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Stewartville grad Irlbeck helping athletes across the country with nutrition

Wendi Irlbeck helps athletes, coaches and families with nutrition. She also relates to and encourages clients by sharing personal stories and her faith.

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Wendi Irlbeck, who owns Nutrition with Wendi, grew up in Grand Meadow and ran cross country and played softball at Stewartville High School.
Contributed / Wendi Irlbeck

ROCHESTER — Wendi Irlbeck knew as an 11-year-old girl growing up in Grand Meadow that she would be a dietitian.

It was something she felt she was missing as a young athlete and something that, as she grew up, realized a lot of athletes lacked education around food and wellness.

Irlbeck’s journey began after graduating from Stewartville High School in 2008. She played one year of softball at RCTC, while getting certified as a personal trainer.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a degree in health, wellness and fitness, Irlbeck moved to the Twin Cities to work in corporate wellness and personal training.

But the pull she felt to be a performance dietitian never went away.

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So she went back to UW-Stout to study dietetics. Though Irlbeck always wanted to be a dietitian, the career path almost didn’t work out for her.

She failed her registered dietitian exam not once, but three times.

“It was so much pressure that I put on myself, just like athletes do, like, ‘You've got to be perfect. You've got to achieve this, otherwise you're a failure,’” Irlbeck said. “My mantra has always been ‘We don't quit,’ so I knew I was going to pass it. And what I told myself was it's not a no, it's just a not yet.

“Had I passed it the first time, I don't think I would have appreciated being a dietitian as much as I do. Nor would I be able to share those experiences with my athletes or my clients like, ‘Hey, you're going to fail, it's going to happen. But you fail forward and you don't quit.’”

Irlbeck passed the exam the third time. Following a job at the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, she started her own business, Nutrition with Wendi , in 2019.

“My goal has always been to work for myself in some fitness, health, wellness capacity,” Irlbeck said. “I knew as I was doing those presentations, and talking to kids in Detroit, I knew that God had a higher calling for my life and that if I don't do it now, I don't know when I'll do it. So I made a business plan and started working on that in my downtime outside of my full-time job. Then I took the leap of faith and decided that it's now or never.”

There are many parts to Nutrition with Wendi — there are “just so many facets of it,” Irlbeck said.

The bulk of the business, though, is working with high school and college athletes. Irlbeck does one-on-one coaching, personalized nutrition plans and group sessions. Nutrition with Wendi is moving more toward a partnership model, Irlbeck said, which allows her to share her approach to food, fitness and recovery with a larger audience.

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Irlbeck is based in Nashville, but many of her clients aren't, as she has worked with clients virtually since before the pandemic. That virtual component has allowed her to connect with athletes across the country, like the track and field and cross country teams at Doane University in Nebraska that she recently started working with. Through the partnership, Irlbeck will provide a 60-minute presentation, group question-and-answer sessions and some one-on-ones to work with the athletes.

She also works with coaches to develop plans for entire teams, and Irlbeck works with families to get their nutrition on track. Endurance athletes, recreational athletes and people in the general population who want to be healthy also work with Irlbeck.

In short, if a person wants to change their lifestyle and appreciates Irlbeck’s “all foods fit” approach, she works with them.

“We really do take a full 360 approach where it's sleep, stress management, recovery, sports, nutrition, weight management,” Irlbeck said. “It's really meeting the person where they’re at and helping them to go to where they want to be.”

Interweaving faith into work

Twitter is a big part of how Irlbeck connects with coaches, parents and athletes. She shares everything from tips and tricks to personal stories, like failing her registered dietitian exam, on the platform, allowing followers to relate to Irlbeck.

Her faith plays a large role in her business and is visible on her Twitter account. Irlbeck doesn’t strive to push her beliefs on anyone, but her faith is integrated into her business.

“I don't know if I would have ever found such happiness or success without the Lord,” she said. “That's why I'm really vocal about my faith, and it's really important.”

Clients have sought out Irlbeck’s services because of her faith. She’s writing a couple of books, both of which integrate her faith into her approach to nutrition. The Performance Nutrition Playbook, a guidebook for student athletes that weaves in the gospel throughout, should be available around the summertime.

Abby Sharpe joined the Post Bulletin in February 2022 after graduating from Arizona State University with a sports journalism degree. While at ASU, she created short- and long-form stories for audio and digital. Readers can reach Abby at 507-285-7723 or asharpe@postbulletin.com.
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