Clearing up five common dairy myths
By Page Love, MS, RDN, CSSD, USPTA and Bailey Brumbach, Dietetic Intern, Life University
Why is dairy nutrition important to tennis players? Dairy products are packed with essential nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of the body, especially when it comes to tennis performance. Milk and other high-fluid dairy products, such as yogurt or cottage cheese, provide electrolytes, protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fluid. For athletes, milk and other dairy products provide a great source of carbohydrates to fuel the body during sports, and they offer a high-quality source of protein and electrolytes that are important for recovery and rehydration. In fact, research has shown that flavored milk (such as chocolate) rehydrates athletes more efficiently than sports beverages and water.
The unique nutritional composition of this food group gives milk and other dairy products an important role in both pre- and post-exercise nutrition. But there are a lot of common misconceptions about dairy consumption having a negative impact on athletic performance. Here are five common dairy myths and what current research has to say about debunking these false beliefs.
Myth 1: Milk contains harmful antibiotics and hormones that may affect hormone levels in our body
Fact: Store-bought milk goes through rigorous testing to ensure no antibiotics have entered the milk supply. Any milk that contains trace antibiotics is not allowed to be sold in stores and must be discarded. Naturally occurring, trace amounts of hormones present in milk, as well as other animal and plant foods, are completely broken down by the body during digestion (making them biologically inactive), and research has shown that they pose no health risks to hormone levels in our body or to athletic sports performance.
Additionally, many athletes have cut out milk and other dairy products from their diet unnecessarily due to fears that it will cause inflammation and irritate their gut, therefore hindering their athletic performance. Recent scientific evidence has revealed that milk and dairy products do not have adverse, systemic inflammatory effects in the body. In fact, evidence suggests that milk and fermented dairy products, like yogurt or kefir, may reduce systemic inflammation and improve inflammatory biomarkers. This benefit may, in fact, lessen muscle soreness after physical activity.
Myth 2: Dairy products contribute to excess mucus and exacerbate asthma
Fact: There is no evidence to suggest that milk or dairy consumption causes excessive mucus production or increases the occurrence of asthma exacerbations. Nor does it decrease athletic performance. Study results suggest that the perception of the way milk feels in the mouth and throat contributes to individuals’ reports of feeling that milk and dairy products worsen mucus production rather than any direct effect milk and dairy products have on these symptoms.
Myth 3: You must avoid all dairy products if you are lactose intolerant
Fact: For many athletes who have a lactose intolerance, consuming small amounts of aged cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, or yogurt tend to be tolerable because they have a low-lactose content. Yogurt contains live cultures that help to break down the lactose aiding in digestion. It’s important to remember to introduce dairy products slowly and only increase as tolerated. Additionally, bloating symptoms after dairy consumption are usually brought on by the body’s attempt to break down lactose. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should cut out dairy all together. Consuming low-lactose dairy foods, such as cottage cheese or low-fat milk and yogurt, make it easier on your body to digest and allows you to perform your best on the court!
Myth 4: Cutting out dairy will help with body fat loss
Fact: Dairy foods, when consumed in moderation and in conjunction with a healthy and balanced diet, can aid in weight loss. Dairy foods increase satiety, meaning they help you to feel fuller longer and reduce the occurrence of overeating, which can help with sustainable weight loss. Often, athletes will cut out dairy without replacing the nutrients it provides with another dietary source. Naturally, the total removal of an entire food group will promote weight loss if the removed calories are not replaced with an adequate alternative. However, this weight loss is not sustainable and can end up doing more harm than intended to athletic performance due to the removal of key nutrients needed for peak performance.
Myth 5: Don’t consume dairy before sports
Fact: Milk and other high-fluid dairy foods provide adequate amounts of fluid with electrolytes and are an excellent carbohydrate source that is low in fiber. These attributes make dairy a great pre-sport snack to enhance athletic performance. Furthermore, research supports that consumption of a rich source of calcium, particularly from a dairy source, just before sport may protect bone health.
For athletes who have chosen to remove dairy from their diet due to a diagnosed health condition or for environmental/ethical reasons, there are great fortified and natural vegan-friendly foods and beverages that provide the nutrients found in dairy foods.
Great vegan sources of calcium and protein include fortified soy, almond, and/or rice milk; fortified orange juice; leafy greens such as turnip greens, collards, and kale; garbanzo, kidney, and navy beans; seitan; tofu and edamame; and lentils.
What makes an adequate vegan dairy option? Look at the nutrition facts label and make sure the product provides 8-10 grams of protein and 300 mg of calcium per 100 ml.
Page Love is an avid ALTA participant and sport dietitian/nutrition advisor for the WTA and ATP professional tours, served on the USTA sport science committee for 25 years, and has a private practice in Sandy Springs. You can reach her at nutrifitga.com. Bailey Brumbach is a dietetic intern with Life University’s Dietetic Internship and interned with Page this last year as she is training to become a registered dietitian.