Does Dairy Fit in an Athlete’s Diet?

We have another guest blog post today. Deb Gleason is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and vegan triathlete as well as co-founder of Wellness Warrior Coaching, a whole foods nutrition and multisport performance coaching company. Deb works with people to help them transition to a whole foods, plant-based diet to help them achieve their health, fitness, and performance goals.
Deb will be providing nutrition and fuelling posts here on a regular basis.

Does Dairy Fit in an Athlete’s Diet? Part 1

Everyone knows what you mean when you say “Got Milk” and the infamous milk mustaches on elite athletes in magazines is more than familiar. But does dairy truly serve the athlete’s body and more specifically their performance and recovery?

A clever and long lasting marketing campaign that plays on our fear of not getting enough calcium has had an amazing impact on our food choices. I was shocked when I recently read that one in seven dollars spent on groceries in the US is spent in dairy products. If that same dollar was spent on fresh greens like kale and collards which are loaded with calcium we would never have to fear that we were not getting enough. There is no arguing that cow’s milk is high in calcium and if we were judging it’s merit based just on calcium quantity cow’s milk might make sense for us. The problem arises when we look at nutrient absorption, after all we are what we absorb and the calcium in cow’s milk is very hard for the human body to assimilate.

Dr Campbell, author of the highly acclaimed China Study states “Americans have weak bones not because they drink too little milk but because they drink too much. Animal protein, such as the protein in milk, makes blood and tissues more acidic, and to neutralize this acid, the body pulls calcium, which is a very effective base, from the bones. Because dairy products contain substantial amounts of animal protein, drinking milk actually robs the bones of calcium. The more meat and milk Americans eat, the more calcium they need to consume to process that protein.”

What a vicious circle. We just get that calcium stored away in our bones and our body asks for it back after we drink or eat what we think is going to help build strong bones. The very thing that dairy industry says it is helping us prevent is causing the problem.

What about the athlete, how does this food choice impact performance and recovery? When we take in food our bodies convert those calories to provide us with energy and help us repair the natural damage that occurs during exercise. If we want to have a clean running engine we need to provide it with clean running fuel. Dairy products are not clean fuel. One of the biggest problems is that dairy is very hard to digest, in fact in our small intestine where nutrient absorption takes place dairy products tend to coat the tiny finger like projections that are working hard to gather nutrients to assimilate them into the body. This leaves us with a reduced ability to absorb the nutrients from both the dairy products and other foods we have consumed. Athletes strive for optimal nutrition to support their efforts and that can only happen with optimal absorption of the nutrients they consume.

When it comes to recovery there has been some misguided information that dairy products like chocolate milk are the perfect recovery food. While chocolate milk does have a good carb/protein ratio for recovery there is a bigger issue. When we workout we accumulate lactic acid in our bodies which causes the blood to become more acidic. Our bodies are always striving to maintain a neutral pH so consuming dairy after a workout will just increase the acid in our blood and slow down our recovery as well as lead to inflammation.

So what are the best alternatives to dairy products that will alkalize the blood and provide athletes with a clean source of fuel and optimal recovery? Let’s take a look at that next week.

Be sure to visit Deb’s website and feel free to contact her directly at 613-290-8733 or drop her an email.