Thursday, September 20, 2018

Expanding the Arena - October

This month, we interviewed Christopher Barrett, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist from the Sports Performance Institute of Nutrition at Yale New Haven Hospital.  Chris provides nutrition counseling to high school athletes in a variety of sports. His job duties include the following:  

  •  Providing nutrition counseling to analyze dietary practices of athletes for performance and health
  • Providing individualized nutrition counseling for athletes on optimal nutrition for exercise training in relation to periodization phase
  • Enhancing nutrition to improve competition, recover from exercise, supplementation, and promote weight management and hydration
  • Specializing in hydration protocols for marathon runners to meet fluid and carbohydrate needs to enhance performance
  • Addressing nutritional challenges of performance (i.e. food allergies)
  • Conducting nutrition education presentations for teams, coaches, and similar groups
  •  Developing the Sports Performance Institute of Nutrition at Yale New Haven Hospital

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 have a bachelor’s degree from Sacred Heart University in Exercise Science. I earned my master’s degree from the University of New Haven and went on to pursue my RD credentials after completing the dietetic internship at Yale New Haven Hospital. I have been an RD since 2015 and currently possess a certificate from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

While completing my undergraduate and graduate coursework, I worked as a strength and conditioning coach. I worked primarily with high school athletes with aspirations of a Division I scholarship as well as college athletes looking to establish a professional career

2.    How did you achieve your position/how did you get started with your current position?
I was very fortunate as Kevin Gendron, the owner of Better Athletic Development in Shelton, CT, knew I was pursuing a career to become a registered dietitian. He allowed me to present to groups of high school athletes as well as work one-on-one with others to assist with their sports nutrition goals. At this time, I was working part-time as a cross country coach at a local private school and began assisting athletes with nutrition-related questions, which eventually led to individual nutrition consultations, too.

I was hired directly out of the dietetic internship in the outpatient sector of Yale New Haven Hospital. Since then, I have ambitiously started the Sports Performance Institute of Nutrition at Yale New Haven Hospital.

3.    What key areas of knowledge/experiences did you need to have before this job?
It was very beneficial to have completed by bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and prior experience competing in sports. It is a true blend of evidence-based medicine and practical knowledge. This combination provided a solid foundation to translate complex information to digestible and useful information for athletes striving for their athletic potential and aspirations.

4.    What are the highs and lows of your position?
The highs of my position are when you see an athlete successfully reach a goal they have been striving for – earning a Division I scholarship, making the varsity team as a freshman, achieving a personal best, etc. Another high is when you see an athlete truly buy into the process and it leads to them obtaining sustainable nutrition practices. The lows are when you see an athlete unable to compete for some unjust reason such as an injury.

5.    What is a typical day for you?
My days vary greatly based on the clients I meet as well as the location in which I am working. With individual consultations, I typically meet with athletes following school and occasionally after practice.

When at Yale New Haven Hospital, my day starts much earlier (~7:00AM) and ends around 5 or 6 PM. I work one-on-one with patients for a variety of illnesses as well as athletes looking to improve performance. When the time allows, I continue to try and grow the Sports Performance Institute of Nutrition at Yale New Haven Hospital. There I complete presentations at various local high schools and fitness facilities in Connecticut.

6.    What advice would you share with an RD (or RD2Be) who is interested in a similar career path?
For RDs2Be – If you are looking to accelerate your growth in the field during the internship, you must change the way you look at feedback. It is going to be extremely difficult to become the best dietitian you can be without healthy relationship with feedback. There is a major difference between constructive feedback and negativity. Constructive feedback is far from negative, but it can assist in bringing out the best in you.

For RDs and RDs2Be – I would never overlook the importance of building rapport with your client. As a preceptor, I notice this is typically overlooked by many dietetic interns. There is an old saying in coaching, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. To be clear, this does not mean that you don’t need nutritional knowledge. I would categorize myself as a relationship-based dietitian/coach. My nutrition information is only useful if the athlete trusts me and knows how much I value their commitment to the process. When you build rapport with a client, you begin the process of building trust. Once trust is built with your patient, you will notice an increase of commitment in the nutrition program

     7.    What are some of your interests outside of work?
If you were to ask my closest friends and family members, many would probably describe me as very driven. Some would probably even say that I don’t have many things that I focus on beyond my job and the athletes I coach. Yet, one of my true passions is endurance sports, specifically distance running. I have completed 4 marathons: New York Marathon (2015), Boston Marathon (2011), and Hartford Marathon (2006, 2009), with a personal best of 2:48 at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

     8.    Why have you decided to work with athletes or similar groups?
I decided to work with athletes because I feel I can “speak their language.” This is critical because translating textbook knowledge into practical and useful information is an effective way to educate why certain implementation strategies are made. However, speaking to athletes from an athletic standpoint is critical too. Coming from a competitive running career, you can understand the psyche of what it takes to strive for your personal best. This is why I decided to work with athletes.

9.    How do you deal with the daily stresses presented to you in your career?
Daily stresses are always going to be there, so I deal with them similarly to the ups and downs experienced during my competitive running races – being present in the moment and controlling what I can control. During these moments of stress, I will constantly remind myself why I wanted to be a dietitian, and that is to help as many people as possible, so they can become the best versions of themselves.

10. Prior to getting your credentials, did you have any experience in nutrition (i.e. foodservice, volunteering, etc.)?
Yes, I have always loved to serve others. While attending IONA College, I would complete “Midnight Runs”. A group of IONA college students as well as a few Christian brothers would collect canned goods and clothing and prepare sandwiches for the homeless in New York City. I never felt more fulfilled than after these events which led me to the profession of nutrition and dietetics where I get to assist others every day.

11. What do you love about your career/job?

I am truly fortunate that I love my profession. I specifically love the outpatient section of the dietetics profession based on the extended follow-up with patients/clients/athletes. To this day, I still speak with many athletes I have worked with many years ago and attend their sporting events. The part I love about the profession, specifically working with high school athletes, is the impact you can have on them for the rest of their lives through sports and nutrition. This impact instills habits to become the best versions of themselves. It is tremendously rewarding to see the values they have gained through nutritional counseling translate into other aspects of their lives. In addition, when you see them pass on their knowledge to teammates and others, that is the true reward and what I love about my career.