Should You Consume Dairy Before a Run?


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Whether you can tolerate dairy products before running depends on your sensitivity to lactose and 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.

Benefits of Dairy For Runners

Dairy products provide several benefits to the general population. But these benefits may be significant for runners. However, the drawbacks may also impact runners more than the general population.

  • Inexpensive source of protein

  • Helps to meet overall dietary recommendations

  • May boost bone health

  • May help with weight loss, maintenance

  • Helps body maintain proper hydration

  • May cause stomach problems

  • Some sources are not portable

  • Some dairy products include added sugar or sodium

  • May not be appropriate for those with lactose intolerance

Helps Meet Dietary Needs

While many athletes, runners included, supplement their diets with whey protein products, milk may be a better source for overall nutrition. Not only is milk easy to find and budget-friendly, but it also provides a broader range of nutrients.

Researchers in Slovenia published a study in which they found that recreational runners, specifically women, were better able to meet healthy eating guidelines because they consumed whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. In contrast, those who consumed supplements were less likely to meet dietary guidelines.

Boosts Hydration

Another benefit of drinking milk rather than consuming whey protein products is that milk helps hydrate (or rehydrate) the body. As with other liquids, the high water content in milk and in chocolate milk helps replace water lost through sweat during your run.

May Improve Bone Health

Some runners, especially those who are female and very thin, may find themselves at increased risk for diminished bone mineral density and related conditions, such as osteoporosis or osteopenia. Drinking milk may help to reduce that risk.

A study published by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation investigated the role of milk consumption in the frequency of stress fractures in young female runners.

Study authors concluded that an increased intake of low-fat dairy products was associated with more significant bone gains and a lower stress fracture rate.

Prevention of Weight Gain

Many runners are concerned about weight gain as they age. Getting heavier is often associated with getting slower. But consuming milk may help you maintain your weight as you head into your 50s and 60s.

One study of middle-aged women showed that increased consumption of dairy products might help prevent weight gain in middle-aged and older women initially of average weight.

Consumption of dairy products can help you to meet basic recommendations for a healthy diet. But drinking milk can also help you to stay hydrated, boost bone health, and may aid in the prevention of weight gain in middle age.

Drawbacks of Dairy For Runners

The primary drawback cited by runners who drink dairy is gastrointestinal distress. For many people, milk consumption is followed by frequent trips to the bathroom—a situation that can turn a running workout into a running nightmare.

Lactose intolerance is when your body cannot properly digest the sugars (lactose) in milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, stomach aches, or other gastrointestinal issues.

Those with lactose intolerance will be especially prone to problems if they drink milk before or after a run. But even if you don't have a known intolerance, you may become aware of one when you hit the roads.

Some runners may not realize that they have a (mild) lactose intolerance until they hit the road after drinking milk. Symptoms may be mild to severe and usually include some form of gastrointestinal distress.

But even if you are not sensitive to the lactose in milk, there may be other ingredients in milk or dairy products that are not good for your body. Whole milk is high in saturated fat, and some other dairy products like cheese and cottage cheese can be high in sodium.

Timing of Dairy Intake for Runners

Milk may provide different benefits depending on when you consume it. There are pros and cons to dairy consumption before and after a run.

Dairy Before a Run

Drinking milk before a run works for some and doesn't work for others. 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). Drinking milk may make these symptoms worse.

As long as you don't have lactose intolerance, most people shouldn't have a problem with dairy products if they are not consumed 90 minutes to two hours before a run. However, some people discover it's best to avoid them entirely within 12 hours of running.

If you 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, numerous alternatives to regular milk (such as lactose-free milk) have very similar benefits.

Dairy After a Run

A few widely promoted studies have promoted the benefits of consuming milk after a run, specifically chocolate milk.

The authors of one study published in Medicine and Sport Science noted that low-fat chocolate milk consists of a 4:1 carbohydrate: protein ratio. This ratio is similar to many commercial recovery beverages. They note that the beverage also provides fluids and sodium to aid in post-workout recovery.

For these reasons, they suggest that consuming chocolate milk immediately after exercise and again two hours post-exercise may be optimal for exercise recovery and may prevent some muscle damage.

Other studies have reported similar findings. The most significant drawback to using milk as your post-recovery beverage is that it may not be convenient to carry with you. If you run close to home, then it makes sense to consume chocolate milk after your run. But not all runners have access to refrigeration—which is necessary for chocolate milk.

Numerous studies have shown that lowfat chocolate milk provides recovery benefits to endurance that are similar to the benefits provided by expensive recovery supplements.

Myths About Dairy and Running

While there aren't substantial myths about milk and running, per se, there are some misconceptions about what constitutes a healthy dairy product.

Milk, of course, is a commonly known dairy product. But some question whether whole fat milk is healthy due to its high-fat content. Indeed, if your health care provider has suggested that you limit your saturated fat intake to protect heart health, it's wise to steer clear of whole fat milk and choose to skim or low fat instead.

It is worth noting that recent research indicates some cardio-protective benefits to consuming full-fat dairy. It's best to speak to your health care provider to find out which option is best for you.

In addition, products made with milk may not provide the same benefits that milk does. For example, frozen dairy products and yogurt often contain added sugar. In addition, researchers haven't investigated the impact of these foods on running. So it is unclear if they would provide the same benefits as plain milk consumption.

Calorie and Nutrition Tips

Milk provides vital nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and protein. The protein in milk is contained in the casein and whey. Both sources benefit muscle synthesis, although whey protein is often considered the protein of choice for improving muscle development.

A single serving of skim milk (8 ounces) contains about 86 calories. A serving of low-fat milk provides about 105 calories, and a serving of whole milk provides 146-150 calories.

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 an excellent post-run recovery drink.

If you haven't tried chocolate milk as a recovery drink, it might be worth a try. The beverage is easy to drink and much less expensive than many post-workout supplements. Also, 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 chocolate milk goes down easy.

A Word From Verywell

If you're training for a race, it's essential 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.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Škof B, Rotovnik Kozjek N. A comparison of dietary habits between recreational runners and a randomly selected adult population in Slovenia. Zdr Varst. 2015;54(3):212-21. doi:10.1515/sjph-2015-0030

  2. Nieves JW, Melsop K, Curtis M, et al. Nutritional factors that influence change in bone density and stress fracture risk among young female cross-country runners. PM R. 2010;2(8):740-50. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2010.04.020

  3. Rautiainen S, Wang L, Lee IM, Manson JE, Buring JE, Sesso HD. Dairy consumption in association with weight change and risk of becoming overweight or obese in middle-aged and older women: a prospective cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103(4):979-88. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.118406

  4. de Oliveira EP, Burini RC. The impact of physical exercise on the gastrointestinal tract. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009;12(5):533-8. doi:10.1097/mco.0b013e32832e6776

  5. Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med Sport Sci. 2012;59:127-134. doi:10.1159/000341954

  6. Karfonta K, Lunn W, Colletto M, Anderson J, Rodriguez N. Chocolate milk and glycogen replenishment after endurance exercise in moderately trained males. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(5):86. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000385622.48600.1e

  7. Lunn WR, Pasiakos SM, Colletto MR, et al. Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(4):682-91. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182364162

  8. Trieu K, Bhat S, Dai Z, et al. Biomarkers of dairy fat intake, incident cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: A cohort study, systematic review, and meta-analysisPLOS Medicine. 2021;18(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003763

Additional Reading
  • Muth ND. Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company; 2015.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.