Can You Eat or Drink Dairy Products Before a Run?

Milk in a glass
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Whether you can tolerate dairy products before running depends on your individual sensitivity to lactose as well as how much and when you consume them. While dairy products can give some people stomach upsets or other forms of gastrointestinal (GI) distress, there are ways you can still enjoy them before a run. As well, chocolate milk can be an excellent post-run recovery drink.

Preventing Dairy Product Issues Before Running

The extra stress and changes in blood flow to your digestive tract during vigorous-intensity exercise such as running can result in problems such as cramping, gas, or exercise-induced diarrhea (runner's trots). You may have a small degree of lactose intolerance that only crops up with exercise. Most people shouldn't have a problem with dairy products as long as they are not eaten closer than 90 minutes to two hours before a run. However, some people discover it's best to avoid them completely within 12 hours of running.

If you do experience digestive problems after consuming dairy products, check with your doctor to see if you might be lactose intolerant or have another gastrointestinal issue. Fortunately, there are numerous alternatives to regular milk that have very similar benefits. These include lactose-free milk (for those with lactose intolerance), soy milk, rice milk, and nut milks such as almond milk.

Nothing New on Race Day

If you're training for a race, it's important that you practice your pre-race meal before some of your training runs. You don't want to consume dairy the morning before a race and find out that it does lead to cramping or GI distress. Make sure you have some safe, tried-and-true favorite pre-race meals that you know won't lead to any issues during your race.

Dairy Products for Runners

If you don't have issues with dairy products before runs, a smoothie made with yogurt, or cereal with milk, are quick and easy pre-run breakfasts. You'll get some carbs for fuel, as well as protein to help you feel full. Smoothies are also a good post-run recovery drink.

Another fantastic dairy product for runners is chocolate milk. It's one of the best recovery drinks out there because it's high in protein and carbohydrates, so it helps with glycogen restoration and reduces muscle breakdown. Unlike regular milk, it contains the ideal carbs to protein ratio (3 grams carbs to 1 gram protein) that is recommended for post-long run recovery.

As with other liquids, the high water content in chocolate milk also helps replace water lost through sweat during your run. Chocolate milk also contains B vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, which supports bone metabolism. In addition, some runners find that chocolate milk is easier on their digestive system after a long run, Many find that they can't handle solid food immediately after a long run, but the chocolate milk goes down easy.

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Article Sources
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  • Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate Milk: A Post-Exercise Recovery Beverage for Endurance Sports. Acute Topics in Sport Nutrition Medicine and Sport Science. 2012:127-134. doi:10.1159/000341954.