Some athletes for health or ethical reasons do not drink regular milk. With milk being a great source of nutrients and energy, it is important that they find a viable alternative to regular milk, that can provide you with a nutrient fix.
Milk has a great balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates and contains some essential nutrients such as calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin B12, magnesium and zinc. With milk being such a valuable asset for many athletes, most of whom consume milk on a regular basis, do plant-based milk measure up well against regular milk? Are there any benefits of opting for plant-based milk as opposed to regular milk? What type of plant-based milk is considered the best for athletes? We will explore plant-based milk and compare the various available varieties to give you a good picture with regards to which plant-based milk is best for athletes.
However, before we go into the comparative depths of which plant-based milk is best, let’s first try to understand the benefits of plant-based milk in comparison to regular milk for athletes.
Benefits of Plant-Based Milk for Athletes
A plant-based diet is known to provide all the nutrients that are needed by your body for training and competition. Though it can become difficult to source certain nutrients such as protein, many athletes have seen boosts in performance from switching over to the plant-based diet.
The plant-based diet is high in carbohydrates but is low in fat which is why it is known to support and improve athletic performance. The diet also ensures that you get a good dose of rich vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which enables your body to work at optimum conditions.
When it comes to plant-based milk, they too contain a wholesome amount of vitamins and minerals which provides a great source of nutrition. Plant-based milk is a great way to start the day and often goes well with breakfast. It is also a reliable addition to a protein shake, adding further nutrients to the drink.
One of the primary benefits of plant-based milk in comparison to dairy is the fact that most plant-based milk contains low levels of fat. This makes it a wise choice for many athletes. Athletes require more protein and carbohydrates than fat. Fat can work to slow down digestion and can also lead to weight gain if not careful. The low-fat content of plant-based milk enables you to maintain a healthier physique, lean body muscle, enabling your body to perform better.
Plant-based milk is also a good source of carbohydrates. With carbohydrates being the primary source of energy for athletes, it is important that you source plenty of carbohydrates from your diet. That being the case, plant-based milk does not carry too many calories, making it a low-calorie alternative that provides as a high-quality energy source.
Further to the fact that plant-based milk contains low levels of fat, the fat that is found in plant-based milk is in a healthy combination of mono and polyunsaturated fats. This balanced ratio of available fats are great for the body and will work to further optimise athletic performance.
Yet another benefit of plant-based milk in comparison to dairy is the fact that they don’t contain cholesterol. Cholesterol even for athletes can be a reason to worry. High levels of cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries which hampers cardiovascular performance. This means it is more likely you would experience fatigue sooner and also run the risk of cardiovascular disease. Yes, even athletes have cardiovascular issues.
The fact that plant-based milk does not contain cholesterol makes it a valuable choice for athletes. You simply are able to reap all the benefits of a nutritious drink without having to worry about the negative attributes such as cholesterol and fat. There simply is no need for bad cholesterol for athletes, hence opting for a cholesterol-free brand of milk allows you to sidestep many issues and complications that may arise with your health in the future.
Further to the fact that plant-based milk is a great source of vitamins and minerals, they are considered easier to digest than dairy. The fact that plant-based milk is easier to digest makes them a great source of nutrients to be included in a pre-workout meal.
Plant-based milk usually won’t cause any digestive complications that you otherwise may observe with dairy. Further to this, if you are lactose intolerant, you know for certain that plant-based milk is the way to go. For those who suffer from lactose intolerance, regular milk is simply not an option and plant-based milk provide a great alternative to regular milk for these athletes too.
Due to the fact that plant-based milk is easier to digest, it is less likely you would suffer from digestive issues during training that can hamper performance. Instead, it contains a wholesome amount of nutrients, including valuable carbohydrates which will work to provide you with a good amount of energy and will work to keep fatigue at bay.
Drawbacks of Plant-Based Milk for Athletes
Though plant-based milk is considered an overall asset for athletes, there is one major drawback of plant-based milk in comparison to regular milk. Plant-based milk simply does not contain the levels of protein that regular milk does.
With regular milk containing about 8 grams of protein in one cup (243 g), most plant-based milk simply do not provide the body with this much protein. Protein is an essential part of athletic performance. Many athletes require a good amount of protein to grow and maintain muscle mass. The muscles that are torn down during training have to be repaired, for which you absolutely need protein.
A good way to counteract this protein deficiency in plant-based milk is by adding a plant-based protein powder to the milk. This enhances the nutrient quality of the drink and can work to provide your body with a good dose of protein in combination with other nutrients.
The plant-based milk which comes close to regular milk in terms of protein is soy milk. Soy milk contains a good amount of protein, with one cup containing 8 grams. The protein content of soy milk equates to the protein content of regular milk. However, soy as that found in soy milk contains compounds known as antinutrients. These natural antinutrients can work to reduce your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. They can also hamper the digestion of protein and carbohydrates.
Hence, don’t jump to conclusions just yet, soy milk may not be the best plant-based milk for athletes.
Further to the fact that plant-based milk does not contain the same amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D which are other important nutrients for athletes, aren’t found in large quantities in plant-based milk. You do find more calcium and vitamin D in fortified plant-based milk which becomes the obvious better option.
Which Plant-Based Milk is Best for Athletes?
Now that you understand the benefits and drawbacks of plant-based milk in comparison to dairy, let’s dive into why you searched for this article to begin with. Which plant-based milk is considered the best for athletes?
There are various plant-based milks in the market. We will look into the major plant-based types of milk and highlight which is the best plant-based milk for athletes to choose that provides the best nutrient balance and benefits.
We have analysed each plant-based milk based on 7 specific nutrients; carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, protein, fibre, vitamin D and calcium. It will be on the basis of these nutrients that we find our winner which can be rightfully crowned the best plant-based milk for athletes.
The chart below gives you a summary of the nutrient profiles of each milk.
|Protein (g)||Fat (g)||Carbohydrates (g)||Saturated Fat (g)||Fibre||Vitamin D (DV)||Calcium (DV)|
* DV – Daily Recommended Value
Oat milk is a popular plant-based milk that contains a good balance of nutrients. One cup of plant-based milk contains about 130 calories. It also contains 15 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of fibre, 4 grams of protein and provides 35 percent of your daily recommended allowance for calcium and 25 percent of the daily recommended allowance for vitamin D.
The high carbohydrate content of oat milk makes it a favourable choice with a good balance of protein, calcium and vitamin D. It also contains no saturated fat, making is a worthy contestant in the running for the best plant-based milk for athletes.
Soy milk is yet another valuable plant-based milk. One cup of soy milk provides 131 calories and contains 8 grams of protein, 8.38 grams of carbohydrates, 3.97 grams of fat. It also contains 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of fibre but only provides the body with 4 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium and 20 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin D.
Though soy milk is high in protein in comparison to other plant-based milk, it simply does not contain a good amount of calcium. Further to this, soy milk also contains compounds known as antinutrients which hamper the absorption of essential nutrients in the gut. They can also hamper the digestion and absorption of proteins, which is a big drawback of soy milk.
Peanut milk though not a popular plant-based milk is still one of the major plant-based brands of milk. One cup of peanut milk contains 150 calories. It also provides the body with 11 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrates and contains 2 grams of fibre. It also contains 1 gram of saturated fat and provides you with 5 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium and 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D.
Peanut milk is also a good source of protein, however, contains substantially more fat than other types of plant-based milk. This provides as a drawback for athletes who are better off sourcing their nutrients from proteins and carbohydrates.
Almond milk is yet another popular nut milk that is loaded with nutrients. One cup of almond milk only provides the body with 39 calories, making it a great low-calorie brand of plant-based milk.
Almond milk however contains only 1 gram of protein. It also contains 3 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 3.5 grams of carbohydrates, 0.5 grams of fibre and provides 24% of the recommended daily value of calcium and 18% of the recommended daily value of vitamin D.
The low protein content of almond milk is what makes it less useful for athletes. However, when mixed with a protein powder, almond milk does provide a well-balanced set of nutrients.
Coconut milk is yet another plant-based milk with an interesting nutrient profile. One cup of raw, canned coconut milk contains about 445 calories, which is the highest amongst all plant-based milk. It also provides 4.57 grams of protein and 6.35 grams of carbohydrates.
What is shocking is the fat content of coconut milk. One cup contains about 57 grams of fat, which is a monstrous amount in comparison to the 2.4 grams of fat in a cup of regular milk. One cup also contains 51 grams of saturated fat.
It also contains 5 grams of fibre and provides the body with 3 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium but does not contain any vitamin D.
The lack of vitamin D and the high-fat content of coconut milk provides as key drawbacks for athletes. Coconut milk is heavy and is harder to digest in comparison to other plant-based milks.
One cup of sesame milk provides the body with about 90 calories with 45 of these calories are from fat. It contains 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat with 0.5 grams of saturated fat. With 2 grams of carbohydrates and 0.5 grams of dietary fibre, sesame milk provides the body with 10 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium and 8 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin D.
Sesame milk is a well rounded plant-based milk that also provides the body with a good dose of protein. It is the protein content of sesame milk that makes it a valuable addition to the diet for athletes. It also contains some carbohydrates and the fat content isn’t too high. All in all, it is a good plant-based milk to resort to, but is it the best?
The Best Plant-Based Milk for Athletes
After analysing the nutrient content of each plant-based milk, it becomes clear that oat milk is considered the best type of milk for athletes. It contains the highest amount of carbohydrates in comparison to other plant-based milk and also contains a good amount of protein.
The fat content of oat milk isn’t too high and it contains no saturated fat. It also has the highest fibre content amongst other plant-based milks and provides the body with the highest dose of calcium and vitamin D.
All in all, the nutrient profile of oat milk is impressive. The only thing that it falls short on is the protein content which though still good at 4 grams isn’t the highest amongst plant-based milks.
Undoubtedly, however, we had to award the prize for the best plant-based milk to oat milk, which clearly has a better nutrient profile for athletes. Not only does it contains a good amount of carbohydrates to provide as a high-quality energy source, but it also has sufficient protein, vitamin D and calcium and is easy to digest due to its fibre content.
So there you go, our selection of the best plant-based milk goes to oat milk. It goes without saying that a plant-based diet will work to improve performance. Many athletes have seen real results from making the switch to a plant-based diet, which is highlighted in the documentary ‘Game Changers.’
With a wide selection of plant-based milk in the market, it isn’t always easy to understand which plant-based milk will provide the best set of nutrients to complement athletic performance and training.
We hope after reading this word to word, it is crystal clear which plant-based milk you should opt for. If you are an athlete and are looking to tweak your diet to gain a competitive edge, then switching to oat milk may do just that.