Dairy for Athletes

If you took a look in my refrigerator, you’d see Friendship cottage cheese, Stonyfield Farms yogurt, organic milk, Cabot cheese, Laughing Cow light cheese and various other dairy products.  The four brands mentioned are among my all time favorite brands for both taste and nutrition value. Because I don’t eat chicken or turkey every day, I choose to get a good bit of the protein I need (and vitamins and minerals) from dairy foods. And, there’s no shortage of research telling me that I’m making a smart move.

Dairy products are jam packed with two of the best sources of protein for muscle, whey and casein, plus vitamins and minerals. Some are also loaded with probiotics, the healthy bacteria that keep your immune system running well and improve some symptoms of gastrointestinal upset (yogurt, kefir, Yakult, Bio-K are good bets). Studies tell me that cereal + milk is as effective as traditional sports drinks for recovery, chocolate milk is great for recovery and casein (cottage cheese is a great source) and whey (milk, protein powders) are fantastic for building muscle and decreasing body fat.

So why do so many people skimp on dairy? Some do so because they are worried about lactose. However, a recent NIH Consensus Development Conference on Lactose Intolerance and Health came to the following conclusions (after thoroughly looking through the literature):

  • Without milk and milk products, it’s tough to meet nutrient needs (such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium)
  • People with lactose intolerance can tolerate at least 12 grams of lactose (that’s one cup of milk)
  • Gradually reintroducing dairy to the diet can help people with lactose intolerance manage their symptoms better
  • If you are lactose intolerant, choose small doses and incorporate cheese (which is relatively low in lactose; especially hard cheese which has very little lactose) into your diet. You can also try lactose free milk.

If you want to build a strong body from the inside out, choose dairy. The protein will satiate your appetite and build muscle tissue. The calcium and vitamin D will build your bones and teeth, keep your immune system running strong, and help with nerve transmission and muscular contractions (calcium does this). Dairy is one of nature’s most perfect foods for athletes.

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