Once confined primarily to sippy cups and elementary school lunch trays, now—thanks to years of successful advertising campaigns ("Milk. It does a body good." and "Got Milk?" sound familiar?)—milk has never been more popular. In fact, there are valid reasons why dairy products should be included in your diet if you're serious about muscle growth and fitness.
First and foremost, there's the protein factor. Let's face it: When it comes to whole-food sources of complete proteins, bodybuilders don't have a lot to choose from. We have lean meats (poultry, fish and certain cuts of beef), eggs and dairy—and that's about it. So if you're not driving muscle growth by getting some of your daily protein from dairy sources, you must have one hell of a boring diet. Not to mention that you're missing out on dairy's other bodybuilding benefits.
For one, dairy is chock-full of calcium. Yes, it's the mineral that makes bones stronger, but it's also required for muscles to properly contract, and it has even been linked to weight loss. Several studies, such as one conducted at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville), show that a higher calcium intake from dairy consumption leads to greater fat loss. And according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, subjects who consumed more calcium and low-fat dairy products had a smaller waist:hip ratio, meaning they had less abdominal fat. Here, then, is a rundown of the four most popular dairy products, with a full examination of why you should fit them in your diet.
Hit the Gas
As much as we love dairy products—both for their flavor and the effects they have on our muscles—there's a strong argument that adult humans aren't supposed to eat dairy. In addition to its powerful proteins, milk contains sugar in the form of a molecule called lactose. To digest it, your body must have an ample supply of an enzyme called lactase. Lactase's primary objective is to break lactose down into its components, the simple sugars glucose and galactose. For obvious reasons, human infants produce large amounts of lactase. But by the time adulthood sets in, many people stop producing lactase. So when they consume dairy products, lactose molecules make their way to the large intestine and wreak havoc, causing anything from gas and bloating to cramps and diarrhea.
The good news for gastrointestinally challenged dairy consumers is twofold. One, supplemental whey and casein products contain very little (if any) lactose, so they shouldn't trigger a reaction. Same goes for yogurt, in which bacteria have already broken down most of the lactose. And two, you can experiment with supplements containing lactase enzyme. Taking probiotics such as acidophilus can also help you kiss the bloat goodbye.