Football meal

The Roosevelt High School football team in Sioux Falls, S.D., enjoys a pre-playoff team meal fueled with beef before a post-season game.

Partnering beef, nutrition, sports science, local producers, parents and high school student-athletes seems like a logistical nightmare, but for the South Dakota Beef Industry Council, it was exactly what they needed to do to get Build Your Base with Beef off the ground.

Build Your Base with Beef is a three-year pilot program aimed at providing local beef and nutritional information to high school football players in South Dakota. But Kim Nelson, the football coach for Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, said the program has become so much more for their community.

“It’s been a blessing for me and our coaching staff,” he said.

The program was conceived by the South Dakota Beef Industry Council and amplified by the organization’s partnership with Sanford Health. Sanford’s Sports Science Institute immediately took to the challenge to build a website and provide resources to the students involved in the program, helping them to better understand meal planning, ways to work in beef into their food, and how South Dakota’s No. 1 protein source can help them build the muscle they need on the gridiron.

“We just did some brainstorming with them and designed how we wanted to develop the program,” said Suzy Geppert, the executive director of beef council.

Build Your Base with Beef started in 2017 and had its first year of testing over the fall 2018 football season. Allowing just 10 schools in the program, Geppert made sure each area of the state was represented, with schools from Sioux Falls all the way to Custer, South Dakota participating in the program.

“Every time you develop a program you want to make sure it works in a small school and large schools alike,” she said.

Working with local retailers, the beef council and Sanford Health were able to supply beef to each of the 10 schools to help fuel the athletes as well as provide a comprehensive website with recipes and other information.

Heading into the second year of the program, Geppert and SDBIC worked to expand the program to 27 schools for the 2019 season and is making the website and its resources open to those school’s non-football programs.

Students fueled with food and information

The national beef council is working to promote beef as a way to improve strength and Geppert said they realized the best thing South Dakota could do was promote beef at the youth level.

It turns out, working with youth may be the best course of action to promote a healthy lifestyle, according to Dr. Thayne Munce. Munce works with the Sanford Sports Science Institute and has become the point man on the Build Your Base with Beef program. Starting young, student athletes can learn to develop good eating habits.

“People get set in their ways,” Munce said. “The longer that someone practices a behavior, the more difficult it is to change.”

This is the reason Munce believes strongly in the program and has worked hard to provide all the tools necessary for the athletes to plan their meals accordingly. Munce said that he’s seen many student athletes get bogged down by unfortunate school schedules forcing them to eat in the morning and go the rest of the day without a meal.

“If they don’t pack a snack with them, they go several hours without new nutrition in their bodies,” he said.

That’s where Build Your Base comes in. After Sanford got on board, SDBIC reached out to Jack Links to provide beef jerky to the student-athletes. With the jerky, Munce said students could regularly snack throughout the day to keep protein in their bodies when they couldn’t otherwise stop for a meal.

“It was a great motivator and they were really excited about it,” Nelson said about the beef jerky.

Nelson’s football program is one of the largest in South Dakota. With more than 100 kids participating in team activities, Nelson said feeding them has always been a challenge. And while the program started out as a means to feed his athletes, Nelson quickly learned how valuable the program was to his students and their families.

“It helped out not just financially but motivationally,” he said.

Every Thursday night before their big Friday games, Nelson asks the senior students’ parents to prepare a team meal. Before the program, they’d almost always have various pasta dishes to fill the student's bellies. Now, they can incorporate meat and other protein sources to help fuel their children before the game.

When last season was done, his team gathered for a large steak meal to celebrate their accomplishments and prepare for the playoffs.

But the benefits went beyond food for some of Nelson’s students, he said. He had one student who was gaining too much weight during the off-season and used the website to plan meals and learn proper proportions to help get his weight under control, he said.

Nelson realized he could use the website to keep diets and protein regulated in his athletes to make sure they remain healthy even beyond high school.

“They became fast food junkies during the season,” he said jokingly. “I don’t want a bunch of football players who get fat and sloppy after they’re done (playing the sport).”

Munce hopes students bring the information they learned about nutrition back to their families. Once one person in the household starts eating better, it can encourage everyone to follow suit.

“It’s a program on paper geared toward athletes, but it's for parents and families and really entire communities,” he said.

The science behind the program

Many young athletes fail to follow portion sizes, meal planning and a regular diet, Munce said. Build Your Base aims to teach them healthy ways of eating, starting with not skipping breakfast and eating before any physical activity.

“You have to fuel your body within a couple of hours of that competition,” he said.

When you’ve put in grueling hours of exercise, the next most important thing is to refuel your body. Munce said the only way athletes can build muscles reliably is to recover properly with protein and other nutritious foods after a good workout.

As Sanford continues to improve its educational tools, Munce said he’s grateful for the data the program provides.

“We did learn about the best practices between some schools and others,” he said.

Munce and his team have been working on how to explain just how beef improves a diet. Misinformation about moderation and overconsumption of red meat has led to a lot of people to ignore it completely in favor of other protein sources.

“It definitely should be part of your menu of sources,” Munce said. “But we know there needs to be variety in your diet. No one, not even the beef council, suggests it should be the only source of protein.”

After last fall’s football season, parents and students are beginning to understand the benefits of beef. Reports from the program’s first year showed 65% of the parents, students, trainers and others working with the program felt confident in beef. After the first year, it was 91%.

While confidence is at an all-time high for those families, so are their family meals. Before the program families reported only having seven to 11 meals prepared at home a week. Afterward, that number rose to 10-21.

“Obviously, confidence played a role there,” Geppert said. “Feeding athletes and preparing them linked together.”

Going beyond the program

Beef and nutrition are at the forefront of Build Your Base, but Geppert said as many communities embraced beef more and more throughout the season, she saw producers in those areas start to build confidence as well.

“Our producers know that power that beef protein has, so they got to actually see it and see the change in our athletes,” she said. “We had so many (positive) things that weren’t seen prior.”

The beef council has had dozens of requests from schools wanting to be part of the program. This year, a new application process selected 27 schools.

New this year, information on the Build Your Base website is open to everyone in the schools – not just football players.

Nelson aims to make a routine out of having his students check the website. He also hopes to program prompts his students to better appreciate where their food is coming from and how valuable South Dakota’s livestock industry really is.

“They just have no idea where (their food) originated,” he said. “Hopefully this program helps enlighten them to that.”

Perhaps the most exciting news for Geppert has come from other state beef industry councils. Several states have asked the organization how to start the program.

“Is it going to be able to cross those state lines?” Geppert said. “It’s really exciting to expand.”

Even if it’s a South Dakota program, Geppert said she thanks the national groups every day for promoting beef beyond just exporting the protein out of the country.

“It truly was a collaborative effort. It takes an army,” she said.

Munce said he is glad Sanford gets to be part of something that helps educate and empower younger athletes and students to be better and healthier.

“The habits and awareness that is brought through the program are independent of beef in and of itself,” Munce said.

For more information on Build Your Base with Beef and how you could use the same tools the students are using, visit

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Reach Reporter Jager Robinson at 605-335-7300, email or follow on Twitter @Jager_Robinson.