What Types of Milks Are Best for Runners?

Back in the day when you drank a glass of milk, you knew it came from a cow. Today? The dairy and beverage aisles are home to much more than plain old cow’s milk.

You’ve got milk from sheep and goats, and “milk” beverages made from a almonds, coconuts, soy, and even rice mixed with water. Here’s the rundown on how all these milk beverages stack up nutritionally, and what’s best for runners.


This is considered the gold standard for a newborn calf and the milk of choice for humans—we’ve been drinking it for more than 10,000 years. Each 230ml cup is full of nutrients, including eight grams of protein, (16 per cent of the Daily Value), calcium (30 per cent of the Daily Value), and B vitamins like heart-healthy B12. By law, cow’s milk is required to be fortified with bone-strengthening vitamin D (25 per cent of the Daily Value.)

Studies have shown that cow-milk drinkers may have better bone mineral density and a lower risk for osteoporosis, thanks to the well-absorbed calcium and other nutrients. They also tend to have a healthier body weight and lower body fat.

Milk is a runner-friendly food given its great nutritional profile. But for some, the lactose found in animal milks can spell GI trouble. Those who are lactose-intolerant can opt for a lactose-free cow milk and still reap the nutritional benefits.

The only nutritional difference between whole, reduced-fat (2 per cent), low-fat (1 per cent), and fat-free milks is their fat content (and kilojoule count). For example, a glass of whole milk is 628 kilojoules (eight grams of fat), and fat-free milk is 378 kilojoules with no fat.  Researchers are studying whether the saturated fat found in whole milk is bad for the heart, which has currently been up for debate.

Organic milk comes from cows raised without the use of growth stimulants and other artificial ways to boost milk production. These cows also eat organic food. Some research shows this type of milk has slightly higher levels of the essential fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that may have potential health benefits, but the jury is still out.


With a bit of a strong taste thanks to slightly different types of fat compared to cow’s milk, goat milk has the same protein and calcium content. It also has slightly less lactose than cow milk, but still enough to bother those who are lactose-intolerant. However, the smaller particles of fat in goat’s milk may be a little easier to digest compared to whole cow’s milk. Be sure to check the nutrition label for your nutrient list—goat milk isn’t always fortified with vitamin D.


Higher in protein than cow and goat (almost 15 grams of protein per cup), sheep’s milk also offers a little more calcium, vitamin B12, and folate. But it has no vitamin D.


These options are non-dairy but often called “milk” because they look so similar to the real thing. But when it comes to nutrition these beverages are quite different. All non-dairy beverages that come from seeds are lactose-free, giving plenty of options to those who are lactose-intolerant or choose to forego animal products.


Soy milk, made from ground soybeans and water, comes in plain and flavoured, which tend to be a lot higher in added sugars. Each cup provides about six to eight grams of protein, which supplies all of the essential amino acids. Soy milk also comes fortified with calcium, and vitamins D and B12 (which does not occur naturally in soy). This makes soy milk a good lactose- and animal-free substitute.


Much lower in protein, rice milk provides only one gram per cup, but it may come fortified with calcium, and vitamins D and B12. Be sure to read the label because nutrients vary depending on brands, and while some contain lots of the good stuff, others may have nothing at all. Rice milk also comes in a sweetened version, which adds sugar kilojoules (379 kilojoules per cup vs. 502 kilojoules for sweetened rice milk).


A combo of water and ground almonds, this non-dairy drink is also very low in protein with a scant one gram per cup. Check the label for added sugar, calcium, and vitamin D, since it can be hit or miss on which brands carry these nutrients.


These seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fats, about four grams per cup. Hemp also provides some vitamin E. Fortified with vitamins D and B12, and calcium, hemp milk also has about five grams of protein per cup.


This non-dairy milk varies quite a bit—the canned milk can be loaded with fat or not. The lower-fat versions have about four grams per cup and are packaged in shelf-stable boxes. They also tend to be fortified with vitamins D and B12. When it comes to other nutrients, however, coconut milk has zero protein and little calcium—or much else.

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