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Leave it to Dairy

One of the most common food areas I find athletes lacking in is dairy. Dairy foods are a super important food group that provide a LOT of nutrients wrapped up in one, so it makes nourishing the body that much easier.


Before we get into the specifics of foods that contain dairy, let's talk about the nutrients that provide nourishment to our bodies.


Nutrients in Dairy


Calcium is the most commonly heard about nutrient that dairy foods provide and is the main building blocks of our bones, teeth, nails, even cartilage. In order to build strong bones, teeth and so forth, there are certain times in our lifecycles that we are in the growth-phase and need to encourage calcium intakes.

This mineral is also required for your muscles to contract- hello athletes! So just like the energy your muscles need to keep going in sport, your muscles also need to make sure they have enough calcium 1.


So our bodies need calcium to build our bone density (the strength of your bone, how thick they are) and also to make our muscles move. However, if we aren't getting enough calcium, our muscles can still use calcium, but guess what happens? It's actually pulled from our bones, limiting the strength of them over time (density), and thus leading to poor bone density which in young, teen, or even adult athletes, can lead to injuries such as stress fractures and breaks and over time, osteopenia (bone loss, which can be improved) or osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones, usually stemmed from osteopenia and tends to occur later in life) 2.


Calcium cannot build our bones and be absorbed without other nutrients. Vitamin D is an important nutrient needed during digestion of calcium in order for calcium to be absorbed into the bones. Some dairy foods are fortified with Vitamin D, meaning the manufacturer adds this to the food because it is not naturally there (Vitamin D milk, Orange Juice with Vitamin D) or you can include foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D like salmon, eggs, cheese, yogurt, or mushrooms, and even getting 5-10 minutes of sunlight on general areas of your body likes hands, arms, legs and face.


Phosphorus is the next mineral and electrolyte that dairy foods have, which for athletes is imperative to their overall sports performance. Phosphorus is needed in just about every metabolic process in the body, as the energy produced by the body requires phosphorus. Your bones and teeth requires phosphorus to work with calcium to strengthen them.


And let us not forget a macronutrient, absolutely required by athletes- Carbohydrates! Most dairy foods contain a proportionate amount of carbohydrates per serving, making them a great addition to a meal or snack for an athlete to ensure enough energy is being provided to the muscles for sports performance.


Although commonly known for calcium, look at these other nutrients an athlete can include in their diet if dairy foods are consumed!


Let's now find out about what foods contain dairy and how an athlete can add them into their daily routine.


Foods


The most common dairy food we hear about is of course Milk. And I mean MILK, not almond "milk", oat "milk", cashew "milk", soy "milk", but plain old cow's milk. Unfortunately, the other "milks" do not contain the same nutrients and benefits that cow's milk does. And I of course am not focusing this on those with milk or dairy allergies, so if that's you, I'm not offended if you don't read on.


Milk is a budget-friendly item, found in schools breakfast and lunch programs, at the grocery store, a convenience store beverage cooler, even at common fast food chains. It's quick and easy. Flavored milks are ALSO appropriate! Yes to the parents- they CAN have flavored milks. A growing adolescent involved in sports requires the additional energy. Their muscles will use it, and it encourages intake. Let them drink the chocolate or strawberry milk.



Next up, cheese please! What a great option in so many ways. Cheese is also a great option for lose who require low-lactose, as everyone is different with a lactose intolerance and trial and error can be done.

Consider these options for cheese:

  • Add to eggs

  • Sprinkle on top a salad

  • Mix with vegetables

  • Slice or use pre-cut/string cheese for a snack in your lunch or on-the-go

  • Add onto a sandwich or pita

  • Mix into casseroles or pasta dishes

  • Melt on a burger or as a grilled cheese


Cottage cheese or yogurts can be used interchangeably and are a great snack or part of a meal. They can also be used as a dessert!

  • Add frozen, canned or fresh fruit to make it budget-friendly for additional fiber and antioxidants

  • Mix into a smoothie

  • Add on top toast

  • Top a salad with cottage cheese

  • Make overnight oats


And athletes, don't forget about ice cream! Similar to flavored milk, ice cream can be a great option to make sure you're getting enough carbohydrates to fuel your body and prevent energy deficiency along with getting you the calcium you need for your growing body to build strong bones and prevent injuries.


An easy way to remember how much dairy you should have, is 3-a-day Dairy™ for strong bones!


A serving at breakfast, lunch and dinner is an easy 1-2-3!




Resources

  1. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. 2009. Sports and Exercise Nutrition. Third Edition. Wolters and Kluwer Health.

  2. Osteoporosis. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. 4/26/2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4443-osteoporosis


Information provided on this website does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to assist in the diagnosis, treatment or alleviation of any medical condition. Persons seeking to address a medical condition should consult with a qualified medical professional. Emily Richters Fasciana LLC will not be liable for any damages, losses, injury or liability suffered as a result of reliance on the information provided on this website.

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