This July, we spoke with Alicia Fogarty MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, based in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Primarily, Alicia provides sports nutrition intervention and education to high school athletes through a partnership between Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas Healthcare System) and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She also offers support to other area high schools and middle schools in which Atrium provides Athletic Training coverage. Finally, Alicia assists with providing community nutrition intervention and education to support another dietitians on her team.
What is your educational background and how long have you been an RD?
My undergraduate degree is from Ithaca College with a major in exercise science and a minor nutrition. I obtained my masters in clinical nutrition at NYU and became a registered dietitian in 1997. I also became a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics in July 2013.
How did you achieve your position/ how did you get started with your current position?
I have been working with Atrium Health for the last ten years. Initially my position was contracted with the YMCA’s of Greater Charlotte to provide nutrition education and support to all the Y locations in the area. We provided services including sports nutrition education, and I used these to earn part of my CSSD hour minimum. It took the first five years to obtain the hours. Our team began providing sports nutrition education during a yearly event, Heart of a Champion Day, which offers sports physicals, a cardiac evaluation, and at minimum, 12 lead EKG evaluation. I worked closely with our sports medicine team to provide sports nutrition education and intervention to any athlete they deemed necessary.
In January of 2016, my position evolved from only working at YMCA to contracting with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. It was my goal to introduce sports nutrition into this population as I saw it as a community wellness and sports nutrition initiative.
What key areas of knowledge/experiences did you need to have before this job?
During our transition, I continued to take CEU’s on sports nutrition and began learning what I could from respected resources on adolescence and adolescent athlete nutrition. The sports nutrition care manual gave a general review of age group guidelines that was helpful. Fellow sports dietitians are always a great resource. I have used Tavis Piatolly and Heather Mangieri to name a few resources.
What are the highs and lows of your position?
For nutrition intervention, generally, it is a thankless job because you may see a client/patient once or twice depending on the structure of your job. Since my team and I are located at schools, we are beginning to gain more visibility, and student athletes are coming up to me and saying, “Wow, this actually works!” They are gaining muscle, having energy at the right times, and having many other positive responses. Also, we are trying to do something that is not available in many areas, which is provide sports nutrition coverage to athletes as part of the medical team, essentially providing a service that if obtained privately, would be fee based.
Battling misinformation is the biggest low! With many public/community-based education programs, people obtain information from the internet, and this age group in particular is very in tune with social media resources. Often times, the social media voice is the loudest voice they are listening to, not necessarily the correct voice. We try to meet the students where they are, but it is a slow process. We are also working against years and years of coaches and parents providing information and resources themselves, and some of that information is not accurate.
What is a typical day for you?
Our department, in general, is less than typical, but usually, the morning is reserved for clerical/paperwork type activities. That may consist of developing programs, reviewing food journals, and checking email. My afternoon, starting around 1 pm, is when we are in the schools. We try to get to our primary schools around 2pm to talk with the ATC’s, coaches, etc. since school lets out around this time. Once the students are out of school, we host a session or group with a specific team. This can include what we refer to “sports nutrition rounding,” which is when we are available for Q and A for any athlete, coach, or parent wanting to ask questions. On busy days, we may have multiple teams or schools to attend.
What advice would you share with an RD (or RD2be) that is interested in a similar career path?
Since I had a very roundabout way to become a sports dietitian, I wish I had a great answer. In general, do not hold back from realizing what drives you and what you are passionate about. I had a passion for helping student athletes become the best version of themselves and wish I had that guidance when I was their age. Because of my interests, it led me to look at ways to provide those services to our area student athletes. As an RD/RD2Be, if working with high school athletes interests you, connect with the coaches and trainers to see what their needs are and see what types of relationships you can form.
What is your greatest strength/weakness as a dietitian?
I love what I do and try to be empathetic to each person I work with in their goals to become whatever they define as healthy. What works for one person may not work for another. I feel that I do well with helping each person as an individual. For this population, I feel I can relate to them in that I have been in their shoes, wanting to be a collegiate athlete, and doing whatever it takes to achieve that.
A weakness is I talk too fast. I also feel that sometimes I can’t stay ahead of the newest developments in science and nutrition, but I try to read as much as I can to avoid falling behind on the evidence.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
I enjoy reading, exercise, cooking, art, soccer, and family time. I have a husband, 4 kids, and 2 golden retrievers.
What aspect of sports nutrition interested you to pursue it as a career/ decided to work with athletes or similar groups?
I played college soccer and had challenges with injuries and weight gain my first 2 years, so I did not see the playing time I wanted. My junior year, I took my first nutrition class as I explored through my liberal arts program (originally went to school for Art), and it all clicked. It made sense, I improved, became a starter for our team, and I knew what I wanted to do with my career.
Prior to getting your credentials, did you have any experience in nutrition (ie. food service, volunteering, etc.)?
No, originally I went to school for art and ended up a dietitian. I also come from an Italian family and LOVE food and cooking.
What do you love about your career/job?
Our team is fantastic, and I have had the most amazing experiences as we have evolved and grown over the past 10 years. I love that I am now able to put my passion into practice.
Is there a course you took in undergrad or grad school that has helped you in your current role?
I feel like I draw on my counseling classes often. Of course, they are all important, but the ability to connect with people is so important in our field.
What are some of the unique nutritional considerations you must consider for the group(s) you work with?
When we first started this program, I was asked why I was educating the “healthy kids” since we were focusing on a subset of high school students. I have never encountered a group of people in my life that have worse eating habits as a whole as high school athletes. Teenagers are prone to transitioning to making their own choices about food compared to that of a younger child, and in today’s society, unhealthy food has never been more accessible than it is now. They can have it delivered to the school if they want! They are also notorious for not eating anything either for breakfast or both breakfast and lunch for a variety of reasons, and it does not matter who or where I am talking to athletes, at least 50% of them don’t eat enough. The reality is only 6 – 8% of high school student athletes will continue on playing sports in college competitively. We also see this as a way to help those 95% of athletes not making that transition to learn how to become healthier eaters overall, which will hopefully shape their health and wellness patterns in the future.