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Benefits of 4 Milk Alternatives for Runners

Illustration by Marisa Morea

Illustration by Marisa Morea

You’ve heard it before— milk does a body good. Packed with calcium for strong bones and protein to aid recovery, many nutritionists recommend that athletes drink the creamy stuff. But what if your digestive system has a different opinion?

If moo juice doesn’t sit well with you due to dietary restrictions, allergies or intolerance, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. How do you know which one is right for you? We’ve broken down what’s in popular cartons so you can find your favorite.

SOY MILK

-Drink up! Probably the most popular of the substitutes, soy milk is made from simply adding water to ground soybeans. Soy milk is low in cholesterol and fat, and contains soy protein–great for vegetarians who aren’t getting their normal allowance from animal products. In addition, soy milk is often fortified with iron and calcium, crucial nutrients for women runners.

But consider. . .Soy plants may be treated with pesticides or genetically modified. When choosing soy milk, opt for organic varieties to ensure no additives or preservatives make their way into your glass. Check the ingredient label for brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice, as these dramatically increase the sugar content.

RICE MILK

Drink up! Created from basic ingredients (rice, water and sometimes a bit of oil), this alternative is easy on the stomach, which benefits those with lactose, flax and nut allergies. With zero cholesterol and very low sodium, rice milk is a heart-healthy choice.

But consider. . .Rice milk lacks the vital nutrients found in cow milk, including iron, fat, calcium and protein. Since endurance athletes rely on these nutrients, rice milk is best used as the base of a pre- or post-run drink blended with other healthy additives like Greek yogurt or nut butter.

ALMOND MILK

Drink up! With a thick texture and great taste, almond milk is a solid alternative for athletes who crave the flavor of cow milk. This slightly beige beverage can also be vitamin-fortified, packed with vitamins A, D and E, and is a good source of riboflavin, a key ingredient that helps break down carbohydrates into fuel.

But consider. . .To achieve that creamy mouth feel, some brands of almond milk contain carrageenan, a thickening agent derived from seaweed. Many runners find carrageenan hard to digest, so check the label before you buy. While you’re crunching the numbers, take a look at the sugar content as well, and aim to buy a brand with 4 grams or fewer.

HEMP MILK

Drink up! This nutty-tasting beverage is made from hemp seeds, which are high in essential amino acids and are a great source of protein. Hemp milk can also be an excellent alternative for runners with nut and dairy allergies, and for those who have difficulty digesting soy. There’s no need to fret if you have a drug test in your future—despite the name, hemp seeds do not contain THC.

But consider . . .Although hemp milk is one of the least processed milks, it is often the most expensive. Some _ nd the taste a bit funky, and the calorie content (about 110 per cup) is nearly twice as high as rice, almond or soy milk. ■