Sports Nutrition: Dairy - Good or Bad?

Sports Nutrition: Dairy - Good or Bad?

Dairy - is it good or bad for us?  Is it affecting our performance in a positive or negative way?

We are delighted to be able to talk with Paulina Sutton, a BANT Registered Nutritional Therapist and Endurance Sport expert to bring you the inside track on Dairy foods, and whether we should keep or remove them from our diets for optimal performance.  Over to Paulina...


"Gastrointestinal symptoms are estimated to affect 30-50% of endurance athletes."

These are generally mild, although they may have a significant adverse effect on your training outcomes.

Sometimes symptoms may relate to consuming dairy products and because of this, more and more athletes are leading a trend towards buying products without dairy. 

UK supermarkets are increasingly stocking up aisles with wide “dairy free” ranges of products. Interestingly, the majority of “free from” products are bought by people who do not identify having allergies or intolerance to dairy. They believe the products will be healthier which isn’t often the case. Quite often “lactose free products” are used for marketing and advertising purposes at a more expensive price.

So, what is good and bad about dairy?

A quick overview...

Dairy products are a type of food produced from the milk of mammals - primarily cattle but also goats and sheep.  They include foods such as milk, yoghurt, cheese and butter.

Dairy products are rich in amino acids, proteins, lipids, minerals and vitamins, calcium and friendly probiotic bacteria.

"Generally, there is no need to remove dairy from the diet without a solid reason."

These beneficial properties could also aid in fluid recovery after exercising, slow digestion and absorption of amino acids which may lead have a large impact on muscle metabolism and therefore, helping to slow muscle damage and muscle repair process.

However, apart from Veganism - where you refrain from consuming meat, eggs, dairy products and any other animal-derived substances, there could be other reasons why dairy is NOT for you: 

  • Some people may be allergic to protein in dairy (whey or casein) or intolerant to the sugars found in dairy (lactose) 
  • Dairy can also trigger and mediate Acne
  • Cancer patients often decide to quit dairy because of the high content of Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) promoting cancer growth

So, let’s dive a little deeper into reasons why you shouldn’t consume dairy products...


If you suffer from facial swelling, throat or tongue swelling after consuming dairy you probably have an allergy to dairy proteins called whey or casein. 

Allergy occurs when the body produces an immune response to protein.  Some cases may even trigger anaphylaxis.  It is best to check with your doctor if you’re suffering with above symptoms. 

If you know you suffer from the allergy, you should avoid dairy products full stop.  Your diet should be then be focused on providing enough calcium and protein from other products. 


Lactose is the main sugar in dairy products and some people may suffer from lactose intolerance or sometimes histamine intolerance.

When we consume diary product, we need plenty of enzymes to break the sugar bonds in order to absorb/digest the product.  If you suffer from abdominal discomfort like diarrhoea, bloating or flatulence after consuming dairy, or skin problems like rash or psoriasis, you may have intolerance to lactose.  

One glass of milk contains around 10 grams of lactose - which is a lot for your digestive system to deal with!  However, swapping a glass of milk to the fermented product “kefir” - which contains beneficial probiotic bacteria that help us to break the lactose bonds - and therefore they become easier for our gastrointestinal system to absorb. 

"Milk, dairy ice cream or processed foods containing powdered milk have the highest content of lactose."

I recommend avoiding them if you suffer from lactose intolerance.  

I encourage you to try fermented products like kefir, natural/plain yoghurt or hard cheese where lactose concentration is as low as 0.005g per teaspoon - and then observe your body’s reaction. 


Many studies are emerging on the correlation of dairy and the skin condition acne

Acne is a complex interaction between hormones, bacteria, blood sugar and inflammation, and dairy can play a part in this disease. 

Dairy however isn’t a main cause of acne.  However it is worth removing dairy from the diet for couple of months and observe how the body reacts. The focus of the diet will be to provide enough calcium and protein from other sources.

So, why is dairy good for you?

Pre and Probiotics

Probiotic bacteria are friendly organisms who live in our gastrointestinal tract where they can break down foods for us and prepare them for absorption, they also produce vitamins like Vitamin K, improve mental health conditions or reduce allergies and eczema. 

Prebiotic foods are compounds of plants that feed our friendly bacteria and keep them alive. Most known prebiotic foods are alliums (garlic, onion, leeks) asparagus and chicory. 

To keep our body and gastrointestinal tract healthy, we need a regular consumption of pre and pro-biotics.


Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life.  In addition to building and keeping bones and teeth healthy calcium enables our blood to clot, our muscles to contract, and our heart to beat.  About 99% of calcium in our bodies is in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1% is located in our blood. 

"The recommended daily amount of calcium from food varies between 1000 - 1200 mg/day."

If we don’t consume enough calcium our bones will start to leach calcium into the blood and compromise our bone mineral density making our bones weak and putting us at risk of osteoporosis.

How do I get enough calcium in one day?

That depends if you consume dairy or not.  You can still reach your daily calcium target without dairy, but more careful planning is needed.

If you consume dairy, try adding natural, unflavoured kefir, natural/Greek yoghurt, or Skyr to your daily diet.  These are easier to digest compared to milk. 

1 glass of plain kefir contains around a 1/3 of the daily required calcium (350mg). The hard cheese, Parmesan, is a rich source of calcium - but also is high in fat and salt so adding 1-2 teaspoons sprinkled on food will give us extra 100mg of calcium.  You can also include mozzarella, gouda or cheddar which are also rich in calcium.

If you don’t consume dairy, plan your meals ahead and make sure you check your daily calcium targets. 

"One glass of fortified nut milk can vary widely from 20-200mg of calcium so reading the label is crucial to reach your targets"

Other foods like tofu, almonds, mineral water, green leafy vegetables or broccoli provide reasonable amount (half a broccoli contains around 125mg calcium).

One tin of sardines or small fish consumed with bones are a rich source of calcium and provides 300mg.

Seeds are also very good source of calcium:

  • 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds - 90mg of calcium 
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds - 63mg of calcium 
  • 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds - 127mg of calcium

For example; making a Chia Pudding with calcium fortified plant milk, a handful of almonds, a tablespoon of sesame and chia seeds can go as far as 500mg calcium - which is half of our daily recommended intake.  Adding some fruit like an orange will increase it another 100mg.

Below, I've put together some easy sports nutrition recipes - they require very little effort and you can rest assured you’ll be eating a nutritious meal! 

Post training berry smoothie 

Post training berry smoothie sports nutrition

A great source of protein and carbs replenishment for recovery - suitable for after your race or training session - a favourite for athletes with a focus on recovery and performance.


  • 350ml of nut milk
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Protein Powder (vegan or dairy)
  • 150g of frozen berries (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry)
  • 2 tbsp of nut butter
  • 3 tbsp mixed seeds (pumpkin, flaxseed, chia)
  • 1 good handful of greens (spinach, kale or chard)
  • 40g of oats


  1. Really easy - just pour the nut milk into the blender first, then all the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
  2. Top up with kefir or yogurt, if desired.

Baked Porridge 

Baked Porridge Sports Nutrition

This one is perfect as a pre-race - or before a training session.


  • 350ml of nut milk
  • 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder (vegan or dairy)
  • 150g of frozen berries (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry)
  • 2 tbsp of nut butter
  • 3 tbsp mixed seeds (pumpkin, flaxseed, chia)
  • 40g of oats
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spray a small baking tin with olive oil spray. 
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
  3. Pour into prepared baking tin.
  4. Top with nuts, if desired.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the centre appears almost set, which gives us a soft oatmeal as pictured above.
  6. For drier and more solid baked oatmeal, bake until centre has set. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.
  7. Spoon or slice and serve with kefir or yogurt, if desired.
  8. Cover leftovers tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 week.


Paulina Sutton is a BANT Registered Nutritional Therapy student with a focus on nutrition for endurance sport, with an emphasis on both performance and overall health. 

From the early age Paulina has been involved in Badminton, and has represented her Country in the sport  

A while ago, she took on the challenge of long-distance triathlons, and has completed 5 in 5 years.  She quickly realised that as a coach she can help people achieve their goals - and now she’s been involved in coaching triathlon of all distances.

A highlight of her coaching career was a trip to Ironman World Championships 2019 in Hawaii to help clients achieve their goals.

Paulina can help you become healthier, and perform better, faster and stronger. 

From November 2020, Paulina will be conducting online, one–to–one consultations with athletes.

For more information on how to get started, please email her at:

For brilliant nutritional information to help you achieve your health and fitness goals, follow her at @embrace_nutrition_org

The British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) is a professional body for Registered Nutrition Practitioners.

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