With so many people turning against dairy, and so many misconceptions spread about the health effects of consuming it. Bodybuilders could be forgiven for giving it a wide berth. But do bodybuilders eat dairy? And is this the right move?
Almost all bodybuilders eat dairy products, they are an inexpensive source of protein and healthy fats. While it is possible to be a bodybuilder without consuming dairy, it is certainly more difficult to succeed.
In this article, I will explain the reasons why bodybuilders eat dairy, try to clear up some confusion surrounding dairy, and talk about why cheese in particular is so often part of the bodybuilding diet.
Yes, almost all bodybuilders eat dairy. It is a very common part of most western diets, and it has many benefits for building muscle and recovering from exercise. Whey protein powder is technically a dairy product, as it is made from milk. Cheese, milk, and yoghurt are all great sources of protein, are high in calcium, and are also a source of the amino acid l-tryptophan, which has been shown to help you sleep.
Vegetarian bodybuilders would struggle to hit their protein targets without dairy, though as vegan bodybuilders have demonstrated it is not impossible. Dairy products are great for anyone who is on a budget, as they are usually very competitively priced.
There are 62g of protein in a 251g steak which you can buy for about £4 ($5) in most supermarkets. You can get 62g of protein in three scoops of whey protein powder. Which would set you back £2.20 (based on 3 x 35g scoops of a 600g bag of whey protein that costs £13.41).
Dairy isn’t the best value for money when it comes to protein though. A can of chickpeas contains 28g of protein and can be bought for just 40p! Still, who could actually eat an entire can of chickpeas?
I guess my point here is that dairy products are excellent sources of inexpensive protein, and most bodybuilders base their diets around this. But the best way to eat a high protein diet is to source protein from different foods.
Not only is milk a decent drink before bed (thanks to containing l-tryptophan). It is also a decent source of protein. Milk is also ridiculously cheap to buy. Studies have found that chocolate milk is as effective as most post-workout drinks for recovery.
Consuming chocolate milk immediately after exercise and again at 2 h post-exercise appears to be optimal for exercise recovery and may attenuate indices of muscle damage.
Milk is also filled with nutrients, calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin D to name a few. Calcium and vitamin D are great for building stronger bones, which can help to reduce your risk of injuries and help you grow stronger.
Thanks to its ability to reduce appetite, consuming milk (and other dairy products) may help to reduce body fat and combat obesity. A 2014 study based in Luxembourg found that people who consumed more dairy were less likely to be obese.
Increasing consumption of dairy foods may have the potential to lower the prevalence of global and abdominal obesity.
That being said, the evidence that adding dairy to your diet can lead to weight loss is pretty mixed at present. Many people who follow a vegan diet (for example) tend to experience weight loss, which could indicate that reducing your dairy intake could also lead to weight loss in certain circumstances.
Yes, cheese is a common food eaten by bodybuilders. Not necessarily because bodybuilders believe that cheese is somehow useful, most probably eat cheese because they enjoy it. Cheese has many similar benefits to consuming milk or other dairy products. But many kinds of cheese tend to have a high-fat content, so they aren’t always appropriate.
Cheeses that are higher in protein and lower in fat are often preferred while bodybuilders are dieting, but during a bulk, better-tasting cheeses are often incorporated.
Cheese is okay for building muscle. It contains protein, which is crucial for building muscle, and it contains l-tryptophan which can improve sleep and therefore recovery. But cheese is also high in fat, and has a high calorie to protein ratio. Meaning that it may be seen as a bit of a luxury food. Milk or whey protein are better sources of protein than cheese and have a better calorie to protein ratio.
As boring as cottage cheese is, it is one of the best cheeses for bodybuilding. High in protein (11g of protein per 100g), low in fat, and low in calories. Cottage cheese can be added to many meals to boost the protein content without massively increasing calories.
Cheddar cheese actually has much more protein per 100g (25g) but it is much higher in calories (400 calories vs 98). This is due to the high-fat content.
Mozzarella is probably the best choice. It is very high in protein (28g per 100g), but only 280 calories. Mozzarella also goes well with a lot more foods than cottage cheese does.
Cheeses such as feta and halloumi (popular in Greece and Cyprus) are quite bad for bodybuilding, as they are quite low in protein. They aren’t terrible though, just not ideal. Cheddar cheese isn’t great, due to its high fat content. American cheese (the type found in burgers) is also pretty bad, medium-low protein, high-fat, and high in calories.
Fancy cheeses such as stilton, brie, and camembert are not as great as mozzarella or cottage cheese, but aren’t as bad as cheddar! Which surprised me. 100g of camembert, for example, is 300 calories but it does contain 20g of protein. Which is better than cheddar.
Cheese is okay for bulking, you can get away with a less-favourable protein to calorie ratio. Cheese is often a decent source of protein, and it’s a great treat to enjoy. Just don’t go crazy with it. Remember, the worse your bulk is, the harder the cut will have to be afterwards.
While drinking beer isn’t great for bulking, it does tend to go very well with cheese, check out my article on the right beer for different cheeses to find the ideal combination for you.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.