The Power of Nutrition
Colin Whitaker’s passion for food and nutrition was sparked as a senior in high school in Anaheim, California. Although he was an athlete, a childhood spent eating fast food and drinking sugary beverages caught up with him and prompted his waistline to balloon to the point he was considered obese.
Concern for his health finally pushed him to make a change that last year of high school. Whitaker lost 100 pounds over the course of a year and made nutrition a top priority in his life.
“I got to a point that I wasn’t happy physically,” Whitaker said. “I had a lot of encouragement to get healthier out of concerns of becoming a Type 2 diabetic and realizing the value that comes with your health. It took me almost a year to do it but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”
That drive continued as an adult and it prompted Whitaker to take his belief in quality nutrition to athletes in the college and pro ranks.
Now Whitaker is on course to make nutrition his full-time career. He will graduate with a master’s degree in family and consumer sciences, dietetics option with an emphasis in exercise physiology from the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in May 2019.
Discovering Sports Nutrition
Whitaker’s interest in nutrition continued after high school when he moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2006. He became a personal trainer while completing his associate degree from North Idaho College. He was intrigued by the field of dietetics but knew clinical dietetics wasn’t the right fit. A friend who played football at the University of Oregon suggested Whitaker reach out to their sports dietitian to learn more about the field.
It wasn’t long after learning more about the field of sports nutrition that Whitaker decided to move to Eugene, Oregon, to work with the Oregon Ducks athletic program.
“I went from an unpaid intern to a part-time employee to full-time at Oregon,” Whitaker said. “I put in a lot of work and a lot of hours and it concreted my love of sports nutrition.”
He became the nutrition operations manager at UO, overseeing all aspects of athletic fueling and hydration with a primary responsibility for the football team. But after four years in the position, Whitaker knew he needed to further his education in order to advance in the field.
“It got to the point that if I didn’t go back to finish school I would have reached my ceiling as far as what I could do within the department,” Whitaker said. “To go back and become a registered dietitian is the way to progress in your career.”
Filling the Gaps
Whitaker knew U of I was the right choice when it came time to further his studies. The coordinated program in dietetics, combined with the opportunity to return to Coeur d’Alene, made the decision easy.
“Originally I spoke with Dr. Samantha Ramsay when I was still working at Oregon and looking to come back to school,” Whitaker said. “Right off the bat the connection I made with her was a great feeling and it was reassuring coming back to school that I was going to be filling in the missing pieces that I had in regards to nutrition. And then having the opportunity to work with Dr. Katie Brown, who’s really smart, really driven and a great mentor to have in the world of nutrition performance and looking at how everything is broken down from a nutrition standpoint in athletics is really great.”
Whitaker earned his bachelor’s degree in nutrition with a combination of classes at U of I Coeur d’Alene and the main campus in Moscow and will wrap up his master’s degree this spring. The education he’s received from U of I helped fill in those missing pieces.
“I had a pretty good understanding of big picture concepts from working in the field of nutrition for a few years but it had never been truly broken down,” Whitaker said. “So, taking courses like advanced nutrition, nutrition and metabolism in sport filled in the missing pieces that I had. It makes it that much more exciting to me because I know how it applies in the real world and on the field.”
Whitaker spent summer 2018 further expanding his knowledge and experiences by working as a nutrition assistant with the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin. His mentor from UO is now the director of performance nutrition for the Packers and was eager to have Whitaker back on staff.
Whitaker’s duties varied depending on the needs of the department. He prepped meals, administered post-practice hydration and recovery, conducted hydration tests to assure the athletes were at proper hydration levels, and performed sweat tests to help formulate drinks to replenish what the athletes were losing during workouts.
“Basically, it’s an all-hands-on-deck department,” Whitaker said. “Your role incorporates a lot of different things. I’m not just doing hydration, I’m in the kitchen helping and doing any job that needs to get done to help the department.”
Whitaker’s long-term goal is to become a director of performance nutrition for a collegiate program or professional team. He said the experiences with the Green Bay Packers and Oregon Ducks, as well as his education from U of I, have helped to prepare him for that goal.
“Getting familiar with how a top-notch organization runs their day-to-day operations was great to see. I had the great opportunity to do that at Oregon as well,” Whitaker said. “Having that on my resume and having that experience is going to be really valuable moving forward."
“I’ve had great professors at U of I. It’s an outstanding dietetics program that is well-respected throughout the sports nutrition community and even nationwide. We have a great reputation. It’s a privilege to be part of the program.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in April 2019