Powering sports nutrition with dairy

Pederson, Johnson collaborate to get chocolate milk cooler for Fillmore Central High School

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HARMONY, Minn. — Music wafts through the halls of Fillmore Central High School, growing ever louder as one approaches the weight room. Inside, a dozen or so students work on strength conditioning using a squat rack, bench press and other equipment.

Coach Andrew Pederson moves among them, giving advice, spotting and helping them keep on task.

If they want a recovery drink, students can walk over to the milk cooler and grab a low-fat chocolate milk for free.

The chocolate milk cooler, which was installed in 2022, is a project funded by Undeniably Dairy grants. Pederson and dairy farmer Margaret Johnson, of Trailside Holsteins LLC, and her husband, Michael, and their children, Sawyer, Levi, Claira, Jacob and Royal, collaborated on the project.

Inspiration for the project started after Pederson attended a clinic for strength coaches. There, he said one of the presenters “raved” about the benefits of chocolate milk.

“I just knew I wanted to find a way to get our kids chocolate milk,” Pederson said.

Pederson said he researched chocolate milk and its benefits for student athletes. He said that chocolate milk has the fats, protein and carbohydrates athletes need.

“Research has shown that student athletes ... that are drinking chocolate milk as a recovery method actually gain more strength compared to sports drinks,” Pederson said.

Johnson said the main importance of the project is that it is creating future milk drinkers. She said this project gives kids accessible, high-quality milk that makes them feel good.

“Not only are they drinking it now, which is great, ... but in the future, it’s going to become part of their routine,” Johnson said. “They’re developing really great nutrition habits because milk is just the full package for people.”

Pederson and Johnson, who attend church together, discussed the idea of chocolate milk and came up with the idea of a milk cooler using an Undeniably Dairy grant.

Pederson said the administration was on board immediately. From there, Johnson applied for the grant, and Pederson worked to find a place for it at the school.

“Having that as a recovery method, and these kids are able to feel healthy,” Pederson said. “It was an easy sell to the coaching staff and to administration.”

The milk cooler had to be lugged by hand to the basement weight room because there was no elevator.

“Once we got it down there, it wasn’t moving,” Pederson said.

The main challenge to installation was that they needed to wire a new outlet for the cooler.

Johnson said applying for the Undeniably Dairy grant was a simple process.

“I always encourage dairy farmers to do it,” Johnson said. “It’s a way to give back to their community in a way that isn’t going to cost them anything financially, potentially.”

They decided to add self-feeding shelving inside which was an additional cost. Johnson’s farm covered this expense. These shelves hold more product and keep the cooler organized and appearing to be fully stocked.

“I wanted it to look like a vending machine or if they took it out of a shelf at the grocery store, Kwik Trip or wherever,” Johnson said. “I wanted it to look good.”

As part of a different Undeniably Dairy grant, Johnson also procured funds for custom signage on the cooler. The signage reads, “Falcon Strong Powered By Milk.”

The sign is in teal and black — two of the school’s colors — and also features the school’s falcon head logo. The bottom edge of the sign features a tide of white milk rolling up into a wave on the right side which includes the Undeniably Dairy logo.

“Wherever the cooler may end up someday, ... they know ultimately it came from dairy farmers,” Johnson said. “It looks cool too.”

The cooler is filled with chocolate milk using money from donations and sports fees. The Preston Fire Department donated enough chocolate milk to cover the strength and conditioning program for the past two summers. Pederson said they keep the cooler stocked each year until available money runs out.

At Fillmore Central High School, Pederson is the head strength and conditioning coach, an assistant football coach and the health and physical education teacher.

In his role, Pederson shares nutrition information with his students. He said social media has been important for this. He posts on Instagram and X as well as a group texting app.

“On top of just milk, we just preach animal products,” Pederson said.

Pederson said another way he shares about nutrition is through an elective class called sport science. This class has a unit on sports nutrition, including a lab day devoted to smoothies.

Johnson said the chocolate milk project is a great way to advertise milk.

“They’re having a respected, role model adult encourage it,” Johnson said. “Coaches ... have huge potential. ... In Fillmore Central’s case, they’re very respected and great role models for the kids.”

Johnson said that it is great that coaches are emphasizing nutrition. She said this is a change from when Michael attended Fillmore Central High School. Then, they worked out with weights but did not learn about nutrition.

“It’s so cool that they’re joining them together,” Johnson said. “They’re both very important to meet your goals, and it’s pretty cool that dairy can be a part of that.”

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