Ryan Nuccio ’09 first learned the power of nutrition not from a textbook, but from a cross country course.

Nuccio ran cross country in high school, and during his junior year he finally realized what was making him sick during and after races, and generally impairing performance—his diet. So he changed what and when he ate before races, and soon his stamina and performance began to improve. By senior year, he was co-captain of the team.

“I realized that nutrition had a pretty powerful impact on me and my performance, and I realized how drastically it can make a difference,” said Nuccio, a food, nutrition, and dietetics alum.

Today, Nuccio continues to chase his passion—sports nutrition—as a research and development scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI). As a researcher for the biggest name in sports hydration, Nuccio is putting his Illinois State education to use as a co-investigator with clinical research, assisting with the construction of research papers, and improving the way GSSI collects, stores, and shares its discoveries.

GSSI was founded in 1985 to help athletes improve their health and performance through research and education in hydration and nutrition science. With its main lab in Barrington, where Nuccio works, GSSI’s team of scientists studies the effects of nutrition on the human body before, during, and after exercise.

Nuccio’s job is a unique blend of business and academia. That’s fitting given GSSI’s three pillars—research, education, and service.

In a single day, Nuccio could be bouncing around from a research study, to a collaborative team project, to a presentation about nutrition. That diversity of experiences is his favorite part of the job.

“There’s always something happening, and it’s all things I enjoy,” Nuccio said.

Pursuing his growing interest in nutrition, Nuccio chose Illinois State’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences based off a recommendation from a high school academic advisor. He was impressed by his professors and coursework, and by the well-rounded education he received before graduating.

“Having those professors, with their real-life work experience, it kept me engaged and wanting to learn more about nutrition. There was never a time when it became dull or boring,” Nuccio said.

After Illinois State, Nuccio did an intensive nine-month dietetic internship with Loyola University Chicago, followed by a master’s degree in nutrition education at Rosalind Franklin University.

He joined GSSI in 2011 as a research associate, helping collect data for studies and support general research operations. Now he’s a full-time R&D scientist in GSSI’s research division, allowing him to pursue his two professional passions—how nutrition influences exercise performance, as well as its impact on neurocognitive function.

And for Nuccio, who has always wanted to pursue research, GSSI has given him the opportunity to be a co-investigator on research studies that end up in peer-reviewed publications.

“I’m always very eager to learn more,” Nuccio said.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.