Training for Training

CFANS alumna Brittany Francis shares her nutrition expertise with Gopher football players

brittneyWhether it was growing up under the supervision of a health-conscious mother, making her own misguided dietary choices as a Gopher women’s hockey player—and team captain—or simply fate, Brittany Francis and a career in diet and nutrition found each other. After graduating, the Thunder Bay, Ont., native stayed close to the U of M, completing her master’s and pursuing her dream of one day working as a sports nutritionist or dietician at her alma mater.

Q: What was your major at the U?
A: That’s a funny story. I started out in Kinesiology and I took a physics class. I did awful in it. So I was like, “I can’t do sciences.” Then I did Business and Marketing Education. My senior year, I was in a business stats class and I was like, “This is the most boring thing ever.” So I came back and asked my advisor how I could do nutrition. I’ve always been interested in nutrition. My mom’s a huge health freak. Growing up, she’d make her own yogurt and bread. She was extremely health-oriented.
So my senior year, I minored in nutrition, just to get those classes in. Then I took a year of pre-reqs and applied to the master’s program. To be a dietician, you have to do a one-year internship, too, and I did that here at the University of Minnesota. It crosses over with the Emily Program, which is an eating-disorder clinic.

Q: How did you end up getting involved again with the athletics department and the football team?
A: In my master’s program, my thesis project was titled, “The Benefits of a Sports Dietician in College Athletics.” I worked with [director of athletic medicine] Moira Novak. During my internship, I did everything I could to stay in sports nutrition. I shadowed (food science and nutrition program director) Carrie Peterson, who works with the Wild, the Twins and the Timberwolves. … Then I found out that there was possibly a position open here. I reached out to get an interview, interviewed with (the coaches). I ended up getting it and it is a dream job. I’m the first full-time dietician for any (Gopher) program.

Q: How do you handle diet plans for the team?
A: I do one-on-one nutrition counseling with each player. Usually, it’s twice a year. In the summer, I meet with all of them because they’re all trying to reach their weight for the season, reach their strength or make sure they prevent injuries. Then, during the season, it’s a maintenance period where I’m making sure they’re staying where they need to be. I try not to make big changes because that can alter their performance. They come back from their break in January and everyone wants to meet because they all want to make these huge improvements before spring ball.

Q: Is it ever a challenge for you to set a good example for those guys with your own eating habits?
A: That’s probably the most annoying thing about being a dietician or a nutritionist. Everything you do, they either comment on it like “Oh, that’s so healthy, that’s because you’re a nutritionist” or, if you have something that’s maybe unhealthy, they’ll be like “You can’t eat that, you’re a nutritionist.” I try to tell them I do generally like to eat healthy and put good food in my body. It makes me feel better. It makes everybody feel better.

Q: You mentioned earlier that this is a dream job—what makes it a dream job for you?
A: Having been an athlete here, having gotten so much from this school and (with) how important nutrition became to me, it’s amazing being able to give that back to this school. Knowing how much I wish I had more access to a dietician then, being able to do that for the athletes now is great. I always wanted to be a sports dietician at the University of Minnesota. I never thought it would happen because we never had one full-time. Being able to work with athletes who are excited about nutrition, excited about getting better and how to do that, I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

— Interview by Jake Ricker
A longer version of this story first appeared in Ski-U-Mah magazine.