Dairy for Athletes: Friend or Foe

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05/31/2005| 0 comments
by Kathy Zawadzki

Dairy for Athletes: Friend or Foe

Some love it, others can't stand it. Do dairy products make good fuel for athletes?

You have seen the ads in magazines, billboards and on television.  They all tell us that milk ?Does a Body Good.? The National "got milk?" Milk Mustache Campaign is jointly funded by America's milk processors and dairy farmers ? of course they are going to tell you it?s good for you!  It is a slick ad campaign that is designed to convince us that dairy products are not only wholesome, but that every man, woman and child would benefit from drinking at least three glasses of milk a day.  But does this apply to athletes as well?


Dairy is essential for young athletes

Recent figures show that the amount of soft drinks teenagers consume has risen by more than three gallons per capita over the past decade, while the amount of milk consumed has dropped by the same amount. On average, teens are drinking only one glass of milk a day.  Data from 99 children followed over 12 years from ages 3 to 13 suggest that low intakes of dairy products during childhood may contribute to their acquiring more body fat. Teens missing out on milk are missing out on good nutrition. During teen years, nearly half of all bone mass is formed and about 15 percent of adult height is added. That's why it is so important for teens to include three to four glasses of milk each day for calcium to do its job to help build strong bones, especially for young athletes.


What about the grown-up athletes?

Dairy foods (including milk, cheese and yogurt) provide carbohydrates, protein and a truckload of essential vitamins and minerals.  We always hear about the benefits of the high levels of calcium found in dairy products, but you will also find vitamins A and D, riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, B-vitamins and (in some yogurts) active cultures of beneficial bacteria.  At only 85 calories for a small 8-ounce cup of skim milk you get approximately 12 grams of carbohydrate along with 8 grams of protein ? both necessary nutrients for athletes ? and almost no fat.  This is indeed an appropriate beverage for most athletes.  It is easy to digest and provides the package of nutrients needed to build strong bones and bodies.


If you are not the type to down a cold glass of milk, there are some ?sneaky? ways to get dairy in your day.  You can blend a cup of low-fat yogurt in with some frozen fruit for a smoothie, you can sprinkle an ounce of cheese on top of your pasta, or prepare your morning coffee with a cup of skim milk and enjoy a latte.


When making choices for the recommended three servings a day, it is critical to include low-fat or non-fat varieties of dairy products.  An 8-ounce cup of WHOLE milk will add about 150 calories and 8 grams of fat to your daily intake.   Cheeses are a great way to spice up many meals, but being picky pays off.  Traditional hard cheeses such as American, Swiss and Cheddar contain 100-120 calories per 1-ounce serving, and pack a whopping 9 grams of fat, with 6 of those classified as the artery clogging saturated fats. Softer cheeses, like goat cheese, or low-fat cheeses will save you calories and 4-6 grams of saturated fat (per 1-ounce serving). Also be careful to limit other high fat dairy products such as ice cream, buttermilk & cream.


Calcium and weight loss

A growing body of research shows that when cutting calories to lose weight, including 3 servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day helps people burn more fat and lose more weight than just cutting calories alone. Previous studies have shown that calcium can boost weight loss by increasing fat breakdown in fat cells. But experts say new research suggests that taking in calcium from dairy products may actually improve on those effects.  The mix of nutrients found in dairy foods, especially calcium may be responsible for helping the body break down and burn fat.


One review of recent research concluded that dietary calcium may play an important role in the regulation of energy metabolism and may result in a decrease in body fat and a faster weight and fat loss during times of cutting calories. This review also concluded that dairy sources of calcium demonstrate substantially greater effects than supplements or fortified sources.


Although much of the research has been conducted on obese individuals, a small study conducted at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center looked at 35 non-obese, healthy adults.  Their results showed that a higher dietary calcium intake over a 24-hour period was associated with burning significantly more body fat during sleep and, to a lesser extent, during light physical activity.


One important factor to remember is that calories still count.  The research in no way suggests that you can have free reign on any and all dairy products.  It is important to choose low-fat, or non-fat versions of your favorite dairy foods to limit caloric and fat intake. 


The ?other? side

In addition to dairy supporters, there are also critics of the dairy councils ?push? on their products.  Although it is true that there are many nutritional benefits for athletes to consume dairy products, there could also be a few drawbacks.  The biggest concern is related to the addition of Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) that is injected into dairy cows to increase milk yield.  This hormone has been cited as questionable for human consumption.  In addition, some dairy farmers treat their cows with antibiotics.  These drugs stay in the milk until consumed.  Recently, the World Health Organization showed their concern by stating the overuse of antibiotics in beef and milk presents a ?growing risk to human health and should be reduced.?


One possible solution to this situation could be to only consume organic dairy products.  Although more expensive, organic dairy products come from cows that are not injected with any hormones or antibiotics.  Studies conducted in Wisconsin and Vermont, found that consumer are willing to pay as much as $3 more for organic milk and as much as $1.50 for milk labeled as being produced from cows not treated with growth hormones.  As an added bonus, a recent Danish study reported that organic milk was, on average, higher in Vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein and omega 3 essential fatty acids than conventionally produced milk.  Deciding what type to include in your nutrition plan really comes down to your own personal preference.

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