Tried and True:The Dairy Dilemma

The Dairy Dilemma

The worlds of sports and sports science are changing at a pace faster than Usain Bolt can run the 100-meter race. As a registered dietitian and board-certified sports specialist, my approach with my athletes is one of evidence base with a touch of common sense. Science needs time for enough data to be collected before evidence begins to shift. Athletes are seeking that competitive edge in this fast-paced world and are rather susceptible to buying into the latest fads, especially when it comes to food and diet.

Three Simple Rules of Recommendations

I use three simple rules when considering nutrition recommendations or support for the athletes I work with.

  1. Does it actually improve performance?

While this seems elementary, I often find athletes have not made sure the food or supplement improves their performance.  The placebo effect can be a powerful thing by simply paying attention to what goes into the body, and thus taking better care of it.

  1. How much is needed (dosage) to improve performance or enhance recovery?

There are many foods and supplements that, on paper, seem to enhance performance. However, in actuality the benefit may require large amounts of a particular food, leading to significant gastrointestinal issues or requiring the food is eaten every two hours. Another important factor is the cost analysis. Perhaps the dosing needed to provide the benefit costs the athlete more than $200 a month. In this case, it would make more sense to invest those funds in more nutritious foods.

  1. Is it practical and portable?

Sports are not conducted in a laboratory. Many times, athletes are at the mercy of what can be in their car during their recovery window or what can be carried in the pocket of their running shorts. For college athletes, another consideration is whether they can make the nutrition plan work on a tight grocery budget or in a dorm with limited space.

I am frequently asked during presentations “Is chocolate milk still the best thing to drink for recovery?” This is then followed with questions and confusion about milk, yogurt and cheese.

I decided to reach out and interview Andrew Dole, MS, RDN, CSSD, CEC, USAT I, who is a fellow sports dietitian, competitive triathlete, chef and National Dairy Council Ambassador. We tackled many of those confusing, misinformed messages that are circulating out there about dairy and athletic performance. To listen to the full podcast interview, click here.

Tackling Myths around Dairy & Athletic Performance

The first question we chose to tackle was the discussion around milk and dairy increasing or causing inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a word used quite commonly, but most of the time, understanding is lacking for how this concept is tied to performance. Andrew shared, “The reason you would have inflammation when consuming dairy is because you have an allergy or intolerance to it.“

The big picture for dairy is that it contains nutrients that decrease inflammation. For example, when an athlete consumes cow’s milk for recovery, they also are taking in fluid, carbohydrates, protein, fat, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and other peptides that help regulate the inflammatory process.1

Some have speculated that the reason one may have an allergic reaction or intolerance is that humans were not meant to consume milk or milk-related products past infancy. This speculation discounts the fact that our average lifespan has evolved from 39 years a century ago to 78 years in 2018.2 This all dependent on the body’s ability to produce lactase enzyme past infancy.

Within our body, our DNA can evolve for survival, and this is called epigenetics. The human body has evolved to continue to produce digestive enzymes such as lactase (lactase-phlorizin hydrolase) throughout the lifespan. Without these adaptations, we wouldn’t have been able to increase our life expectancy. Evolutionary adaptation allowed humans to be able to grow, harvest, prepare and cook our food. This greatly expanded our ability to increase nutritional variety and absorptive availability as well as increased our ability to cultivate foods during times of famine.3

We have seen capabilities of our athletes evolve over time due to an increase in knowledge around training periodization enhanced by nutrition periodization.4 Nutrition science has also played a huge part in the athlete’s ability to maintain and gain muscle. Whey protein (found in cow’s milk) has been heavily studied for its role in athletic performance, yet recent trends show athletes pursuing non-dairy protein sources, like almond or soy milk. Whey protein has been known to be the gold-standard in sources of protein, as it is the richest in leucine. Leucine is known for its nutrient-sensing capabilities to up-regulate the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (MTOR-1). There is emerging research that leucine also represses proteasomal degradation, decreasing muscle breakdown.5

Dairy- “tried & true”

Despite the ongoing confusion around dairy, it has shown it not only can be included in an athlete’s diet, but it also can enhance an athlete’s performance. Dairy meets my simple three rules as a sports dietitian for my consideration of an athlete’s food. A 12-ounce serving of chocolate milk paired with a banana offers a well-balanced recovery snack and gives the athlete fluid, carbohydrate, protein, calcium, and vitamin D at a whopping cost of about $1.  In this fast-paced ever-changing world, sometimes it is the “tried and true” that stands the test of time!

Disclosure: This blog post was created in partnership with Midwest Dairy, I was compensated for my time, however, rest assure I go off science and evidence based practices.All opinions are my own  


  1. Silva, Marine S. Da, and Iwona Rudkowska. “Dairy Nutrients and Their Effect on Inflammatory Profile in Molecular Studies.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, vol. 59, no. 7, 2015, pp. 1249–1263., doi:10.1002/mnfr.201400569.
  1. Devitt, Michael. “CDC Data Show U.S. Life Expectancy Continues to Decline.” AAFP Home, 10 Dec. 2018,
  1. Luca, F., et al. “Evolutionary Adaptations to Dietary Changes.” Annual Review of Nutrition, vol. 30, no. 1, 2010, pp. 291–314., doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141048.
  1. Burke, Louise M., and John A. Hawley. “Swifter, Higher, Stronger: What’s on the Menu?” Science, vol. 362, no. 6416, 2018, pp. 781–787., doi:10.1126/science.aau2093.
  1. Torre-Villalvazo, Iván, et al. “Protein Intake and Amino Acid Supplementation Regulate Exercise Recovery and Performance through the Modulation of MTOR, AMPK, FGF21, and Immunity.” Nutrition Research, vol. 72, 2019, pp. 1–17., doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2019.06.006.