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Is Milk Bad Before Aerobic Exercise?

author image Daniel Bradley
Daniel Bradley is a health, fitness, sport and nutrition expert in Philadelphia, Pa. He began writing professionally in 2007 and has contributed to the Mid-Atlantic American College of Sports Medicine Chapter's Research Panel. Bradley is a certified ACSM Health Fitness Specialist and an outdoor fitness instructor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science with a physical therapy concentration from West Chester University.
Is Milk Bad Before Aerobic Exercise?
Man holding a glass of milk. Photo Credit: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Having milk before exercising has its ups and downs but is by no means a bad thing. Milk supplies multiple nutritious benefits that help with muscles, bones and cellular health. Many people can relate back to the "Got Milk?" slogans, connecting popular athletes and celebrities with drinking milk, and while it may not be the best drink during activity, it's fine to have milk as a part of your healthy regimen.

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Benefits of Milk

Milk contains protein, which is what the body demands for repairing and rebuilding the muscles you damage during exercise. Milk also supplies simple carbohydrates that are beneficial for your glycogen energy storage, as well as a substantial amount of calcium, which maintains significant bone integrity and density. Combine the nutrition benefits of milk with resistance training, and your bones can have optimal integrity and density. While milk is most often recommended as a post-workout drink, the 2013 issue of the "Journal of Sports Sciences" reports that when consumed with a carbohydrate, a protein beverage may improve exercise performance.

Skim vs. Whole Milk

The position statement of the American College of Sports Medicine, published in the 2009 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise," recommends that any pre-workout snacks be low in fat, so skim milk should be chosen over whole milk. Skim milk supplies approximately 1 percent of your recommended fat intake, and can be broken down at a quicker rate. The tradeoff is 65 fewer calories per cup, which could pose a problem for people who want a higher calorie intake because they're trying to increase size.

Negatives of Milk Before Exercise

Milk is a heavy dairy liquid and may cause problems during moderate to intense exercise because it is digested slowly, containing high amounts of fat. This can result in nausea, cramping and vomiting. Melvin H. Williams, author of "Nutrition for Health, Fitness and Sport," says 1 cup of milk also contains 6 percent of your recommended intake of sodium, which is approximately 151 milligrams, and can cause a increased sensation of thirst or dehydration during exercise. Lastly, milk coats the mouth and throat with a thin film -- though it does not increase phlegm or mucus -- that can cause a psychological effect that makes you cough or spit more.

Timing of Pre-Workout Milk

Correct timing supplies the key to balancing the ups and downs of having milk before exercise. Williams suggests having dairy products such as milk three to four hours before physical activity. This allows for the milk to be fully digested, limits the onset of nausea and allows the proteins to utilized optimally. A sample pre-workout snack could be oatmeal with skim milk or skim milk with a banana.

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