Podcast Episode Transcription: Season 2, Episode 7

Welcome to the CGA Career Podcast. Today, I look forward to interviewing CGA alumna Alex Stone about her career in dietetics, particularly working with athletes in elite sports. Alex completed her studies at Caulfield Grammar in 2010, went on to study psychology at Deakin University, and later pursued an undergraduate degree in nutrition science and a master’s degree in dietetics at Monash University.

Alex is currently working as a dietitian with Hawthorn Football Club and at the Sports Physio and Health Clinic in Glen Iris. Great to have you as a guest on the podcast, Alex.

Alex: Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to talk to you today.

Leah: Alex, you had an interesting education journey after finishing Year 12. Can you give us a brief overview of what you chose to study and some of the decisions that led you to pursue dietetics as a career?

Alex: Absolutely. I was really interested in psychology at school, so that’s what I pursued initially. I did my undergraduate degree in psychology at Deakin, but when I realized the path to continue required another three years of study, I decided to take a pause and rethink things. During that time, I met a dietitian who was working at St Kilda and in private practice. I didn’t even know that profession existed, but I realized that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do exactly what she was doing. So, I went back to Deakin to ask about getting into that degree. They said it would be difficult, essentially requiring me to start over. After some research, I chose Monash, but one of their prerequisites was chemistry, which I hadn’t done in school. So, I studied Year 12 chemistry online, which was challenging, but I made the cutoff to get in the following year. Then, I completed my undergraduate degree and master’s in dietetics at Monash.

Leah: Can I just ask about the chemistry? Did you go back and do VCE Year 12 chemistry?

Alex: It wasn’t through Monash. It was through a separate company based in Queensland, essentially Year 12 chemistry, and it was really flexible but difficult to do online. I ended up getting a tutor because I didn’t have a teacher to help me. It was challenging, but I remember being told there are many pathways to achieve what you want, and I realized this was one of those pathways. There are many options out there, and I think that’s important to know.

Leah: Had you done other science subjects for VCE?

Alex: I liked science but hadn’t done any other than the basic subjects you do prior to Year 11 and 12. Some physiology would have been helpful, but the course covered it. I felt okay with what I understood because they spend a lot of time going over the relevant information necessary for the profession.

Leah: You had studied three years of psychology and then started all over again. That must have been a big decision. What other research did you do to make sure this was the right path?

Alex: I probably should have done more research. I just became really steadfast in that decision. I spoke to a few dietitians I knew, and I liked the sound of their careers. I was passionate and went headfirst into it, which is unusual for me because I usually do a lot of research. But I’m happy I did it.

Leah: You studied a bachelor of nutrition science. That would have qualified you as a nutritionist, right?

Alex: Correct.

Leah: Why did you go on to do the master’s in dietetics?

Alex: It’s a higher qualification and a regulated term. Not everyone can become a nutritionist, and the term isn’t distinguished between someone who studied for three years and someone who did a short course online. I wanted to work in elite sport, which requires being a sports dietitian, so I needed to be a dietitian first. There’s more study after the master’s to become a sports dietitian, although it’s shorter.

Leah: What’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?

Alex: It’s very confusing. Essentially, a dietitian can work in the medical space and individually with patients. Dietitians can get Medicare and private health rebates, which nutritionists cannot. Dietitians are required to do CPD hours regularly to continue learning. Nutritionists typically work in public health nutrition rather than the individual roles dietitians usually have.

Leah: Would you say studying dietetics makes you more employable?

Alex: Definitely. It’s a higher qualification and opens up more opportunities. Dietetics is a competitive field with more graduates but the same number of positions available, so dietitians need to diversify.

Leah: Working as a sports dietitian is even more competitive. How did you make it happen?

Alex: It’s a very competitive industry. From the beginning, I knew I needed to spend time in the field outside the degree. I reached out to a dietitian at St Kilda VFL Club and helped her, which led to more opportunities. I worked weekends, learned about the profession, and built my network. Eventually, I got a role at Williamstown, and it progressed from there. Networking is very important.

Leah: Were those hours unpaid?

Alex: Unfortunately, yes. All my time at VFL and St Kilda was unpaid until my first role at Williamstown. I balanced a lot of unpaid hours while studying and doing placements in hospitals through my university degree.

Leah: Can you give us an overview of what you do at Hawthorn?

Alex: Every day is different. Primarily, I work with players to achieve their goals around performance and health. I spend a lot of one-on-one time with them, educating them on how to eat to perform and maintain health. I also handle body composition testing, liaise with hotels for dietary requirements, order food for the club, and manage supplements. It’s a mix of education and practical tasks to make everything as easy as possible for the players.

Leah: Do you teach the young players to cook as well?

Alex: Yes, we do a few cooking sessions, especially with the younger players who may not have spent much time cooking. It’s about teaching basic skills to help them in their daily lives. These sessions are fun and help build confidence in cooking.

Leah: What are the highs and lows of working in elite sport?

Alex: The highs are very high, and the lows can be very low. It’s a special industry, and the interactions with players are rewarding, even if they’re not widely known. The lows can be challenging, especially after a heartbreaking loss, but the highs make it worth it. Watching a game and seeing the passion of the fans is very special.

Leah: Do you have to give up your weekends for games?

Alex: Yes, if Hawthorn is playing on a Sunday, I’m out all day. If it’s an interstate game, we leave the day before. Balancing this with my role in private practice can be challenging.

Leah: Can you tell us about your work at the Sports Physio and Health Clinic in Glen Iris?

Alex: It’s a fantastic clinic with a variety of health practitioners. Working there gives me variety in my week. I see a range of cases, from young athletes to individuals with health concerns. It’s fulfilling to have designated one-on-one time with clients.

Leah: Are there any superfoods we should all be eating to perform like elite athletes?

Alex: Variety is key, especially with fruits and veggies. Trying to get a rainbow of colors in your diet is important for getting all the key nutrients.

Leah: What advice would you give to someone thinking about studying dietetics or already studying it and wanting to work in elite sport?

Alex: Connections and networking are crucial. Reach out to dietitians and ask to take them out for coffee to talk. Attend events, conferences, and speaking engagements to network. Dietitians typically want to help students, so build connections and be open to different opportunities within the profession.

Leah: Great advice. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day, Alex. I wish you all the best for the rest of your career.

Alex: Thank you. It was great to talk to you.

Leah: Thanks for tuning into today’s episode. Make sure to follow us on socials and update your details to hear all the latest community news and events. Because wherever life takes you, you are never far away.