Truly in-instate products: UW football uses homegrown food to improve player health, on-field performance

Senior outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel made eight tackles, forced a fumble and recorded a sack as part of a throwback performance from Wisconsin's defensive front.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel gave the Wisconsin Badgers a spark of energy during the Big Ten Championship Game. His first-half pick-six tied the game at seven and he later forced a fumble that led to a much-needed field goal that kept a sputtering UW offense in the contest.

But that spark of life might’ve not come without the guidance of Wisconsin assistant strength and conditioning coach and nutrition consultant Shaun Snee. Van Ginkel struggled with fatigue at the start of the season, so midway through he approached Snee to help him improve his energy. With Snee’s guidance on what to eat and when to eat it, Van Ginkel felt the difference by the season’s conclusion.

“During the season, there were games where I wasn’t eating very well during the week,” Van Ginkel said. “Then I switched to his diet and I had a lot more energy for the games.”

Van Ginkel is just one of the many athletes who Snee has helped get into better shape through dietary improvements. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook, offensive lineman David Edwards and former UW defensive end Alec James are among the many players who transformed their nutrition with Snee’s help.

But the secret weapon for the Wisconsin Badgers might be the state of Wisconsin itself. Through the Performance Nutrition program, the UW athletic department uses locally-sourced products as much as it can and enlists the top agricultural research centers at the university to maximize performance and to improve the overall health of its athletes.

UW Athletics has developed relationships with many Wisconsin companies to provide products for the teams. Organic Valley Co-Op, Country Ovens, Silver Star Nutrition, Juiced! and Jack Link’s are among the Wisconsin companies that provide food for Badger student athletes.

Organic Valley Co-Op provides everything from eggs in the kitchen to Organic Fuel, a protein recovery drink made of organic products and produced in-state. Snee said that athletes really appreciate the products for the healthy options, but added that in-state athletes in particular appreciate the Wisconsin ties.

“For some guys like [center Tyler] Biadisz and [running back Garrett] Groshek from in-state who have someone in their family who is a farmer or works in agriculture in Wisconsin, the local aspect goes a long way,” Snee said.

Snee is going into his fourth season on staff at Wisconsin after stops at UMass, Pittsburgh and N.C. State. He said the culture around Madison is different, however, when it comes to the state supporting the university and the program supporting the state.

One of the first people to tap into Wisconsin’s local companies was Director of Performance John Dettmann. Dettmann, the director of strength and conditioning for UW Athletics from 1990-2015, spearheaded the development for the Performance Nutrition program.

Almost 10 years ago, Dettmann desired to make a tart cherry recovery drink because of the anti-inflammatory properties in cherries. The department used a company from Michigan for the cherries. But Dettmann, who grew up near Door County, wanted to get local products for the drink.

“We started to localize and bring that business back into the state,” Dettmann said. “Fast forward to today, we attempt to do business with Wisconsin businesses for various things. Anything that we can, we want to utilize local resources.”

When developing the tart cherry drink, Dettmann reached out to KJ Carrington, the product formulator for UW-Madison’s Center for Dairy Research. She did all the real “grassroots” work to actually make the product, Dettmann said.

Carrington said that through the UW Performance Nutrition program, the local companies and research center come together to give the companies an opportunity to develop nutritious products for the athletes.

“We can help the food company tailor the new product to the needs of the athlete and do all the development for them,” Carrington said. “A cherry juice company does not know how to make a product that contains whey protein but we do at CDR.”

That whey and cherry recovery drink Dettmann was looking for became Red Whey in 2012. It was made with a partnership from the CDR and Country Ovens, a cherry juice manufacturer in Forestville, Wis. The two groups again teamed up to create switchel, an apple cider vinegar-based drink used by the football team this past season to help prevent cramping. All but one ingredient, ginger, are locally sourced.

Snee said the culture at Wisconsin for buying local extends beyond just nutrition; the athletic department looks to Wisconsin first when the products are quality.

“Wisconsin is known for supporting its state,” Snee said.

Carrington said that Dettmann and others in the Performance Nutrition program recognized how important nutrition is, especially dairy proteins, and uses the relationship to build something unique in Wisconsin.

“There are no other campuses that have this close relationship or the ability to develop tailor made products for their athletes,” Carrington said. “Our collaboration supports Wisconsin companies and also the Wisconsin Idea.”

When Snee first arrived at UW, the nutrition program was not quite as robust. During his first winter, he said he was only able to see 20 guys to talk about nutrition. But, as the UW Performance Nutrition program has grown, he has been able to speak with every player throughout a season, which has given players like Van Ginkel trust in the nutrition coaches.

“A lot of these guys have never been on a meal plan before and have no idea what they’re putting into their bodies,” Snee said. “We just have to educate them. And the type of guys you get at Wisconsin, they catch on quickly and understand.”

If last season’s results were any indication, the added attention to nutrition is certainly paying off.

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