Leading the Whey

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Sports nutritionist Karla Horsfall chugs a bottle of Red Whey, a UW-developed sports drink that mixes dairy with cherry. Photo: Jeff Miller.

A tart beverage makes for a sweet partnership.

Two of Wisconsin’s most iconic foodstuffs have united in a not-so-secret weapon for Badger student-athletes, thanks to a three-way collaboration among the athletic department, dairy researchers, and a small business in Door County.

Red Whey is an all-natural drink made with cherry juice and whey protein isolate, a byproduct of the cheese-making process. Individually, these two ingredients are well-known nutritional boosts for athletes: cherries are loaded with potassium, vitamins, and anti-inflammatory properties, and whey is absorbed easily into the body, making it an ideal form of protein for post-workout muscle recovery.

UW strength and conditioning coach John Dettmann thought combining the two might produce a particularly powerful recovery drink. “Our job is always to be looking out for the best interest of our athletes,” he says.

A native of the Door County region, Dettmann had previously partnered with Country Ovens — a cherry-product company based in Forestville, Wisconsin — to develop a post-game cherry and nut mix for football players. This time, he was interested in a beverage based on Country Ovens’ long-standing cherry-juice product, Cherry De-Lite.

However, crafting a palatable drink from a dairy product and an acidic juice isn’t as simple as pouring the two together, because they don’t naturally mix well. For help, Dettmann turned to the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research in the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences.

KJ Burrington ’84, MS’87, the center’s coordinator for dairy ingredients and cultured products, worked closely with Country Ovens to develop a formula that appeals to taste buds while meeting NCAA guidelines, as well as Dettmann’s preference that the drink contain no more than five ingredients.

The result was Red Whey, which Country Ovens officially launched in 2012. The drink is now in the Badgers’ regular rotation of recovery products, and though he won’t name names, Dettmann says several student-athletes have become fans. “We don’t use just one [recovery drink] or have an official one,” he says. “We like to change things up. Red Whey is one of the tools in our arsenal.”

Red Whey has also become the centerpiece of Country Ovens’ new line of muscle-recovery foods and drinks, called Rapid Performance Products. Trainers at twenty schools and colleges nationwide now include Red Whey in their student-athlete nutrition plans, and several additional institutions have expressed an interest, says Jeremy Paszczak, the marketing director for Rapid Performance Products.

“We’re really proud that this is a completely Wisconsin-made product,” Paszczak says. “Considering the history of Gatorade and [the University of] Florida, we’re hoping that we’re setting the tone for a new category of recovery drink. A lot are owned by big soda companies, and we’re looking to establish ourselves as a natural alternative.

Published in the Fall 2014 issue

Tags: Athletics, Badger, Business, dairy, Research

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