If your athletes are sipping on chocolate soy milk or splashing almond milk into their cereal before meets, you might be surprised to learn that these popular dairy alternatives are missing some key nutrients that are typically found in the more classic dairy options. While some athletes can’t drink milk for health or ethics reasons - like a lactose intolerance or vegan philosophy - it’s important to understand that milk alternatives aren’t going to provide the same protein, carbohydrate, or micronutrient profile as cow’s milk. And many of the options on the market now are packed with added sugars and preservatives.
While the CDC recommends that children drink two to three cups of cow's milk per day, there are milk alternatives available that can be used to replace the nutrients found in traditional milk.
Here’s what you should pay attention to when assessing which dairy alternative to give your athlete.
It may surprise you to hear that milk is a fantastic source of protein: A single cup of milk, regardless of fat percentage, contains eight grams of protein. Compare that to a standard almond milk, which typically contains around one gram of protein per serving.
If you’re concerned that your athlete needs more protein in his or her diet, consider a non-dairy milk that’s enriched with pea protein or look for a soy milk, since soy most closely mimics dairy’s nutritional profile with eight grams of protein per cup.
For optimal bone health, calcium is key—and anyone who remembers the Got Milk campaigns of the 1990s knows that milk is one of the best ways to get enough calcium in your diet. Fortunately, many non-dairy milk options recognize the importance of calcium in a healthy daily diet and add it to the non-dairy milk as a supplement. Check the nutrition facts to find a non-dairy milk that offers 25 percent of the daily value per cup of milk.