CALS Alumna Develops Philosophy on Nutrition as a Stanford Fellow
The field of sports nutrition is fast paced and dynamic, and as Jenna Ellis has discovered, also requires a solid nutrition philosophy and the ability to build interpersonal relationships.
Ellis has spent the past seven months building that philosophy as a sports nutrition fellow in the Gatorade Sports Nutrition Immersion Program (SNIP), a program developed by the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitian Association (CPSDA) and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. Ellis is one of only 10 fellows in the country and is working with Stanford University Athletics.
Ellis applied for the program after earning a bachelor’s in nutrition in 2015 and a master’s in family and consumer sciences in 2017, as well as completing the coordinated program in dietetics, all through the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She learned about the SNIP program through CPSDA, which she was a student member of while at U of I. After an application and interview process, Ellis was chosen for the program and was able to rank her location choices out of 15 host sites.
The strong focus on nutrition counseling and unique culture of Stanford Athletics ranked Stanford high on Ellis’ list.
“Because there are so many teams at Stanford, they do a lot of one-on-one consults and counseling and that’s an area that I’m extremely passionate about growing in as a professional,” Ellis said. “I had confidence that the dietitians here would serve as mentors and help facilitate that growth.”
The fact that Stanford was the closest host site to her hometown of Pocatello also didn’t hurt.
“Taking the leap of faith to move to California was quite challenging at first,” Ellis said “I was leaving family and friends and living outside Idaho for the first time. Knowing it was only a 12-hour drive home helped.”
At U of I, Ellis built a strong foundation in science and food service — once she discovered that a career in dietetics was a possibility. She initially considered majoring in business, but in her second semester she learned about the nutrition courses.
“I didn’t know a career in dietetics was a possibility,” Ellis said. “I saw there were basic nutrition classes offered and I was interested in seeing what those involved. After scrolling through the list of major’s multiple times, meeting with professors, talking to mentors and reflecting on my real interests, I chose it and said, ‘OK, you’re going to commit to this and it’s going to be a process and you’re going to learn about what this career may look like, what the possibilities are and where you fit in.’”
As an athlete herself — she was a four-year member of the Vandal volleyball team — Ellis had firsthand experience and interest in sports nutrition, making the change to nutrition and dietetics a natural fit.
“I went to U of I with a mindset centered around volleyball, which led me to discover other passions,” Ellis said. “Volleyball is still one of my passions, but I discovered a passion outside of volleyball for nutrition, people, and learned that ultimately my identity rests in nothing other than Jesus.”
Building Her Philosophy
At Stanford, Ellis is responsible for nutrition services for men’s volleyball, women’s softball, women’s field hockey, and the sprinters, jumpers and throwers in track and field. Ellis’ services range from working with student-athletes individually, to team presentations, covering topics such as travel nutrition or basic macronutrient needs, or researching topics for creating handouts.
Ellis also helps oversee the fueling station in the weight room where athletes can get nutritious food to help keep them fueled throughout the day, pre- and post-workout.
These experiences have helped Ellis to begin shaping her nutrition philosophy, which is centered around intuitive eating. This philosophy encourages individuals to become more attuned to natural hunger signals rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods. The purpose is to create healthy relationships with food and to get away from a dieting mentality.
“Every individual has a unique relationship with food that is consistently changing in different seasons of life,” Ellis said. “You never quite reach a destination, it’s all about the process. This fellowship has been eye-opening and allowed for personal and professional growth.
As a professional, Ellis hopes to influence the relationship that people have with food in a way that empowers them to make their own choices and live confidently in their body. Athletes and non-athletes experience external pressures related to what their body should look like and what they should be eating from many different sources. Ellis’ goal is to help quiet the external voices and teach others to learn to listen to their own voice and redefine what health looks like for them.
“At times, it’s a sensitive subject, and at other times may involve a lot of laughter,” Ellis said. “We are here to relate and give people the knowledge and tools they need to feed their body well” Ellis said.
A New Season
As her fellowship comes to a close this spring, Ellis is contemplating several different options in her future career and is ready to embrace new challenges.
“From the time I entered college, each new season has been challenging at the beginning,” Ellis said “I embrace new challenges. Change is always necessary and always challenging. It’s beautiful to look back as each season comes to end, and reflect on how you have changed and grown. I am uncertain what I’m going to do next, but I’m 100 percent sure that God’s plan is bigger and better than anything I can think up on my own.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Article published in February 2018