A healthy balance of Dolphins and UniSC for sports nutritionist Zara Nance | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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A healthy balance of Dolphins and UniSC for sports nutritionist

For two days each week, Zara Nance is contracted to work with the Dolphins NRL team, as their only sports dietitian. During the rest of the working week, she is based at the University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC) performing her role as a lecturer and clinical educator, while working to establish a state-of-the-art sports nutrition clinic at UniSC’s Moreton Bay campus.

Zara’s appointment is a joint venture between UniSC and the Dolphins, a dream partnership which allows her to work with an elite sports team while providing opportunities for university students on a similar career path.

“It’s a really niche role,” Zara says.

“When I saw the job advertised, I thought, ‘Wow, that's perfect for me.’ I've dabbled in both of those career paths, and to have them merge together and get to work for both the Dolphins and UniSC is really, really cool.”

It’s the perfect time for Zara to come on board, as UniSC launches a brand new Master of Dietetics (Sports Nutrition) degree at the Moreton Bay campus.

“The program we’re offering is the first of its kind, as it aims to qualify students to work as both an accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian in Australia,” Zara says.
Master of Dietetics (Sports Nutrition)

Get qualified to work as an Accredited Practising Dietitian* and Sports Dietitian in Australia while gaining a unique focus on sports nutrition, private practice, community health, consultancy skills, and entrepreneurship.

*Subject to accreditation with Dietitians Australia

“I did a Bachelor of Nutrition, then a Master of Dietetics, and then had to do a whole separate course through Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) to get accredited.

“But with this new program at UniSC, you will become accredited as a dietitian and a sports dietitian in a year-and-a-half to two years, depending on the pathway. We're integrating the two and it's the first program to do that."

Not everyone will go on to work in elite sport, but Zara says there’s a high desire for sports dietitians in many other divisions.

“Even looking at schools, community sports or other places where people are active, it doesn't have to just be working with elite athletes,” she says.

As a clinical educator for the new Masters of Dietetics (Sports Nutrition) at UniSC, Zara will oversee “all things student placement and clinic related.”

“This means I’ll get to bring in my practice from the Dolphins to help students get that real world experience and insight... much of what we do in sports nutrition can be taught in class and in theory, but you really learn a lot more when you're doing it in practice.”

Working with so many players within an elite sports team can be challenging, but at the same time Zara says it's “really rewarding."

As the only sports dietitian for the Dolphins team, Zara is typically in charge of about 50 players, meaning she’s responsible for “a whole array” of different tasks.

“There are so many different aspects to this job, no day is ever the same,” she says.

Over a day, Zara might test athletes’ hydration levels and sweat rate losses, to give them an individualised plan for their hydration needs. She might do one-on-one consults with particular athletes around weight gain or weight loss, monitor an athlete's body composition, or run a group education session with everyone, which she says, “can be challenging trying to engage every single player.”

“A lot of my time is spent organising meals and catering, and even menu planning for the players, then when the team travels and stays at hotels, I think about what they’re going to eat, who will provide it, as well as stadium catering."

Another aspect of the job is providing athletes with supplements, managing which ones are beneficial, measuring the effects they have on athletes, and prioritising stock based on the budget she has to work with.

“This is another area you aren’t typically taught in the classroom,” she says.

In the new Master of Dietetics (Sports Nutrition), part of Zara’s role will be coordinating student placements, which she knows firsthand can be a make-or-break experience.

“I didn’t want to work in a hospital after completing my degree… I was more interested in sports. From my university placements, I fell into a job with a sports private practice.

“I still say to my students, ‘When you go on placement, it's like a job interview. You need to impress your placement sites because they could be employing you.’”

Zara will also act as the supervising dietitian at a student-led clinic, where students gain hands-on experiences working with real clients.

“The student-led clinic will be open to anyone in the community, from athletes to people starting out in sports like those training for a running event or marathon, where our students can help them plan what to eat for certain events.”

After years studying and applying the science of diet and nutrition, Zara’s food philosophy boils down to one top tip, applicable to every human, big or small.

“Eat a variety of different colours,” she says.

“I like to say ‘colours’ rather than, ‘You must eat broccoli,’ or any specific vegetable.

“If you look at your plate, how many different types of plant foods or different colourful foods are there? I still say that to players in the top NRL team I'm working with, as in, ‘Okay, can we get some colour in there?’ I've got players who continue to pull the vegetables out of their wraps, so it doesn't stop with age.

“If you hate a vegetable, you don't have to eat that one. It's just making it pleasurable because food should be enjoyed.”
Bachelor of Nutrition

Learn about the fascinating new science of nutrition, food and healthy eating from registered nutritionists and accredited practising dietitians in our specialised teaching kitchen.

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