As she prepares to make her Olympic debut in short track speed skating in a foreign land, Julie Letai will be comforted by the presence of a tasty nutritional standby.
“Chocolate milk is one of my favorite foods,” Julie Letai said. “In addition, it gives us the fuel that we need and the consistency.”
Letai will be able to reach for that chocolate milk in Beijing courtesy of Dairy West, which shipped two pallets of shelf-stable milk — some 5,000 units — there in its ongoing strategic partnership with U.S. Speedskating, which is based in Salt Lake City and well-acquainted with Dairy West’s products.
“They’re used to it. They love the flavors. That consistency is key for them,” said Dr. Jen Day, U.S. Speedskating national team sports dietitian, of the athletes. “It’s our local dairy farm that’s able to provide this milk to our athletes in this faraway place. It’s transplanting a little bit of home to support them while they’re away at the Games.”
The availability of familiar food sources is more than just comforting — it’s essential as athletes seek to maximize their performances.
“They’re burning large amounts of calories in the prime of their training, so quantity as well as quality is very important,” Day said. “If you think about the stress and strain on their bodies, and all the repair that needs to be happening continuously, nutrition is what really supports that. It’s a big deal, and we focus on it quite a bit.”
Day said Dairy West milk, produced by local family dairy farmers in Idaho and Utah, is a big part of the U.S. team’s recovery fueling strategy.
“Milk’s fantastic because it contains protein and carbohydrates, which are both really important for recovery,” Day said. “It also has electrolytes, it supports their hydration, it has a really important amino acid in the whey protein … that stimulates muscle recovery, too. It’s this perfectly packaged recovery drink. So, we’re big on milk.”
Day added that milk becomes even more important as American athletes leave home for international competitions such as the Olympics, where achieving proper nutrition can be quite challenging.
“It is tricky,” Day said. “Not only do we have to worry about the water they’re able to drink but also where different food products are coming from. In partnership with Dairy West … we do know that our athletes are going to be getting a good source of protein and a hydration source that’s safe for them to drink.”
The last thing an Olympic athlete such as Letai, a 21-year-old relay specialist from Medfield, Massachusetts, needs is a nutritional shortfall that keeps her from her best performance in Beijing.
“It’s been something that, for so long, is this goal that’s so far in the future,” Letai said. “It’s really crazy for me to try to comprehend that I achieved it and we’re actually there, and now the next step is the actual, real Olympics because it’s felt so distant for so long.”
Letai knows that what she puts into her body in Beijing directly correlates with what she’ll get out of it at the Games.
“Whether it’s food or supplements or the best recovery food — like milk — where it’s the perfect combination of protein, carbs and sugar for right after a weight session or an ice session, we’ve got to keep track of that stuff,” Letai said. “We’re going to be able to carry a lot of Dairy West products that are made by local dairy farm families here in Utah with us to Beijing, which is going to be awesome.”
Jaclyn St. John, director of community wellness for Dairy West, lauded its partnership with U.S. Speedskating.
“I work with the (U.S. Speedskating) professionals, who really know the ins and the outs of the performance fueling for what’s best (for) the athletes,” St. John said. “And then I get to work on behalf of the farmers, who support those efforts. It really is a great thing.”
St. John praised the hard-working local farmers who make the Dairy West products that will fuel U.S. speed skaters in Beijing.
“Our farmers care about their cows, they care about their land, they care about the planet, they care about the communities (where) they work,” St. John said. “The products that they produce are safe and they’re nutritious, and people can feel good about consuming milk, cheese, yogurt, whether it’s in Idaho, or Utah, or around the world.”