• Country

Should Cyclists Drink Milk?

By Jiri Kaloc

Milk carries a lot of beneficial nutrients but it has a somewhat controversial reputation. There can be downsides to milk consumption for some people but there are also lots of myths floating around. Let’s take a closer look at milk to help you decide if you should drink it as a cyclist.

The nutritional profile of milk

Milk has a lot to offer in terms of essential nutrients. A glass of full-fat cow’s milk will provide you with the following.

  • 146 kcal
  • 8 g of protein
  • 8 g of fat
  • 12 g carbohydrates
  • 11 g of sugars
  • 28% daily calcium
  • 26% daily vitamin B2
  • 22% daily phosphorus
  • 18% daily vitamin B12
  • 13% daily selenium
  • 10% daily potassium

It’s also important to say that the protein in milk is top notch. Whey, the highest-quality protein known makes up around 20% of the protein in milk. The remaining 80% is made up of casein, another high-quality protein. Both of these are complete proteins high in leucine. They are great for recovery after training and for maintaining general health.

The perfect recovery drink

Milk is an excellent recovery drink because it does all three of the most important things you need after a hard ride.

  • High-quality protein to kickstart muscle repair
  • Lactose to restore liver glycogen
  • Electrolytes to speed up rehydration

Dairy allergy and lactose intolerance

Unfortunately, as great as milk is, it’s not for everyone. There are two main reasons why – dairy allergy and lactose intolerance. Dairy allergies are the most common in childhood but often continue into adulthood. The symptoms range from unpleasant such as diarrhoea, vomiting, dermatitis and wheezing, to severe, including anaphylaxis. For anyone with a dairy allergy, milk is not an option.

Lactose, the sugar found in milk, requires an enzyme to be broken down in the gut end digested. Although humans are born with this enzyme, the amount reduces to very low levels after childhood in most people. Around 60-70% of the world’s population experiences unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms when they eat more than a certain amount of lactose. Lactose intolerance is less prevalent in Northern and Western Europe. But if you have it, you likely have to limit milk to very small amounts or completely.

Myths about milk

Now that we covered the real benefits and the downsides of milk, it’s time to debunk the most common myths.

Milk and inflammation – Some people believe milk is a pro-inflammatory food, increasing inflammatory markers and whole-body inflammation. However, clinical trials have repeatedly shown that milk and dairy are not inflammatory. In fact, a recent meta-analysis shows that milk may be anti-inflammatory in some health conditions.

Milk and cancer – Some people believe that milk causes cancer. However, the evidence on this subject is mixed. Some studies do show an association between dairy and an increased risk of certain cancers while others associate it with a lower risk. But most importantly, studies on this topic are observational, and can’t really tell us if it is dairy that’s causing the cancer or protecting against it. Until we have stronger evidence and a clearer picture, it’s hard to argue the great nutritional benefits of milk are outweighed by weak associations with some cancers.

Milk and mucus and congestion – Claims that drinking milk causes congestion and production of mucus are quite common. Current research is not showing anything that would back up this rumour.

To drink or not to drink?

Milk is a great source of many essential nutrients. It can serve as a near-perfect recovery drink after exercise. People who are allergic to dairy or lactose intolerant have to avoid milk but for everyone else, the benefits far outweigh potential risks.