Since my early studies in Naturopathic medicine, Ive always been a strong proponent of whey protein, and frankly a fan of shakes, yoghurts and cheese.

For the general population, dairy nutrition is an important foundation of the overall diet, and maybe even more so for endurance athletes. Increasingly though, I’m concerned at the potential damaging effect to health and fitness, of when dairy foods, notably processed dairy foods are consumed.

In the beginning – there was Dairy.

While I wont go into the intricacies of dairy nutrition here, whole-dairy is a complex food including quality fats, proteins low-GI carbohydrate and a myriad of minerals.

But lets put it out there, first and foremost, the core-purpose of mammalian-milk (humans or any other mammal) is to feed, and support growth of the new born infant. By design, milk is most fundamentally an anabolic food, and as new born off-spring we come ready with an innate appetite for it. That being said – humans remain the only mammal that continues to consume dairy throughout life, an interesting question that some have sort to answer .

With the catabolic (breaking down) impact of endurance exercise on muscle tissue, the role of dairy, as a rebuilding anabolic food, makes sense, at a high level. Now we know, that insulin is the chief anabolic hormone (building up the body) which plays a significant role in protein-muscle (and fatty tissue) synthesis and repair. While other protein foods may be less stimulatory to insulin, it’s less widely known how strongly dairy-protein stimulates insulin.

In fact, most notably the dairy protein fraction, of whey (and to a lesser degree casein), have the most pronounced effect on triggering insulin secretion. Some reports highlight it having an even stronger trigger, than plain white bread.

Now aside from the anabolic and restorative effects of dairy, multiple studies highlight the positive effects that dairy (notably cultured dairy foods) have on insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes risk.

So, what’s the concern for the Endurance athlete?

Insulin and the Endurance Athlete – the other dimension.

As we’ve covered in many of our papers and guides, Insulin also prohibits the metabolic breakdown of fatty acids (lipolysis) for use as energy. Not being able to oxidize fat efficiently, is a problem for endurance athletes that are highly reliant on energy from fat (and carbohydrates) to support high-performance long-duration exercise.

Insulin secretion, can be triggered in a few short minutes once the pancreatic cells senses a rise of glucose, or amino acids (from proteins) in the blood. Insulin once produced by the pancreas, continues in the blood for around an hour, with a small half-life (4-6mins) and degradation occurs through the liver and kidneys.

Now lets take a look at when athletes consume dairy foods (we will touch on Dairy quality later) what it helps, and where it may be counter-productive to an efficient endurance metabolism.

Morning Training/Racing – Shakes and Smoothies

Consumption of dairy based shakes and smoothies in the morning is common practice of athletes. Most athletes use dairy, as part of a post-training breakfast regime. It makes good sense, with heightened protein-muscle re-synthesis being triggered in the body by both muscle contractions (resistance exercise notably) and higher levels of amino acids in the blood, from whole dairy consumption.

But taking these same dairy-based foods, prior to endurance training and racing, could trigger other less desirable outcomes for the endurance athlete. Pre-exercise dairy-consumption (notably those high in whey) could trigger an insulin response prior to starting your training session (or race), which would (similar to glucose) switch off or blunt fat-oxidation, causing an over-reliance on oxidizing glucose for fueling the muscle cell.

For a 1-2 hour training session or race, this may not be such an issue, however for long weekend training sessions or races over 2hours – you’ll want to avoid pre-exercise dairy consumption.

Best Practice Guidance: Morning Dairy Shakes and Smoothies
  1. Minimize dairy as much as possible prior to starting exercise training and racing. If you do have a low-sugar cereal in the morning – use full cream and water, rather than milk to minimize dairy based protein/sugar stimulation of insulin secretion.
  2. To maximize its anabolic and restorative effects, consume whole-dairy based shakes and smoothies within the 30-60 minute window post workout completion.
  3. For post workout dairy shakes, add Whey Protein Isolate (to milk or cream) and MCTs, that has no added sugar, syrups, maltodextrins or sugar alcohols. See Revival.
  4. For fruit based dairy smoothies – choose berries, which have low simple sugars, good fibre and antioxidant content. Add some fat, namely, MCT (medium chain triglycerides) for efficient fat-oxidation, caloric load and will help smooth the movement of carbohydrates from the gut into the blood-stream. SFuels Life will provide the best form of MCT (C8 form) for athletes, while sweetening and enhancing the flavor (added electrolytes) of the smoothie.
  5. If you’re an avid morning shake person (training or no training), but want to avoid dairy protein and lactose, then use a shake recipe (see page 1 – Shakes) with medium-chain triglycerides and full-cream, that has little/no lactose or dairy-protein.

Making Yoghurt Great Again

The bigger worry-bead we have is on the increasing use of ‘processed and refined yoghurt’ as a meal or snack, outside of that post-exercise consumption window. This includes, yoghurt as a breakfast replacement meal on non-training days, mid-morning/afternoon snacks/drinks or pre-bed snacks. If you are using yoghurt like this, then getting yoghurt back to a whole-complex food, will provide the maximum benefits, while minimizing down-side risks.

Yoghurt: What’s Real, What’s Not, Whats the problem !

By 2023, over $100Billion will be spent on yoghurt consumption, each year. While reports highlight that around 45% of yoghurt is consumed in the breakfast meal period – different formats (drinkable yoghurts) are expanding the category across your day in the form of snacks, condiments and meal replacements. In fact the drinkable form of yoghurt is the fastest growing sub-category.

Yoghurt manufacturers, pitch low-fat based products, only to explode sugar levels, in some cases over 20grams (~4-5 teaspoons of sugar), in a 150gram tub. So you now have a ‘low-fat, low-fiber, high-sugar, and high-insulinogenic protein food’ – a perfect formula to catapult your blood-sugars, and insulin up sky-high, and put you on that swinging spike-crash rhythm for the rest of the day – read more on the implications of that here. For the endurance athlete, looking to increase fat-oxidation efficiencies – constant insulin spikes is the last thing you want.

While dairy, and yoghurt has been hailed as a risk-lowering food for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, some studies show that dairy consumption may heighten insulin-resistance – this is probably more to do with the ‘looseness’ of the ‘dairy being consumed’ (i.e. processed high sugar, fat reduced formats) in these studies – vs. whole natural unsweetened dairy products. Other manufacturers create even further issues for athletes, by adding fructose and maltodextrins to dairy based drinks and yoghurts.

Finally you may think that ‘eating plain yoghurt’, with your own added sweetener is healthier than pre-sweetened packaged yoghurts – but studies show this may not be the case. In France, 199 regular yoghurt consumers, were given plain yoghurt and given liberty to sweeten it, as they normally would.

On average the research showed consumers, were adding more sugar (over 13 grams) than the average sweetened yoghurt on the retail shelf. Adding jam was the highest ‘sugar adder’ to these plain yoghurts. Clearly in this study at least, consumers felt it ‘healthier’ to DIY their yoghurt sweetening, rather than buy pre-made sweetened yoghurt.

Best Practice Guidance: Making Yoghurt Great Again.
  1. First, start with a great whole-dairy yoghurt, as best you can. Either off-the-shelf or self-made. Simple guidance, on what to look for would be,
    1. Whole milk based,
    2. Not fat-reduced, or fat-free …keep the Fat in Yoghurt
    3. No added sugar, honey, syrups, maltodextrins, or sugar alcohols. For a typical 150-170grams tub, you should expect to see no more than 5-6grams of sugar.
    4. Slightly sour in taste (reference to fermentation, and natural lactic acid levels). If there is a lack of this taste, you may want to question the probiotic levels of the product. Probiotics of yoghurt are a key reason to eat yoghurt, in the first place.
  2. To sweeten your yoghurt – without sugars and associated sugar spiking – add berries. 20 raspberries or blueberries, would add between 2 and 4grams of sugar, and the fiber, and antioxidants found within it further lessen the impact of heightened blood sugar risks. If you like your yoghurt creamier, and sweeter, while slowing the absorption of the milk lactose and protein, add SFuels Life, which increases the fat (MCT – medium chain triglycerides), sweetens the yoghurt through monk fruit a natural calorie-free plant extract, while adds no sugars, no syrups, no sugar alcohols). If you want to add more texture to it, add walnuts, which will also raise the fat content further again.
  3. If you want a stronger flavor hit, creamier, sweeter, slower digesting yoghurt, still without the sugars – mix in a scoop of SFuels TRAIN (strawberry lemonade, or pomegranate acai flavors).

Whole Dairy, right timing. Go for it.

Consistent intense endurance training places a very real load on the body – at the highest level it can be downright catabolic. Supporting the body with sufficient caloric load, and nutrition that has an anabolic restorative character makes total sense.

Lets get whole dairy back to its rightful place, and timed right to maximize its restorative potentials, and minimize any downsides for endurance athletes.

Be well, be healthy – Go Longer. Team SFuels.