Features Milk Alternatives For Runners

Published on May 6, 2015

Milk Alternatives For Runners

Suggestions for cows’ milk alternative for runners is one of the most frequent things asked of RunningMonkey and, as always, we’re here to help…

The inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products, is the result of a shortage of the enzyme lactase normally produced within the small intestine. It’s the lactase’s job to break down the lactose sugars so that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream, but those without (or with insufficient) lactase can find themselves suffering from a range of symptoms from bloating to diarrhoea.

For runners the problem can be worse, although the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood (research is patchy and small-scale) it’s generally thought that the motion of running simply exacerbates pre-existing stomach problems. But whatever your reason for exploring alternatives to milk here are RunningMonkey’s suggestions and nutritional breakdowns.

Soya Milk
Soya Milk tends to be the first stop in milk alternative for runners and for good reason – it’s widely available, incredibly versatile and certainly the cheapest of the options. It’s important, especially for runners where bone health matters, to choose a variety that’s fortified with calcium and vitamins; the Co-operative’s Loved by Us Organic isn’t for example and also has almost twice the fat (2g per 100ml) and four-times the sugars (a sill low 0.2g per 100ml) as Sainsbury’s Fresh Unsweetened Soya.

Soya milk is fairly bland and quite ‘thin’ but can be used more or less in direct substation for milk for most purposes (with the exception of instant coffee when it mysteriously curdles – but if you’re drinking instant coffee you deserve as much.) Soya milk is also the only real alternative that comes close to the protein levels in cows’ milk with 2g per 100ml compared to around 3.5g per 100ml of semi-skimmed. On the downside from a ‘fuelling’ point of view there’s less than 0.5g of carbohydrates per 100ml.

Energy: 20kcal
Fat: 1.1g
Saturates: 0.2g
Monounsaturates: <0.1g
Polyunsaturates: <0.1g
Carbohydrates: <0.5g (of which sugar) <0.5g
Fibre: <0.5g
Protein: 2g
Salt: <0.01g
Vitamins: D (16% RDA) B2 (14% RDA) B12 (16% RDA)
Calcium: 15% RDA

Try Sainsbury’s Fresh Unsweetened Soya £1.15 available here.

Almond Milk
Increasingly popular – and available – almond milk brings a host of benefits but has just 24kcal per 100ml serving compared to around 48kcal per 100ml of semi-skimmed (or 65+ in ‘whole’ milk.) It’s also packed with a range of vitamins – D, B2, B12, E all at 15% RDA – and has nearly identical calcium levels as cows’ milk.

As you might expect from almond milk there’s a slight nuttiness to the taste, but it’s far from overpowering and the notes of ‘toasting’ actually work very well with breakfast cereals. More of an acquired taste perhaps when it comes to adding to tea or coffee but aside from that almond milk is versatile, works well on its own as a low calorie, vitamin-rich drink, and has the convenience of not needing refrigeration.

Alpro, who have pretty much cornered the UK market when it comes to almond milk, produce a range that includes both sweetened and unsweetened – we’ve based the above and following nutritional information on their Almond Original; Unsweetened drops the carbs down to a mere 0.1g and energy down to 13kcal.Energy: 24kcal

Fat: 1.1g
Saturates: 0.1g
Monounsaturates: 0.8g
Polyunsaturates: 0.2
Carbohydrates: 3g (of which sugar) 3g
Fibre: 0.2g
Protein: 0.5g
Salt: 0.13g
Vitamins: D (15% RDA) B2 (15% RDA) B12 (15% RDA) E (15% RDA)
Calcium: 15% RDA

Try Alpro Almond Original £1.69 available here.

Oat Milk
With a natural sweetness and creamier consistency oat milk is arguably not as versatile as other cows’ milk alternatives (certainly nowhere near as versatile as soya milk) but it still has much to recommend. A 100ml glass will provide 6.5g of carbs compared to the 4.6g in semi-skimmed so it’s excellent for helping to fuel the run whilst also serving up 15% RDA of calcium and vitamins D, B2 and B12. As a bonus oat milk is naturally high in beta-glucan a proven biological defence modifier (BDM) that is thought to fortify the body’s natural immune system (some sources even claim cancer-fighting properties…)

If you have the time and inclination to try making your own then ohsheglows.com have all the details but otherwise we rather like Oatly made in Sweden and available, of course, at Waitrose.

Rather like hemp milk (see below) oat milk works best in smoothies and shakes and on breakfast cereals but it has uses too in cooking and baking although the relatively strong taste (compared to other milk alternatives) takes some experimenting with.

Energy: 45kcal
Fat: 1.5g
Saturates: 0.2g
Carbohydrates: 6.5g (of which sugar) 4g
Fibre: 0.8g
Protein: 1g
Salt: 0.1g
Vitamins: D (30% RDA) B2 (14% RDA) B12 (15% RDA)
Calcium: 15% RDA

Try Oatly £1.39 available here.

Rice Milk
We’re talking almond milk-plus prices again when it comes to rice milk – £1.76 for Rice Dream Original + Calcium, but for those with really sensitive stomachs it can be the cows’ milk alternative of choice. It’s hypoallergenic and around 47kcal per 100ml (about the same as semi-skimmed) but packed with an impressive 9.4g of carbohydrates, more than any of the other alternatives here and double that of milk – fuelling the run and keeping the stomach happy.

Rice milk is undeniably bland though – good for tea and coffee, but a bit like just sloshing white water over breakfast cereal. With little taste of its own, but with all those carbs, rice milk makes a good base for energy smoothies and shakes but be sure to get a brand fortified with calcium if you want to look after your bones on the run.

Energy: 47kcal
Fat: 1g
Saturates: 0.1g
Monounsaturates: 0.7g
Polyunsaturates: 0.2g
Carbohydrates: 9.4g (of which sugar) 4g
Fibre: 0.1g
Protein: 0.1g
Salt: 0.13g
Vitamins: D2 (RDA not given) B12 (RDA not given)
Calcium: 15% RDA

Try Rice Dream Original + Calcium £1.67 available here.

Hemp Milk
Good Hemp, produced by an independent family-owned business, pretty much has things sown up in the UK when it comes to hemp milk, and their longlife variety – available at Waitrose – is a great source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 (around 20% RDA in a single 100ml serving.)

Like almond milk there’s a slightly nutty (almost earthy) taste to hemp milk that goes really well with muesli-type breakfast cereals, porridge and in smoothies and recovery shakes. It also delivers 15% RDA of calcium, adds vitamin D into the mix and is low in saturated fat. If you’re looking out for the environment as much as your health then hemp milk is a great place to start as hemp is one of the most sustainable crops on earth.

Energy: 39kcal
Fat: 2.5g
Saturates: 0.2g
Monounsaturates: 0.3g
Polyunsaturates: 2g
Carbohydrates: 3.4g (of which sugar) 1.6g
Fibre: <0.1g
Protein: <0.1g
Salt: 0.05g

Try Good Hemp Milk £1.49 available here.

Coconut Milk
What could be more tropical? Coconut milk might not be your first choice to add to tea or coffee (although you can) but as a straight drink and in a wide variety of both sweet and savoury recipes it’s excellent.

Koko Dairy Free Original + Calcium, for example, is low in fat and (natural) sugars but with 15% RDA of calcium and vitamins D2 and B12. Rice pudding made with coconut milk is one of our favourite deserts and while we’re on the subject of coconuts, coconut water is a natural isotonic drink fantastic for refuelling post-run.

A slight word of warning: Koko Dairy Free uses carrageenan as a thickening agent which, although the US FDA have cleared, is still being researched in the UK as it’s thought to cause problems with the digestive system. Carrageenan is also often found in almond milks, although not in the Alpro Original recommended above, which uses sunflower lecithin as its emulsifier.

Energy: 28kcal
Fat: 1.9g
Saturates: 1.7g
Monounsaturates: 0.1g
Polyunsaturates: 0
Carbohydrates: 2.4g (of which sugar) 2.1g
Fibre: 0.5g
Protein: 0.3g
Salt: 0.1g
Vitamins: D2 (15% RDA) B12 (15% RDA)
Calcium: 15% RDA

TryKoko Dairy Free Original + Calcium £1.39 available here.

And to sum up…


Information based on specific products mentioned above, slight variations may occur between products. Cows’ milk data based on standard semi-skimmed.

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