eat toast or oatmeal as a part of breakfast) – all those kinds of things can throw a curve ball your way! Sports nutrition is interesting because sometimes people think they should only see a dietitian if they have a health issue or need to lose weight and need a meal plan, but I just don’t do meal plans, don’t really focus on weight as much as people think, and most athletes could benefit from overall general good nutrition and learn more about how to prepare for and recover from training and competitions.