Max Your Performance With Dairy + Plants
Plant-based or plant-forward diets are trending these days, but many people misunderstand “plant-based” to mean “animal-free”; and that is not the message or the goal.
In fact, dairy products are a core part of all nutrient-rich eating patterns highlighted in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), including vegetarian and Mediterranean-style diets. Dairy foods contain vital and under-consumed nutrients – and adding them to a plant-focused meal can add a lot of flavor and high-quality protein to meet your nutritional needs. Let’s highlight what dairy adds and why athletes should incorporate dairy foods into healthful eating patterns.
Protein is, of course, an important macronutrient in any fitness lover’s training regimen. A protein is considered high-quality based on its amino acid composition, which determines how well it’s digested, absorbed and used in the body. Milk proteins are considered high quality because they contain all 9 essential amino acids that your body must get from food. While plant foods like beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds do contain protein and other important nutrients, they lack the essential amino acids that are found in dairy foods.
Leucine Supports Athletic Performance
An important amino acid that aids in performance is leucine. A fitness enthusiast needs about 25-40 grams of high-quality protein at every meal, containing 2.5-4 grams leucine. Plant proteins contain less leucine than animal proteins like dairy. For example, a plant-based dinner containing rice and beans has a total of 9 grams of protein, 0.6 of those grams are leucine. Adding a half cup of low-fat cottage cheese (14 grams protein, 1.4 grams leucine) and drinking 1 cup of milk (8 grams protein, 0.8 grams of leucine), can increase overall protein quality of the meal.
Although this is not the only factor to consider, science shows to get the same amount of leucine and other essential amino acids found in dairy proteins, you would need to eat more servings of plant foods to reach that level of high-quality protein. In other words, you would need to eat a lot more food in a day, so this becomes a matter of quality over quantity for an athlete trying to maximize their performance more efficiently.
Athletes Need the Nutrients in Dairy and Plant-Forward Foods
All the essential nutrients found in dairy, including high-quality protein and carbohydrates, make dairy foods a vital component of a balanced, healthy eating pattern. When dairy’s powerful package is paired with the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, it covers all your bases. Some of the essential nutrients found in plant-based foods are potassium, folate, fiber, vitamin C, and magnesium. Together this eating pattern can improve nutrient intakes overall and create an ideal plate for a weekend warrior to maximize performance.
Hydration of Dairy
Looking at all the elements that can impact your performance in the gym, it is impossible to ignore the fact that proper hydration is key. And real dairy milk provides a solution for that, too. Research has shown that milk, including chocolate milk, is an effective post-exercise recovery beverage by helping to keep children and adults hydrated. Milk is 90 percent water and contains electrolytes – like calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium – to rehydrate and help replenish critical nutrients lost in sweat. What’s more, low-fat chocolate milk has extra carbs that plain milk does not, which makes it the ideal carb-to-protein ratio for building lean muscle, for recovery and, most importantly, for helping you meet your goals.
Creating a Balanced Plate
There is no one meal that will help you achieve your best performance. Instead, it would be in your best interest to adapt your plate depending on the level of training difficulty. To see how to build a balanced plate, click here.
There are simple ways to incorporate dairy foods in plant-based diets to enhance performance. Below are some easy recipe ideas that show how well dairy foods pair with plant-based foods.
Pear and Almond Overnight Oats
-1/2 cup old fashioned oats
-1/3 cup nonfat milk
-1/3 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
-1 tsp zero-calorie sweetener or honey
-1/4 tsp vanilla extract
-1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
-1/2 medium pear, chopped
-1 tbs roasted, chopped almonds
Veggie Egg Scramble
-4 large eggs
-6 large egg whites
-1/4 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp ground black pepper
-Nonstick cooking spray
-2 plum tomatoes, chopped
-1 green bell pepper, chopped
-2 tbs reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese
Avocado Yogurt Soup
-1 cup Greek yogurt 2% fat
-1 cup buttermilk
-2 large ripe avocados
-2-3 dill sprigs, rough chopped
-2 tbs mint, roughly chopped
-1/2 lemon freshly squeezed
-1/2 tsp Kosher salt
-3/4 cup of nonfat milk
The Bottom Line
There are varying interpretations surrounding the meaning of “plant-based.” Eating patterns that include a variety of foods of plant and animal origin help ensure overall nutrient needs are met, especially when it comes to the high-quality protein needs of a fitness fanatic. Dairy foods can help make plant-packed plates even better by adding nutrients, health benefits and a flavorful path towards a balanced lifestyle.