State schools are used to thinking locally—after all, a number of their recruits are often found close to home. The University of Wisconsin has discovered there are benefits to looking nearby in other areas, too—namely nutrition. By fueling athletes from its own backyard, the athletic department has seen a number of positive results.
While most NCAA Division I schools have nutrition programs in place for athletes, Wisconsin stands out because it uses local products as often as possible. Its Performance Nutrition program provides food items from several Wisconsin-based companies, including Organic Valley Co-Op, Country Ovens, Silver Star Nutrition, Juiced!, and Jack Link’s.
This emphasis reflects the athletic department’s allegiance to the area and its economic well-being. “When you’re working in a state like ours—a dairy state—there are many products and raw materials available, and we wanted to capitalize on that,” says John Dettmann, Director of Athletic Performance at Wisconsin. “We’re using quality ingredients from quality sources.”
Then there’s the appreciation athletes who were raised in the area have for the school’s use of homegrown products. “A number of the Wisconsin-raised kids thought it was cool that we were trying to support the state they grew up in,” says Dettmann, who was Director of Strength and Conditioning for Badger athletics from 1990 to 2015 and spearheaded the development of the Performance Nutrition program. “They think it’s unique.”
An eye toward being more eco-friendly was an influence, as well. “The campus is very conscious of sustainability, so any time we come up with a new idea, we consider that angle,” says Dettmann. “The more boxes we can check with new initiatives, the better.”
Dettmann has also launched several three-way collaborations among the athletic department, the university’s Center for Dairy Research (CDR), and companies in Wisconsin to create innovative nutrition products. One of his partners in this is K.J. Burrington, MS, Dairy Ingredient and Cultured Products Coordinator for the CDR. “People in the industry reach out to her for advice on how to work with ingredients, so she was the perfect person for me to talk to about product formulation,” says Dettmann.
In 2012, Dettmann, Burrington, and Country Ovens teamed up to create Red Whey, a tart cherry juice recovery drink popular among Badger athletes. Their most recent concoction is switchel, an apple cider vinegar-based beverage used by the football team to help prevent cramping. Every ingredient but ginger is locally sourced, and it has been well-received.
If creating your own nutrition products sounds like an expensive proposition, Dettmann has good news—that hasn’t been the case at Wisconsin. “We can cut a lot of costs when making our own products because we don’t have to worry about things like a label,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be designed by a marketing firm. We can print the most generic label in the world and not spend any money on it. There are plenty of other savings, as well.”
As for other athletic departments that want to fuel locally, while noting that every circumstance is different, Dettmann said he started the old-fashioned way—by hitting the pavement. “I began by taking a walk across campus, knocking on some doors, and asking questions of people who know the industry,” he explained. “I built relationships, and I was welcomed with open arms. It was a tremendous learning experience and gave me the chance to get to know some wonderful people.”