Athletes & Plant-Based Milks
The hashtag ‘plantbasedathlete’ has over 167k posts and ‘veganathlete’ has over 615k posts. This is pretty indicative of the currently popularity of plant based eating among the fitness and athletic crowd. As a sports dietitian and elite athlete, I understand this trend. Plant forward eating has been associated with fighting inflammation, boosting cardio function, increased immunity, better digestion, decreased weight, and improved overall health. Athletes want to be healthy, not just at their sport, but in day to day life as well and many of them see adopting a plant-based diet as a way to do this.
Switching to a plant based diet includes changing eating and drinking habits, and for many, can be daunting with the large variety of substitute products available. Simply choosing non-dairy milk beverages over dairy based serves as an easy way for athletes to ease into a more plant based diet without sacrificing flavor, nutrients or performance. These plant-based beverages, either nut or grain derived, can be added to an athlete’s typical meals (cereal, oats, smoothies, etc…) without disrupting the overall fueling routine. Consistency, and normalcy is crucial to a performance nutrition plan, so finding plant-based substitutes that cause minor changes to routine is a must. Beyond being an easy swap, there is a big nutrition benefit. Diary based milks have slower to digest forms of protein which can cause gastric discomfort in some athletes. Beyond easing a sensitive gut, using a grain based milk before workout sessions can provide more usable energy in the form of carbohydrates and less GI disrupting fat & protein. Almond milk can provide athletes with a functional boost day to day due to the Vitamin E content. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that targets muscles, reducing inflammation and promoting the healing / recovery process. For post workout benefit, athletes can turn to milked peanuts with chocolate. Similar to chocolate dairy milk, this creamy beverage is a delicious way to recover from training sessions by supplying the body with carbohydrates alongside 8 grams of protein per serving to aid in muscle recovery and rebuilding. The antioxidant rich cocoa also assists in reducing inflammation and the small amount of added sugar is actually crucial to replenish the body’s supply of glucose which is depleted during training.
Overall, introducing nut and grain derived beverages over dairy is a healthy alternative that can provide an athlete’s body with additional phytonutrients, less gastric strain, faster energy to burn and a better ratio of nutrients to speed up recovery post training. These benefits can potentially work to boost performance without disrupting the athlete’s normal eating patterns.