January 13, 2021 4 min read

Milk is undoubtedly one of the best, cheapest and most versatile recovery foods there is. It’s high in protein, contains a great ratio of carbs and it’s a brilliant source of calcium for bone health. Not only that, but it’s cheap, really easy to get your hands on and can be consumed on its own, or as part of a bigger meal.

But what about for athletes who are dairy free?

One question we always get asked at YSN is “what milk alternatives are best for a youth athlete?”

Considering how many different milk-alternatives are now on offer, it's no wonder youth athletes and parents are confused about which one is best!

So today, we’re going to answer that question! Whether you have an allergy or intolerance, are a plant-based athlete, or are simply looking to reduce the amount of animal foods in your diet, this blog will help to explain the differences in milk drinks and which ones are best for youth athletes.

Semi-skimmed Cow’s Milk

To start, let’s take a look at the nutrition info of regular, semi-skimmed milk so that we have something to compare the other products against

Per 100ml, cow’s milk contains:

Energy

209kJ / 50kcal

Fat

1.8g

Carbohydrate

4.8g

Protein

3.6g

As well as this, cow’s milk is also a great source of calcium, iodine, potassium, vitamin B12 and B2. 

 

Soya Milk

In terms of the closest match to cow’s milk, soya is the winner. High in protein and a decent source of carbs, soya milk would milk a similarly ideal recovery drink (especially the sweetened version). It also has added calcium, vitamin B2 and B12 and vitamin D too, meaning you get most of the same vitamins that are found in cows milk. 

Per 100ml, soya milk contains: 

Energy 

42 kcal

Fat 

1.9g

Carbohydrate 

2.7g

Protein 

3.3g

 

Rice Milk

Next up is rice milk. If you’re looking for a protein hit, then this isn’t the drink for you. However, it is higher in carbs than all of the other milks and milk alternatives, so is ideal for replenishing those glycogen stores after a tough session. Rice milk is also a good source of calcium and vitamins B12 and vitamin D.

Per 100ml, rice milk contains:

Energy 

47 kcal

Fat 

1.0 g

Carbohydrates

9.5 g

Protein 

0.1 g

 

Coconut Milk

Looking at the nutritional value, coconut milk isn’t much more than a fortified water. Great for hydration, but it contains negligible protein and is fairly low carb. As a recovery drink, this one is a no from us, but is a great way of getting in some of the other nutrients that are essential to a youth athlete including vitamin D, B12 and calcium.

Per 100ml, coconut milk contains:

Energy 

85 kJ / 20 kcal

Fat 

0.9 g

Carbohydrates

2.7 g

Protein 

0.1 g

 

Almond Milk

Similar to coconut milk, this is another one that isn’t much more than a fortified water. Great for hydration, but it contains negligible protein and is fairly low carb. As a recovery drink, this one is another no from us, but is again a great way of getting in some of the other nutrients that are essential to a youth athlete including vitamin D, B12 and calcium.

Per 100ml, almond milk contains:

 

Energy 

93 kJ / 22 kcal

Fat 

1.1 g

Carbohydrate 

2.4 g

Fibre 

0.4 g

Protein 

0.4 g

 

Oat Milk

Similar to the rice milk. If you’re looking for a protein hit, then this isn’t the drink for you. However, it does have the second highest carb content so is ideal for replenishing those glycogen stores after a tough session. And we think this one tastes great too! Like the other milk alternatives, oat milk also has added the added nutrients calcium, B2, B12 and vitamin D, but unlike the others, this also has added iodine which is found naturally in cow's milk.

Per 100ml, oat milk contains:

Energy 

185 kJ / 44 kcal

Fat 

1.5 g

Carbohydrate 

6.8 g

Protein 

0.3 g

 

Pea Milk

Pea milk is the new kid on the block when it comes to milk alternatives and it’s likely you’ll see this one popping up more and more regularly. Like soya milk, pea milk is the next best thing when it comes to protein and essential amino acid content. But, it is slightly lower in carbs meaning you’ll want to pair it with a carb snack to refuel properly. Nutrients like calcium, iodine, vitamin B2 and B12 and vitamin D are also added to pea milk and pea milk is actually higher in calcium than cow's milk!

Per 100ml, pea milk contains:

Energy 

39 kcal

Fat 

2.0 g

Carbohydrate 

2.0 g

Protein 

3.3 g

And unlike the others, this one is fortified with iodine as well as the usual calcium, vitamin D and B12.

 

Lactofree Semi-Skimmed

If you're looking for a milk alternative with a similar taste to regular cow's milk then this is the one. With only trace levels of lactose, this is a great option for athletes who might have lactose or gut sensitivities. It is still from cows though, so not the one for plant-based athletes. In terms of nutritional qualities, it's a brilliant source of protein and although lower in carbs than regular milk, it will still provide a good hit for refuelling. 

Energy

38 kcal

Fat

1.5 g

Carbohydrate

2.6 g

Protein

3.4 g

Lactofree milk is also a great source of calcium and Vitamin B12.

 

So, in terms of an all in one recovery drink, only soya milk, lactofree and pea milk are real contenders. However, the are all lower in carbs than regular cow's milk so you will want to pair them with a high carb snack too ideally. Next in line, we’d suggest rice and oat milk for their carbohydrate content, but these would need to be paired with a high protein snack for recovery. Almond and coconut milks (as with all the others) are a great way of boosting calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D intakes in the diet, but don’t offer the same nutritional profile as the rest.

Emmy Campbell
Emmy Campbell

YSN Lead Nutritionist. Emmy holds a BSc. in Human Nutrition, MSc. in Sports Nutrition and is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr). Emmy is also on the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and The Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr).


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