Tell us about yourself, education, your background, and your current interests.
My name is Jessica Alvarez and I am an undergraduate in the didactic program in Dietetics, Foods, and Nutrition at Lehman College. I am 23 years old from Astoria, New York. I come from a very ethnic background being Colombian, Greek and Egyptian. My family is quite the opposite from most; my mother is the sport fanatic and father doesn't care for it, so sport was always a big deal. With three brothers and a mother following sports, it was only a matter of time before I did, too. I have always liked sports, basketball and baseball (Celtics and Yankees), but it wasn't until recently that I learned and loved football (Steelers & Panthers).
How did you become interested in nutrition?
When I was younger my weight was never a problem, I was always thin and did close to nothing to maintain my weight because of my fast metabolism, then college came. Before I knew it I had gained well above the freshman fifteen, and although I wasn't fat I wasn't happy. I felt I had given up on my health while away at school. I made poor dietary choices that seemed to leave me behind. That resulted in my weight gain and I was faced with changing my lifestyle. This was the first time that I was confronted with monitoring my lifestyle. Since my youth my mother always introduced my brothers and me to many different foods. So, making healthy food choices was not much of a chore at an early age but it was still a hard transition nonetheless when I was on my own. This point in my life is where I developed fascination with food and how it affected the body. Although I loved writing, nutrition had become my new passion. Now nearly three years after switching my major I couldn’t be happier. Every day I find that I learn something new about myself and the field, keeping me on my toes.
What influenced your desire to learn about sports nutrition?
At first I studied journalism but, although I did well academically, I wasn’t satisfied. As I did some research one thing that lured me into the nutrition field is all of the opportunities it offers. The more I learned about sports nutrition the more I realized this might actually be a field I would want to pursue. This interested me right away, so I began researching some well renowned CSSDs and found inspiring people like Leslie Bonci, MHP, RD, CSSD, and Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD. Both Leslie and Cynthia were nice enough to do interviews with me for my blog, “Dietitian Ambition,” (www.dietitianambition.blogspot.com). After speaking with them my mind was made up. Immediately I wanted to start getting my feet wet so I had an idea to create my own program.
You have developed a program that teaches high school athletes about nutrition. Tells us about that experience and something you learned.
I am the program coordinator and creator of the "Change-Up" program that aims to teach high school athletic teams to "throw life a curve ball and change it up". The premise of the program is to meet with high school varsity athletes and teach them the basics of nutrition and how it can impact their game. The program is based upon extensive research as well as Leslie Bonci's book, Sports Nutrition for Coaches. So far the program has been quite successful and most of the players are more than willing to better their game in any way. My goal is to not only teach the players the importance of nutrition on their game but more importantly, the impact of nutrition on their health. Fortunately I already knew the administration at a local high school and asked if they would be interested in my sports nutrition program for varsity teams. Before I knew it I was presenting my program to the high school’s head baseball coach.
The first thing I did was hold a meeting with players and their parents to reassure them that the program was not a weight loss program, but an educational experience. I provided the parents with brochures including things about myself, the program, the goals, schedule breakdown and quotes from both sports dietitians I had interviewed. I also wanted them to know that parental involvement was encouraged and gave everyone, parents and players, my contact information.
The program targets varsity teams to prepare them for collegiate athletics. For 6 weeks I met with the team every Wednesday for one hour and we went over key points in nutrition and how that can impact your performance. Topics covered were: carbohydrates, fat, protein, the importance of water, how to read nutrition facts labels, properly timed eating, muscle mass and how to achieve it in a healthy manner, and alcohol and drugs and how they affect health and performance. I used Leslie Bonci's book, Sports Nutrition for Coaches, as a reference. My goal was not only to teach them how to enhance their performance as an athlete but also how to promote their overall health. I feel I accomplished that goal. Everyone made some type of progress, such as adding more water to their diet, having breakfast on a daily basis, choosing healthier snacks or eating more than once a day. The more they learned, the more they seemed to improve. At the end of the program I asked everyone to write something interesting that they learned. They seemed to learn a lot, not only about their dietary choices, but themselves. I was very happy with how the program went. I have been contacted by the school’s athletic director who is very interested in expanding the program. I look forward to expanding the program with other teams to educate young athletes about the importance of nutrition on your game and your health.
What are your professional goals? Once you become a registered dietitian, what kind of work do you want to do?
I aspire to be a sports dietitian and work with professional athletes and teams much like my role models, Leslie Bonci and Cynthia Sass. After becoming an RD, I want to work towards a master’s degree and become a sports dietitian and Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). Eventually I want to work with professional athletes and sports teams. I am fascinated with how an athlete’s body utilizes nutrition to better their health and their game.
Is there anything else you would like to share with other students?
Yes, I want to make a difference in this field and this world. I want to improve someone’s health without making them feel like it is a chore. I think it is important to set the example so I try to be physically active 4-5 days a week and make smart dietary choices. The more I learn about nutrition, the more I realize that I need to work on myself before I can help someone else. I take pride in what I learn because I hope to one day be the teacher. I look forward to the road ahead and my career as an RD and CSSD.