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An Ulster University graduate has been given the opportunity of a lifetime with an internship at one of the world’s leading research institutions in food.

Former Galway GAA player Gary Sweeney will start work in February at the acclaimed Nestle Nutrition Research Institute in Switzerland fresh from graduating with a MSc in Human Nutrition, completed at Ulster University.

While Nestle is famous for its chocolate products, its Research Centre in Lausanne aims to help fulfil the company’s vision of good food, good life and a balanced healthy lifestyle for consumers. Gary is relishing being part of that for six months, starting in February, and perhaps enjoying some skiing and Swiss chocolate in his spare time.

Ultimately the 25 year old wants to become a specialised sports nutritionist.

"I have a strong sporting background in athletics, GAA, rugby and soccer. I proudly represented my county Galway in football at all age groups from under 16 to Senior, and this is where I first became exposed and interested in how the food I consumed could influence my health and performance on the pitch," said Gary, who did an Honours degree in science at NUIG before moving to Ulster University.

"I became fascinated with how the nutrients we consume every day can influence our biochemistry, health and sports performance.

“I decided I wanted a career that can educate people with information that is scientifically based and help them take control of their own relationship with food, creating healthier habits that will allow people to optimise their health and enjoy a happy lifestyle.”

Gary says choosing to study at Ulster University was the perfect choice for him: " It has a fantastic nutrition research history. The MSc Human Nutrition course has world class lecturers and I felt it would give me the strong tools I needed to start my career in nutrition. I’m now working as a nutritionist with Clare ladies football team but I’m also continuing my studies at Ulster University with a long distance learning post graduate diploma in Sports, Exercise and Nutrition.”

During his Ulster University course Gary won the DSM Nutritional Products prize for Best MSc Nutrition Research Presenter.

He said: "That was a major achievement for me. I was never a strong presenter but realised to be successful in the nutrition field and to help people I needed to enhance my skills in this area so I learned how to break down the science and present advice in a way that would be easy for people to understand. I worked hard on this area and the award represents that work.”

Reflecting back Gary said: "I enjoyed my time at Ulster University. It was a very welcoming environment and presented me with every opportunity to learn, up-skill and become more confident. 

"Now I'm really looking forward to my internship and understanding the nutrient profiles of foods and applying this knowledge to design specific meal plans to help improve health status of individuals. This, as well as trying the Swiss chocolate and the chance to go skiing of course," he added with a smile.