RDN Spotlight: Matthew Frakes, MFN, RD, CSCS
What is your ethnicity/race Did your family have any customs related to food?
There weren't any special customs for our food growing up. We ate whatever was available at the time. My mother did most of the cooking and we had mostly had traditional soul food and southern style cooking outside of the typical American foods of barbeque, sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and chili dogs. Being introduced to our field of dietetics and going to college help me realize that not everyone eats the same as me in comparison to my upbringing and that I needed to try all the different foods the world has to offer.
Where did you go to school and complete your dietetic internship?
I completed my Bachelor of Science in Dietetics at Bowling Green State University in December 2011. I completed my Masters in Food and Nutrition at Bowling Green State University May 2014, where I then completed my dietetic internship through the distance internship at Bowling Green State University. I am currently a doctoral student in the Ph.D. in Nutrition and Hospitality Management program with an emphasis in Sports Nutrition at the University of Mississippi.
Why did you decide to choose nutrition and dietetics as a career?
I was very overweight as a child. I was active and participated in multiple sports throughout the later years of my adolescence and high school years before playing football in college. It wasn't until my sophomore year of high school when I dropped 52 pounds because I finally decided to play basketball for our high school team. Our head coach resembled Coach Carter, and because I was constantly into trouble outside of school, I had to condition and practice with a weight vest on when he heard about it.
I also took home economics and health courses in high school with Mrs. Kowalski (we called her "Momma Walski" in high school because she always gave most of us advice and was our school mom). That is when I learned you can make a living from talking about and cooking food. I figured that I love food and that I loved sports, so how can I combine the two for a living? They didn't have culinary arts at the University I decided to go to, therefore, I chose Dietetics!
What do you do now as a dietetics professional and what does a typical day or week look like for you?
I am currently a Graduate Assistant Sports Dietitian, Graduate Instructor, and working on a research project tailored toward nutrition intervention and management for sports-related concussions at the University of Mississippi. A typical week for me is different from many other practitioners, in my opinion. I am the Dietitian for our Baseball and Track and Field teams, so depending on the time of the season, and training and practice schedule, it varies on what I need to accomplish to meet the athletes and team personal goals and needs. My weeks vary and are never consistent outside of academia and my current research project. Example tasks I complete week to week consist of: group and individual sports nutrition education tailored to the athlete's sport; nutrition assessments; assisting with menu development for the University dining facility most of our student-athletes eat; body composition and weight evaluation; fueling station management; pre and post-practice/competition fueling preparation; hydration monitoring and evaluation; and meetings and coordination of care with the sports nutrition team and performance staff.
What was the biggest challenge for you in becoming a dietitian and how did you overcome it?
When I became a registered dietitian the transition of seeing myself as a young professional working in a field of dietetics was a challenge. I had to take time to reflect and evaluate the direction of the field I wanted to go into, and if I wanted to continue making sacrifices to work in the role of sports dietetics. It was difficult to find a position in sports nutrition in Columbus, OH, so I told myself that I would accept any position that would give me an opportunity and give me time to figure out what direction I truly wanted to work in as a dietitian.
My first job as a registered dietitian, I worked in community nutrition at Children's Hunger Alliance, working predominantly with child care providers throughout the state of Ohio, educating them on the "Ohio Healthy Program" initiative. A few months after that, I worked as a Nutrition Program Coordinator for Life Time Fitness for a few months, allowing me to gather leadership experience and developing a nutrition program within the fitness club. These experience helped me realize that I wanted to stay in sports nutrition, so I began to utilize my private practice Superior Nutrition and Performance more. I was a contract dietitian for a performance facility called 11Athletics which allowed me to be the personal dietitian for the facility’s professional and collegiate athletes. I also worked as a Clinical Dietitian for Mary-Rutan Hospital in Bellefontaine, Ohio and created a nutrition education module for I Am My Brother's Keeper, teaching the kids in my community proper nutrition, cooking, and sanitation techniques.
These experiences, challenges, and the ability to work outside of my original desired direction of sports dietetics gave me the experiences, patience, and reflection I needed to focus on my professional goals, and set me up for knowing what it took to obtain my future professional and personal goals.
Have you had any mentors and how have they affected your career?
I am blessed to have had, and continue to have, the mentors I have had in my career and education. My mentors in my education and the beginning of my career were most of my professors at Bowling Green State University (Carrie Hamady, Dr. Julian Williford, Dr. Rebecca Pobocik, Staci Freeworth, Dr. Dawn Anderson, and Chirs Haar), my football strength coach (Coach Aaron Hillman) at Bowling Green State University, and my current mentor and committee chair here at the University of Mississippi (Dr. Melinda Valliant). There were a lot of personal adversities I went through during my academic and the beginning of my professional career that those professors and my coach helped me get through. Those mentors were always available to speak with me, were always transparent, and always challenged me to think outside of the box. My current mentor, Dr. Melinda Valliant, resembles those same traits where she is always transparent and completely honest with me on what I need to improve professionally, academically, and personally; my future career goals and aspirations; and in guiding me towards the resources and continuing education I need in order to become successful.
Why do you think diversifying the field of nutrition is important?
Diversity in the field will allow us to effectively reach and communicate to the diverse populations we work with as dietitians. Our country is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, and races, and our profession would be able to effectively communicate and meet the needs of those diverse populations with diverse practitioners. In my opinion, having a diverse representation of our profession can aid in understanding various populations relationships with food and nutrition, so that we can better assess and provide nutrition intervention and education for their individualized needs and goals.
What advice would you give a student of color interested in entering this profession?
Be comfortable in your own skin and embrace what you bring to the table as an individual who comes from a different background. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable! Instead of giving unsure responses, be comfortable with saying "I do not know, but let me do some research and get back to you," with whoever you work with.
Continue to network, not only with individuals who work in our community and profession, but network with the other organizations, communities, and practitioners [outside of our profession]. Challenge yourself to look at our position of care in an integrated and interdisciplinary point of view. Remain passionate about continuing your education, service, and experiences within our profession, and the various professions we work with. Reach out and network to individuals that are in the positions you wish to be, and inquire about their journey and learning experiences. Do what you can to provide service and volunteer. Do not limit yourself to only applying to that "ideal" or "dream" opportunity, fellowship, internship, or graduate assistantship. Your service and willingness to step outside your comfort zone, ability to effectively network, and willingness to relocate toward opportunities that present themselves as scary at first will assist you with your personal and professional growth. [These qualities] may open the door to a multitude of opportunities you didn't think were possible or that you may be unfamiliar with.