Dairy alternatives have been big in the running world for several years. As more people pay closer attention to their nutrition, many find themselves trying new things like cutting out food groups in an effort to improve their health. 

In the running community, many people are looking for a competitive edge and doing so through their diet. Katherine Jessop, registered dietitian with a specialization in sports nutrition says, “I think there is generally an interesting trend in trying different kinds of diets in hopes of a competitive advantage. Dairy has often been associated with negative implications that may or may not actually affect people.”

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Jessop says that many people try eliminating dairy to limit bloating or gastrointestinal issues. “For runners, dairy is a food that ideally they should be taking in. It’s such a good bone builder, and runners put so much stress on their bodies. Calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are all crucial to bone health and they’re easily found in, and absorbed from dairy products.”

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Jessop explains that there are lots of foods that are high in calcium, but that calcium may not be as easily absorbed, or bio-available, from that particular food.  Calcium is most easily available in animal products.

If a runner is concerned that they have a lactose intolerance, Jessop recommends adopting lactose-free foods instead of turning to plant-based alternatives. However, if a runner has an allergy or is vegan, soy milk is her first recommendation. “If you are cutting out dairy, start with soy milk over almond, oat or hemp milk because it’s higher in calcium and magnesium. Also be sure to include a source of protein, as dairy alternatives have about one third of the protein of cow’s milk.”

Oat milk, which has become very popular over the last year, is also a good alternative. When compared side-by-side with cow’s milk, oat milk is higher in carbohydrates, roughly 60 per cent lower in protein and also lower in vitamin D, but the calcium and vitamin A are both similar to cow’s milk due to product fortification. 

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Calcium and magnesium are naturally occurring in cow’s milk, so whenever you’re buying a dairy alternative, make sure that they’re fortified with those nutrients. Jessop ensures that it’s entirely possible to adopt a vegan diet or eliminate dairy as a runner, it just means paying more attention to what you’re eating. “If you’re eliminating dairy, there needs to be a significant commitment to understanding nutrition that doesn’t have to happen when you’re eating animal products. I recommend having a very broad diet. You’re more likely to get what you need nutritionally if you’re eating a wide variety of foods.”

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