Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:
Remi Famodu-Jackson, Minnesota Vikings
Position: Head Performance Dietician
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How did you start your career as a sports dietician?
I didn't actually know what I wanted to do in undergrad. My twin, Toye, and I were recruited by Ohio University to play soccer, and I always knew I was a foodie. I think a lot of dieticians will say they were a foodie in some sense, whether they have a bad relationship with food or a good relationship with food. For me, it was just kind of how did it apply to performance. So I took a Nutrition 101 class my sophomore year and fell in love with it. They made me declare a major at that time, and that's how I learned that there was a certain connection with performance and nutrition. So I started working with the dietician at Ohio University who worked with the athletes, and that's when I knew I wanted to get into it. I then did my graduate studies at West Virginia, where I worked with the sports dietician, and that's where I fell in love with it. I started working with athletics a little more independently, and that's probably when I started blooming as a sports dietician.
From there, how did you get to the Vikings?
It was actually a connection through the West Virginia dietician, Nettie Freshour. After I did my doctorate there, I thought I was going to be in research, I thought I was going to teach. I went to postdoctoral at the University of Florida, and six months later, I received a call from a colleague who knew Nettie. He said there was a position opening up in Minnesota with Twin Cities Orthopedics, which is the sports medicine provider for the Minnesota Vikings. So I became their first full-time dietician in 2017, and in 2019, there was a dietician position opening at the Minnesota Vikings because Rasa Troup, who is one of my mentors to this day, had left the position. I talked to her about it, and that was kind of the gateway in.
What does a typical day-to-day routine look like for you during the season, and how is it different in the offseason?
The season is go, go, go, and there's a lot more interaction with the players, because they're in the building a lot more. So the day-to-day can look different, just depending on if the team is practicing or just lifting or if it's an off day. Practice days will be full days of interacting with the players, making sure they're set up with their nutrition before, after and during. Off days will be more making sure the meals, whether we're playing at home or away, are scheduled and fine-tuned. Other days might be building education, either with them one-on-one or as a group. My fueling stations -- I love my fueling station -- is really in the center of the action when it comes to the players' locker room, our indoor practice facility, our weight room and athletic training room. It's a water hub for players to stop by and ask questions about nutrition and their fueling.
The offseason is down time, preparing for that craziness. We're doing some new stuff with the cafeteria, so working with the chef to make sure we're ready to go when players come back. Some players are still training and rehabbing here, so it's more of that personalized nutrition, making sure they're on par to hopefully practice come OTAs or that they're ready to go when the season comes. It's less of a hectic time during the offseason.
You mentioned personalized nutrition, and obviously different players have different needs based on body type/position. How do you take that into account when designing plans?
I am in charge of keeping track of player weights, which will change by position, so that's one thing that I definitely take into account. I am anthropometric certified (the scientific study of the measurements and proportions of the human body), so one thing we do, which I think is pretty cool, is we make sure that weight is fine-tuned to each person's body. That means getting players into their specific integral ranges at a certain time, especially in-season. I'm also a food-sensitivity specialist, so a lot of guys ask about that and get tested for it.
My nutrition foundation is based off personalization. When I was an athlete, everything that applied to me didn't apply to my twin sister, and I knew that from Day 1. So I ask questions about the players' backgrounds. First, where they're at in their nutritional journey, because a lot of guys start in different places. Then factoring in their weight, their personal preferences or their history. I get to know my athletes more before I just feed them some information I learned over the course of my years in school.
Recently, your department received an A- grade from the NFL Players Association team report cards. What was your reaction to that, and what are your thoughts on why the department got so much praise?
Chef Paige Sullivan was the one who told me at first, and then maybe a minute later, my supervisor, Tyler Williams, executive director of player health and performance, texted me. At first, I didn't know what was really going on. The shock factor set in, and then I was very excited. It was an A-, so I'm always going to look to get better, but of course, no hard feelings with that. I've worked with Chef for a few seasons, so we've had a journey. I'm actually very stoked and excited about that grade, because I do think we've put in a lot of work to get to that grade. Kirk Cousins texted me recently and gave me some praise. It is always nice to hear from the players, just knowing that they know we care, we're here for them and we're always going to try to make it better. That was exciting. Chef and I are like, "We're going to get that A or A+." We are going to do it, no matter what. But yeah, we're stoked, we're so excited, we love these guys, and we're going to do a lot for them in this nutrition department.
How would you say it's different working with elite athletes versus the average person?
It's a good question, because we're at the top when it comes to athletes in North America. I mean, these are the Cadillacs of all athletes, and it's very exciting. However, I do think sometimes we like to treat them as if they already know a lot, that all of the pieces are already in play because they're such great athletes. I would disagree. A lot of the time when I was with high school athletes and middle-schoolers, I was teaching almost the same things that I do with these athletes, because I'd like it to be applicable to all athletes. I want them to be relatable, too, and I think that catches on to the younger generation. I think a lot of our society has to work at the basics, and that's what I try to do with these athletes: get them to the basic level before we work it up and fine-tune. With these athletes, I can push them more, I'm around them more. Their job is on the line, millions of dollars are on the line, so sometimes they just need a little bit of that edge factor. I think nutrition is one of them, and sleep is another that I educate them on. So that's maybe the biggest difference: I can fine-tune and push them to the limit a little bit more, because their job is on the line, and they have such high intensity and demands from their sport.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Every year is a different challenge. I think the biggest part is, like you said, every player is different, so it's trying to meet the demands nutritionally, food-wise and locally, so that everyone is somewhat satisfied. So with that A- grade, there are going to be some misses, there's going to be some hits, and I think riding those waves is the challenge every time. One athlete is going to be accelerated, and rookies might be at a different level. It's getting them all on the same page to commit to the process I have in our nutrition department. Getting them all to commit is probably the bigger of the challenges every year.
Do you have a favorite moment or a favorite experience from this job?
Gosh, I'm not going to lie, that game against Buffalo last season was out of this world. Just amazing. The heart of that team, and being there on the sidelines with them. That is one I'll never get back, and I'm so excited for that, but honestly, hearing from Kirk a couple weeks ago, I think that was a really big plus for me.
Honestly, I love coming into work, I know that sounds cliché and that sounds corny, but I love the atmosphere, I love this organization, I love this team, so every day is truly a blessing to me. One of our new coaches says, "Every day is a great day," and I've kind of adopted that mentality, because I do feel like every day is a great day to be inside this building.
You mentioned your mentor earlier; what kinds of things did you learn from her, or did you receive any specific advice?
Yeah, so there are two mentors that come to mind. The one at West Virginia, Nettie Freshour, I think her biggest piece of advice has always been to push me to become a better professional in this world. She's so down-to-earth and relatable, and I think I took that with me as I've approached my job. Every time, you get the full, authentic me, whether you like it or not. Being relatable and meeting the athletes where they're at, that's what I learned from Nettie.
And Rasa Troup, who was a former dietician with the Vikings. She is also very authentic. I think I attach to those people, but she sticks to her morals, her principles, and she's very ethical. A lot of people like to say they're nutritionists. For one, that's a wrong term, but we do a lot of education here. We're really trying to help the athletes, we learn a lot of science behind it, and Rasa really sticks to that and likes to put research into practice.
You mentioned specifically wanting to work toward getting an A+ grade from the players. Are there any additional goals that you have in mind for your career?
I think what I'm working toward in my profession is diversifying dietetics. I've almost been doing this profession for 10 years, and I think that my biggest goal is to leave that legacy, to show other girls like me that may not have been shown that opportunity from the get-go, but it's there. To provide them guidance, a lot of mentorship. Over the last few years, I've sat on different committees in that realm.
Another thing is bringing new, innovative ideas into practice. I don't necessarily like the old, it gets stale, I think these guys will always want to see something new. They bring new ideas to me and fad diets to me every day, and it's keeping up with that and bringing a more ground-breaking personalization into the world of nutrition. I would say we're not just dietitians. So for me personally, it's how can I be above nutrition. I'm always pushing the limits there, and then professionally, it's just growing the practice and making sure it's diversifying, and we're not going backwards.
Can you elaborate on the committees you sit on, and what that involves?
The dieticians within the NFL created a new group, the Professional Registered Dieticians Society. We just launched that two months ago. I do sit as the Director of Learning and Education, so my biggest role is to bring our annual meeting together, providing speakers and bringing new, fresh education to the dieticians and making sure our sponsors are in line. I'm also in charge of leading the DE&I perspective in that job. I sit on a couple of DE&I committees at Twin Cities Orthopedics and here at the Vikings. So those are two big committees I've been involved with, along with WISE (Women in Sports & Events) a little bit here and there.
You mentioned wanting to pave the way for other women wanting to go into the same field. Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into a career in football or sports dietetics?
My advice to them is to never give up, for sure. There are so many times I was told "no," at least in my profession. The majority of dieticians are females, but when it comes to sports, you're getting into the male-dominated profession. So never giving up there. Also, learn the sport and the players inside that sport. Learn the personality inside the building, because not everyone is made for football. For instance, I don't think I could ever work gymnastics. I relate to the female athlete, but I relate to a certain female athlete, that being soccer and those high-intensity sports, but not necessarily gymnasts or dancers, that's just not how I relate. Getting to know your athletes, bringing in your authentic self, never giving up and just looking for those opportunities -- and knowing that "no" is going to come along with the territory. But that one "yes" leads to other things. Explore those yesses to the best of your ability.
I have two children, a 6-month-old and 2-year-old, and a husband who is my rock. There's no way I could do the whole thing without him. You have to know that sports can sometimes be a little more time-consuming, and there is a balance you can have. I think that I do have a good balance -- again, my husband gets a lot of kudos there -- but know that it's a busy life. If you're willing to do the grind because you love it so much, it's worth it. I definitely don't have it perfect, so don't quote me as a perfect person, but I do lean a lot on my mentors who have done this. I think sometimes we silo ourselves and we feel alone, but we shouldn't, because we have a strong army behind us.