We profile two dietitians – one working as a performance nutritionist and one teaching people how to cook – to find out more about their areas of work, what their day-to-day job involves and the different type of people that they meet
OBE, BSc (Hons) Nutrition, PG Diploma Dietetics, IOC PG Diploma Sports Nutrition, MSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Registered Dietitian & Performance Nutritionist (SENr Practitioner)
My job as a Registered Dietitian and Performance Nutritionist (SENr Practitioner) is diverse. In the main, I work for the English Institute of Sport (EIS) and the Great Britain Rowing Team (GBRT), plus some additional consultancy work. Each day is very different and it’s certainly not a Monday – Friday 9-5 office job.
Several times a year, I travel internationally with the GBRT to training camps and competitions. That adds another dimension to my job, as I have to deal with different hotels and chefs to ensure the rowers are provided with the food they need to perform at their best.
A key part of my role within the EIS includes working one day a week in the Intensive Rehabilitation Unit (IRU) at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre. This is probably the most structured day of my week and involves working closely with other practitioners within a multidisciplinary team (MDT). The MDT consists of a physiotherapist, strength and conditioning coach, sports psychologist, soft tissue therapist, sports physician and physiologist. We also involve the manager, operations manager of the rehabilitation unit, and business administrator. All the athletes referred to the unit are injured and some may be recovering from a surgical procedure. They may be residential or come in daily for treatment if they live locally. The programme is intense and the maximum number of athletes treated each week is just three. Each athlete stays for one week or several weeks depending on the nature of their injury. Together, as a team, we work towards putting a plan in place that will speed up their recovery.
My day at Bisham Abbey will start at around 9.30am and this is when I review the referrals that have been received. I discuss each athlete with the support team and then work with each individual athlete to develop nutrition plans we could put in place to support their recovery.
I meet each athlete for one hour, assess their dietary intake and body composition (if appropriate) and discuss the most suitable nutrition strategies with them. If the athletes are residential, I also chat about the type of meals available on site and guide them about what to choose during their stay. If possible, I also talk with the performance nutritionist that has already been working with each athlete within their sport to gather information about what has already been put in place and develop that further. I sometimes, but not always, see the athlete again during their stay.
If I have any time spare during the day, I arrange ‘catch up’ meetings with the operations manager, the other performance nutritionists on site and, if they’re there that day, the masters’ placement student.
Later in the afternoon, the support team and I meet to discuss each athlete, the results of our assessments, and the changes we plan to put in place. At the end of each athletes stay, a discharge summary document is produced and this contains a report from each of the support team. I write a nutrition report as part of that document. My day ends at around 6 – 6.30pm.
I really enjoy this part of my role within the EIS. The team is made up of a very talented, fun bunch of people who are an absolute pleasure to work with. The athletes come from a wide range of sports with varied injuries, presenting a different challenge every week and so I am constantly learning.
Wendy Martinson currently works for the EIS as Lead Performance Nutritionist and Intensive Rehabilitation Nutritionist and as the Nutritionist for the GBRT. She started her career as a Dietitian within the NHS and went on to work with a wide range of sports, including British Gymnastics and GB Hockey. Wendy has also worked at four summer Olympic games as part of Team GB.
Denise Kennedy BSc (Hons), PGCert, RD, MBDA
Denise Kennedy combines her freelance work, which includes teaching people how to cook, with a part-time NHS role working with children in the community
In addition to a NHS role working with children, I run my own company, ‘Health Champions Training’, with my business partner. As a small social enterprise company, we focus on helping people to learn to cook nutritious and healthy meals and offer training courses to professionals in the areas of nutrition and health improvement.
We are commissioned by local Wellbeing teams in West Sussex to provide short courses (around 6 weeks) we call “Cooking with Confidence” – and that is exactly what we try to do. Many people have never learnt to cook, some have been living off tinned and convenience foods for years. Attending the courses can have a profound effect on them; they quickly feel better, gain confidence, start socialising more and sometimes even go on to become a volunteer or course leader themselves. In the last two years, we have trained nearly seven hundred people to cook simple, nutritious meals.
A typical day
5.30am: If I’m not leaving home early, I will take the dog for his morning walk. This gives me time to think and plan the day ahead.
8am: A visit to our community café, which we run in a local children and family centre. We promote health through simple, inexpensive and healthy food. We’re launching a new range of healthier cakes, so I gather all the samples I made last night for taste testing.
10.30am: The taste testing proved a hit! Our new range of scones, flapjacks, carrot muffins and banana bread went well. I nutritionally analysed the recipes and we talked about portion control, which is often how people can, unknowingly, eat too many calories.
11.30am: A quick meeting with the manager of the centre to plan some new “Cooking with Kids” activity sessions for after school. Encouraging children to become hands-on with food is so important to their future health. We plan to make healthy pizzas.
2pm: Attend a monitoring meeting with one of the local authorities that we work for. We run 6-week “Cooking with Confidence” courses for people who might be struggling, for example young families, bereaved men and people with health issues.
4pm: I assist one of our cookery leaders with a group and help set out the recipes, ingredients and equipment needed. We use everyday ingredients to produce healthy, tasty dishes that are easy to make at home and don’t cost a lot, such as chilli con carne and vegetable chilli – my favourite! While eating the dishes, we chat about the benefits of beans and pulses, and demonstrate portion size. One lady who feared chillies at the start, went home with a pot of veggie chilli for her lunch tomorrow!
7pm: Home after a long day, I check a few emails. It’s the end of the month, so I have payroll to run and invoices to settle.
When I was a newly qualified dietitian, friends joked about cooking and I never dreamt that I would end up helping people to learn to cook! Although I’m a reasonable home cook, I’m not a chef and at first, cooking in front of others was nerve-wracking. Seeing the powerful impact cooking can have on people’s lives, I realised that dietetics can work in many ways and teaching people how to cook and eat healthily has an important part to play in this.
To try some of our recipes, visit www.health-champions.co.uk/52/Recipes
When Nick joined a course run by our Cookery Leader, Heather, he said he wanted to learn how to use his cooker. “I have a brand-new cooker and I haven’t even switched it on!” Nick had a history of substance abuse, leading him into self-neglect and offending behaviour. But he is turning his life around and wanted to learn to cook so he could be healthier. At the end of the course, Nick said: “Heather was very patient and empowering. I find cooking is something that takes me out of my comfort zone. I feel real anxiety when I am preparing anything to eat but I really enjoyed the sessions in the kitchen, and I never thought I would say that – I even used my oven by myself for the first time ever this week!”
Denise Kennedy has over 30 years’ experience as a dietitian including work within the NHS, the food industry and public health. She combines her freelance work with a part-time NHS role working with children in the community.