Eat like Olympians: Sanford advises Team USA on nutrition

4 Tokyo-bound athletes promote partnership between Sanford Health, SD Beef

Pole vaulter Chris Nilsen poses with an American flag over his shoulders.

Build Your Base with Beef is a collaborative partnership that pairs the South Dakota Beef Industry Council with the Sanford Sports Science Institute.

The message coming from this program includes the support of world-class athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, one of whom came home with a  gold medal and another with a silver medal. At the same time, the program rolls out a plan for young athletes that will serve as a building block on the way to a healthful lifestyle.

If beef works for athletes competing in the Olympics, in other words, it can work for you.

“We have Sanford dietitians, researchers and medical professionals saying, ‘Science says this is the best thing you can do for your body and the best thing you can do to develop as athletes,” said Thayne Munce, assistant scientist/manager at Sanford Research. “Then you have the high-level athletes saying ‘This is the food that I eat. This is part of my training regimen and this is part of my plan. I can point to the way I eat as being an important factor in the success that I’ve had.’”

Medalist is backing beef

One of the athletes pointing toward beef is Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Chris Nilsen, a former University of South Dakota pole vaulter who was on the medal stand representing the United States on Aug. 3. Two days later, fellow Build Your Base and Team USA athlete Katie Nageotte won the gold medal in the women’s pole vault.

Nilsen, a former NCAA champion who was the nation’s top qualifier at the Olympic Trials, did not start out as particularly health-conscious when he began making his mark as an athlete.

This Kansas City, Missouri, native has since become a staunch supporter of Build Your Base initiatives.

“We believe that beef is the greatest protein you can have, especially as an athlete,” said Nilsen, who cleared 19 feet, 7 inches — a personal record — at the Tokyo Games. “When I was a young college kid my whole thing was ‘I’m going to eat Cheetos and a bunch of other junk and I’m going to be all right.’ But I realized that the better you want to perform, the more it involves everything you do. That includes sleep, training, nutrition and recovery. The thing we love so much about beef is that not only can it set you up for a great performance, it can also help you recover afterward.”

Build Your Base began as an idea that would promote and feature beef’s attributes to young athletes. By doing so, the message would be including parents and, in the end, the family dinner table.

Sanford Health was a well-suited partner on that count.

“Not only do they have a lot of credibility in the health world, but also in the sports world,” said SDBIC executive director Suzy Geppert. “We felt we could marry our high quality protein and research we have in the beef industry with the credibility of athletes and health care. It would be a strong partnership. That has proven to be true.”

Olympic Trials experience

At the same U.S. Track and Field Trials in Oregon where Nilsen qualified for a trip to Tokyo, Sanford POWER certified athletic trainer Jenny Dalland was working in a support role representing the Sanford Sports Science Institute and Build Your Base.

“Nutrition is always going to be on the front of athletes’ and coaches’ minds,” said Dalland, who specializes in work with distance runners. “At the Olympic Trials we were seeing the best athletes in the world — they’re going to do whatever they can to get an edge so sports nutrition is huge for them.”

In addition to Nilsen and Nageotte, women’s hammer thrower DeAnna Price was also aligned with the Build Your Base program and headed for Tokyo.

Dalland was part of that swirl of excitement to an extent she’d never experienced before.

“Watching Deanna Price do so well in the hammer throw and to be part of the excitement surrounding her success was an amazing experience,” Dalland said, referring to Price’s American record effort. “It was great to see all our athletes do so well at that high level and know they were now going to the Olympics.”

Adding medal-winners like Nilsen and Nageotte to the program, which began in 2018, added luster to an effort that is moving forward at the ground level.

Beef program has grown

Initially, Build Your Base included 10 high school football programs in the state of South Dakota. In time, the campaign included its own website with nutrition tips, education, meal planning and recipes.

The program has since expanded to all sports and to other schools. The number of participants moved from 27 schools in 2019 to 35 in 2020. In 2021, 51 high schools are involved along with four collegiate programs: the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University, Augustana University and Black Hills State University.

“We’ve found a lot of our elite athletes were incorporating beef into their diets already,” Munce said. “It hasn’t been a matter of converting or convincing them. Maybe they didn’t know all the benefits but then they learned about it and really understood the program. Paying attention to your diet at a younger age and incorporating whole foods like beef can be very beneficial.”

Delivering a positive message about the nutritional benefits of beef hits several targets in the Midwest, where agriculture’s presence is so prominent.

“Build Your Base with Beef is a grassroots-driven program,” Geppert said. “When you look at Sanford and the beef community, this is very important to both of us, as well as the health and well-being of the people we work with. Anytime you can combine those efforts and develop something together, it just makes the program stronger.”

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Posted In Digestive Health, Healthy Living, Sports Medicine

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