Loving the Bite: Should you be a Dairy-Free Cyclist?


Cashew CreamFor many cyclists, there is an obvious answer to this question. Either you’re allergic, intolerant, feel great without it, or have ethical/religious reasons against consuming dairy. For you the answer is a resounding: Dairy-Free. For others, it be not be so clear-cut. You don’t seem to notice ill effects with it, but maybe you’d feel better without it? Maybe someone close to you recommends it.

For sure, there’s a lot of gray area with nutrition in general, and with consuming dairy specifically.  So, is there a nutritional or philosophical reason for all cyclists to go dairy-free?

This week, we’ll explore reasons to give it up or give up giving it up.  We’ll also talk about a wonderful non-dairy cream that works in many recipes, whether you’re dairy free or not.

Recipe of the Week: Cashew Cream: Delicious Dairy Free Cream Option


  • 2 cups of whole raw cashews (not roasted)
  • 8 cups boiling water


Cover 2 cups raw cashews with 8 cups boiling water in large bowl or pot. Cover. Let stand at least 6 hours and preferably overnight. Drain cashews. Place cashews and 1/3-1/2 cup water in a blender and blend about 5 minutes, until smooth and thick, like sour cream.


First, here’s a little background on my own dairy consumption and history. I was raised in ranching country in Southern Colorado.  My family, on my Father’s side, owned and operated a Centennial Ranch (100+ years of operation) in there since homesteading in the late 1800s.  I am used to free-range, organic beef and even raw milk.  I have never had any tolerance issues with dairy products. Now, I live outside of Denver, am married and have 4 kids of my own. All of them, yes, literally all 4 of them have had moderate to severe food intolerances until 3-4 years old, including dairy, gluten, soy, and more (I am convinced there are environmental factors plaguing this generations guts and ability to tolerate traditional proteins).

During our time figuring out the intolerances, I’ve been through the gammet of research and decisions regarding tests and doctors appointments; from allergy tests to food journals to blood tests. I know now that one doesn’t always need a detectable immune reaction and diagnosis to know you’re intolerant of a food. Since each of my children have had GI reactions to these foods (dairy with very obvious symptoms), we knew they were intolerant. It was a long, tough road with my first child seven years ago, and now much easier with my fourth. Turns out my husband had chronic ear infections as a kid, which was enlightening and now known to me to be considered one big symptom of dairy intolerance.

Throughout all of this, I have personally been off of all dairy, soy, and gluten for entire years at a time while breastfeeding kids #2, #3 and #4 (#1 turned out to be the unfortunate ginea pig). These isolated years, along with my one-on-one nutrition coaching of hundreds of clients has given me lots of insight into food intolerance.  I’ll be honest, while off of dairy, I in no way felt “better.” I only felt H-U-N-G-R-Y (I’m sure any breastfeeding mama can relate).

A few things I have learned regarding dairy consumption:

1) You don’t need dairy. If you don’t want to consume it, by all means, don’t consume it. But, do check out my guidelines below.

2) You don’t have to forego dairy if you feel fine on it and don’t want to.  Dairy is not an issue for all humans (more on this below); though many humans are intolerant of the lactose and or proteins in it.

3) If you suspect that dairy does cause issues for you, whether skin, GI, respiratory, sinus, or otherwise, go ahead and test out going dairy free.  I provide guidelines below.

This might all be terribly obvious for some…but, it’s amazing how heated this debate actually gets.

Good Reasons to go Dairy-Free:

  • Personal Choice. Again, this is good enough for me. Here are my dairy-free recommendations: 1) Take a good look at the ingredients list and nutrition label of any other “milks” you use. Some of them are highly processed and full of added sugars and junk ingredients.  Others are okay.  Note that most don’t have protein to speak of. Most are fortified with calcium and Vitamin D2. 2) Supplement with Vitamin D3. 3) If using soy, only use organic and try to vary your protein sources as much as possible with others as well.
  • You’ve had an obvious intolerance to it or are allergic to it. It’s estimated that over half of adults are intolerant. True allergies manifest in the skin, GI tract, or respiratory system.  However, there are many intolerances and dose-dependent reactions that are more subtle and cause havoc to many systems.  A history of ear infections as a child, chronic colds, congestion, or sinus infections, or a distended belly or lots of gas after consuming dairy are all example of intolerances.  Also, note that it’s not uncommon to become intolerant of specific foods at different times of life.  I actually have 3 clients testing a dairy-free diet right now, with 2 of the 3 experiencing noticeably less congestion and sinus pressure.
  • You are unable or unwilling to seek out and pay for local pastured or (at least) organic dairy. For me, the reasons are vast: nutritional, hygienic/properly handled food manufacturing practices, environmental, and humane treatment of animals. I can’t go into everything in this one post, but it will suffice to write: 1) Grazed animals produce a better fatty acid profile in their milk and meat, 2) organic milk is in fact more nutritious than non-organic (more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)), 3) feedlot cattle are over-milked which poses harm to both the milk and the cow, and 4) there is generally a big problem with fecal waste on feedlots and large operations.  For all these reasons, I recommend local milk from small farm. $6+ per gallon can be too much , though. If this is the case, I recommend reducing your consumption so it is affordable, and using some alternatives.

Not-so-good Arguments for Dairy-Free:

  • All humans are Intolerance of Casine and Lactose.  This simply isn’t true. Although it’s not identical and more similar to goat milk, we were all born ready to survive on human breast milk, made up of lactose and casein. And, many human infants don’t tolerate human lactose well, either, so some intolerance doesn’t suggest a human-race-wide intolerance in my opinion.
  • There are no other adult animals that drink another species milk.  I lived in the county and spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ ranch. I can tell you that this is matter of availability. If available, most any animal whether domestic or wild would  happy to drink cow milk.
  • It Causes Cancer: If you believe this, it is a good reason to abstain and it falls under personal choice above.  However, this is far from proven, and in fact, there’s other research that shows cancer-protection from some dairy consumption.  I can’t say with final authority one way or the other, just like I can’t claim with complete confidence that many household, cosmetic, and other foods don’t as well…not to mention pharmaceutical, hormone, and other interventions.
  • It’s only a modern food.  There are definitely ancient populations that have survived off of milk from many different animals: the Mongolian people , for instance. Also, plain yogurt is a traditional food with many nutritious aspects.
  • It will definitely make you “feel better” and you’ll lose weight.  Again, some feel better, some don’t, I personally didn’t and missed it. Some lose weight (mostly just because you’ll initially lose weight anytime you eliminate any food group you normally consume…until you replace it); some don’t. Also, I’ve had many clients claim significant better digestion after regularly consuming my High Probiotic Homemade Yogurt regularly.

Variations within Dairy Products & Milks:

  • It’s also worthwhile to note that many people, especially those who are lactose intolerant, can tolerate some dairy, but not straight milk. Cheese, yogurts, and other fermented dairy are different in digestion and metabolism than milk.

Dairy-Free Cautions:

  • I am a big believer in overall balance of meals, whole, real foods, and adequate proteins and healthy fats rather than huge amounts of carbs.  When I look at food journals of those who have recently decided to go dairy free, I often see a lack of protein/fats at meals.  Just proactively add these in with healthy oils (coconut, olive, etc.), avocados, fish, and protein sources.
  • If you’ve had bone fracture issues you should know that many orthopedic MDs report better outcomes and recommend real-food dairy over supplements to improve bone density and healing.  Its likely the combination of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that work in synergy to help.

So, you want to try dairy free: Go for it! Check your labels, aim for balanced meals with proteins and healthy fats, and pay attention to your vitamin D.

Want to consume dairy? Great. If at all possible, get local dairy (or at least organic), choose plain yogurts, and don’t over-do it. It’s always good to vary your protein sources.

This week, I hope we’ve helped no matter what you choose. And either way, enjoy our delicious, nourishing cashew cream!

Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.

Enjoy Your Ride
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2 Responses to “ Loving the Bite: Should you be a Dairy-Free Cyclist? ”

  1. raymond on February 27, 2015 at 5:11 am

    Hi Kelli,

    thanks for the very informative report.
    I gave up dairy products six months ago, it did my health a lot of good. The first four weeks were heaven the wind was gone and my bowels worked normal. Unfortunately it didn’t last; so I tried giving up nuts. That was two months ago and (keeping my fingers crossed) it helped.

    Bye and thanks again, great column


    • Kelli on February 27, 2015 at 9:11 am

      Hi Raymond,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m actually not sure why but, this does happen to others as well. An initial “honeymoon” phase of feeling great after omitting a certain food, and then it fades a bit. I am glad you’re finding good outcomes with being dairy free and nut free. We wish you all the best! Kelli, RD


    June 2023
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Sugar Alternatives for Energy and Hydration

Question: I am using the homebrew sugar formulations (sometimes added to green tea).  I am also trying to wean myself off 1/2 dose adrenalean “lip tonic delivery system” (biorhythm brand- caffeine, hoodia g, synephrine, yohimbe) capsule for energy.

My question is other than juice, can you suggest modifications in lieu of table sugar for energy and hydration.


Both raw/organic honey or agave can work great in the homebrew (substitute in the same quantities for the sugar, or to taste), but you do have to shake well in order to make sure they don’t settle out.  Have you tried either of these?  Also, make sure to use at least the minimum amount of salt recommended in the homebrew as the temps rise, you need the sodium replacement if you’re sweating.

Sports Drink Homebrew

Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.

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