Our May’s edition of Expanding the Arena features Kellsey Frank, M.S., RD, LDN. Kellsey is a Sports Dietitian and the Assistant Director for Drexel’s Center for Nutrition and Performance (CNP) where she and her team, Nyree Dardarian (Director) and Andrea Irvine (Assistant Director) work with the Philadelphia Union (MLS), the Philadelphia Flyers (NHL), the U.S. Squash team, and the Drexel University Division I Athletes.
What is the Center for Nutrition and Performance, and what are your main job duties?
The Center for Nutrition & Performance (CNP) at Drexel is a collaboration of Drexel Athletics and the Department of Nutrition Sciences. Our mission is to provide evidence-based nutritional advice to the entire Drexel community and professional teams that we work with to optimize athletic performance, well-being, and overall health. We work with the Drexel Division I student-athletes, Philadelphia Union (MLS), Philadelphia Flyers and Phantoms (NHL/AHL), and US Squash. We also have a group of Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students that work with CNP, so part of my role includes overseeing our students and providing mentorship and opportunity for them to gain experience in the sports nutrition field. Outside of my role in sports, I also provide general individual nutrition counseling to clients in our Nutrition Sciences Services outpatient practice and teach adjunct in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel.
What is your educational background and how long have you been an RD? Do you have any additional credentials relevant to your position?
I received my Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from James Madison University and my Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Drexel University. Having always been an athlete (and sports fan!) myself, I’ve always had a desire and passion to work in sports, but when I started undergrad, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I ended up working in the weight loss/nutrition field immediately after graduation, which is what helped me make the ultimate decision to go back to school to become a dietitian. After receiving my Master’s from Drexel, I completed my dietetic internship at The Ohio State University, where I was able to gain a lot of experience in sports nutrition. I am currently working towards becoming a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, hoping to take the exam in the next year or so!
How did you achieve your position/ how did you get started with your current position?
As a graduate student at Drexel, I was very involved with CNP and gained experience working with Drexel athletes as well as the Philadelphia Union. My first job as a dietitian was with Aramark on campus at Drexel, working with the food service team in menu development, special diets, and creating a nutrition presence in the dining halls. Since I was back on campus, I was able to resume some work with CNP in addition to my role with Aramark, and this involvement eventually led into the Sports Dietitian/Assistant Director position with CNP. I left my job with Aramark in December 2018 and started working directly for CNP in January 2019.
What key areas of knowledge/experiences did you need to have before this job?
Having prior experience in sports nutrition and with CNP directly as a student was definitely a benefit in making the transition to my current role. Things in sports happen and change very quickly! So having insight into that environment and lifestyle was definitely helpful, as well as having an understanding of athlete needs. Staying current on research in the field of sports nutrition is vital to ensure I am using evidenced-based practice.
What are the highs and lows of your position?
The highs are absolutely getting to work with athletes and being directly immersed in sports on a regular basis. I love it! As far as lows go, it’s hard to say. There is definitely an aspect of working in sports that doesn’t allow you to ever completely “shut off”. There’s always something going on, and things are constantly changing, so being available at all times to work on things or answer questions is very important but also very exciting!
What is a typical day for you?
There’s not really a “typical” day for me in my current role; it’s always changing! I build my schedule around when I am at the Union facility, when I have clients coming in for nutrition counseling, and when I am teaching class. Beyond that, I am working on projects independently, meeting with our CNP students, student-athletes, and collaborating with colleagues.
What advice would you share with an RD (or RD2be) that is interested in a similar career path?
For anyone that is interested in sports nutrition, I would recommend getting experience in any way that you can! Meet as many people working in sports nutrition as you can as well. Nutrition itself is a small world, but within sports nutrition it’s even smaller, and everyone knows someone else doing awesome stuff in the field! The wider the range of experience you can get, and the more people you can meet, the better.
What is your greatest strength/weakness as a dietitian?
I think one of my strengths would be my creativity and ability to stay current on new research and topics within the field of sports nutrition. In terms of weaknesses, I’d have to say I’m constantly improving my ability to confidently translate what we learn from evidence-based research to the average individual in a way that they are able to understand if they are not well-versed in nutrition or science in general.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
Outside of work, I enjoy exercising, attending Philly sports events, concerts, and spending time with family, friends, and my dog.
What aspect of sports nutrition (or any other area of dietetics) interested you to pursue it as a career?
My interest in sports nutrition began first as just a general interest in working in sports and with athletes, and then I gained a separate interest in nutrition from a general health standpoint. I worked for a year in a weight control center after receiving my Bachelor’s degree, which exposed me to Registered Dietitians and the impact that nutrition can make not only physically but also psychologically. I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in nutrition, and the path of sports nutrition was natural to me as a prior athlete with a degree in Kinesiology.
Why have you decided to work with athletes or similar groups?
I have always been so invested in and passionate about how much of an impact sports can have on an individual’s life. If I can remain playing even the smallest role in helping an athlete experience that overwhelmingly powerful feeling of commitment, camaraderie, and achievement in their respective sport, I’ve done my job.
How do you deal with the daily stresses presented to you in your career?
I make A LOT of lists and have two planners, one for work and one for personal use. I always have a running list of things that need to get done, and I pull from that list each day to prioritize my daily tasks. I also have a trajectory of career goals that I keep in the back of my mind and revisit from time to time to make sure I’m on track to accomplish these. Beyond what I can control, there will always be projects that come up in sports that take immediate priority. But I love the excitement of navigating these, even if that means sitting in bed at midnight deliriously texting your colleagues while collaborating on a project with a strict deadline. We work best under pressure!
Prior to getting your credentials, did you have any experience in nutrition (ie. food service, volunteering, etc.)?
I had to take one nutrition course during my time spent pursuing my bachelor’s degree. I thought it was interesting, but never really seriously considered it until working at the weight control center. Here, I worked alongside Registered Dietitians who inspired me with their vast range and depth of nutrition knowledge. I wanted that!
What do you love about your career/job?
Honestly, what I love most about my current job is who I work with. I am so fortunate to be able to work alongside some of the best and most inspiring dietitians (and friends!) who motivate me on a daily basis to be a better dietitian myself. A lot of sports dietitians work on an island as the only dietitian for a team. But to have not only a team of dietitians, but students that are constantly thinking and learning, we are able to regularly bounce ideas off of each other and talk things through from a scientific standpoint. It also helps that we all work in a field we are so passionate about and invested in! I’ve been blessed to have great mentors throughout my professional career. Being associated with Drexel both from the athletic department and academic side, we have access to a lot of resources such as our own research libraries, DXA scanner, and much more than a single dietitian with a team may not have access to.
Is there a course you took in undergrad or grad school that has helped you in your current role?
Whew, there are so many courses and instructors I could thank throughout my time at JMU and Drexel! Anatomy and Exercise Physiology at JMU definitely set an amazing foundation for the work and field that I would eventually find myself in. During graduate school at Drexel, I took Nutrition & Exercise Physiology with Dr. Stella Volpe. I can honestly say that I still refer back to her lectures from this course to this day! This was a great culminating course to combine my interest in both Kinesiology and Nutrition, and set the tone for my experience that was to come in sports nutrition beyond finishing my Master’s degree.
What are some of the unique nutritional considerations you must consider for the group(s) you work with?
The most common issue that I see in athletes is the struggle to consume enough calories each day to support their very increased energy needs. Beyond energy, we commonly educate athletes on the amount of carbohydrates that they need, specific to their respective sport, to maintain proper energy and replenish glycogen stores for repeated training. In sports, both energy and carbohydrate needs are frequently much higher than in the average population, so ensuring that each athlete understands their needs and has an environment available to them that will set them up for success is something we work on every day.