The South Dakota Beef Industry Council’s Build Your Base with Beef Program has gone national and enlisted a big-name athletic endorsement.

Former University of South Dakota and U.S. pole vaulting champion Chris Nilsen is endorsing the program, because he said nutrition and beef are key to his successful training regime.

“So, one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from becoming a professional athlete is how important nutrition is, and with the Build Your Base program, you know their comprehensive sports nutrition program, their premiere protein is beef. And coincidentally since I was a freshman in college my premium meal has been some form of beef,” he said.

Build Your Base is a comprehensive sports nutrition program developed through a partnership between the SDBIC — the beef checkoff organization for South Dakota — and the Sanford Sports Science Institute and utilizes beef as the premier protein. The program has been going for three years and originally started with high school football teams in South Dakota. Since then it has grown to include college football squads at USD, South Dakota State University and across the nation. Chris Nilsen, a 22-year-old Kansas City, Mo., native, is the first professional athlete to be included in the program.

Nilsen had a highly decorated pole-vaulting career while at USD. He is the reigning Pan American Gold Medalist, an NCAA pole vault champion, a six-time All-American and a four-time national pole-vaulting champion. His pro career includes a third place in the 2020 Brussels Diamond League and second place in the 2020 Anhalt Dessau Meeting in Bauhaus, Germany, in September 2020. He said his personal best vault is 19’6 1/2”. However, his goal is to make it to the U.S. Olympic trials this June and finish in the top three to earn a spot on the U.S. team. That would allow him to compete in the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, in August.

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Nilsen’s coach at USD and associate director of track and field Derek Miles turned him on to beef. He said Miles touted beef as a better alternative to protein supplements, and Nilsen said it’s really improved his performance.

“Starting out with just throwing a steak on the Forman grill, that’s when I think I first started to notice how positively influential beef can be the night before a meet and having that good protein right before you go into a competition setting," Nilsen said. "It's super important.”

The protein in beef is also essential for muscle recovery in athletes.

“Just as important as it is to stem up for a meet or some kind of practice day with good nutrition, you need to replenish everything you lost you know after a hard workout,” he said.

As an athlete, Nilsen recognizes beef is a nutrient-dense whole protein that is critical in every athlete’s diet, no matter what sport.

Chris Nilsen hopes to make the U.S. Olympic Team in pole vaulting, and he expects the nutritional boost he gets from beef to help get him there. He is the first professional athlete to endorse the South Dakota Beef Industry Council's Build Your Base with Beef program. (Michelle Rook / Agweek)
Chris Nilsen hopes to make the U.S. Olympic Team in pole vaulting, and he expects the nutritional boost he gets from beef to help get him there. He is the first professional athlete to endorse the South Dakota Beef Industry Council's Build Your Base with Beef program. (Michelle Rook / Agweek)
“The amount of protein that you can get from like even from even just a three-ounce steak is amazing, and exponential compared to a bunch of other proteins,” he said.

Beef is also Nilsen’s preference as an athlete.

“It’s either been steak and pasta, steak and veggies or just ground beef and just mix it together with some other kind of food,” he said.

Beef is also easy to incorporate into his busy lifestyle as he trains for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Sharing the message of beef with other athletes is a goal for Nilsen. He said Build Your Base and his partnership with the South Dakota Beef Industry Council is a great opportunity to tell people about how beef benefits him personally.

SDBIC Executive Director Susy Geppert is excited to bring Nilsen into the Build Your Base Program.

“Chris understands the value of the whole proteins like beef in an athlete’s diet and uses it consistently as part of his nutrition plan,” she said.