How to Choose the Best Yogurt for Athletes
It can feel overwhelming to choose the best yogurt for an athlete's health and performance. Here I will break down the different types of yogurt, the nutrition and performance benefits of yogurt, and how to choose the best yogurt for you as an athlete.
There is nothing better than a creamy, tangy, sweet and crunchy bite from a bowl of yogurt and granola (click here to see my Runner's Granola!). It’s an all-time-of-day kind of combination, and a reason it’s been on repeat each week for me as a breakfast meal or as a snack. The other thing I love about having yogurt in my home is it’s incredible versatility, and it’s packed with nutrition that keeps me healthy as an athlete.
YOGURT NUTRITION FOR ATHLETES
Protein! Yogurt contains high-quality protein to help you recover optimally from workouts. It contains all of those precious amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to stimulate muscle growth and repair, so you will know your body has what it needs to perform better at the next workout. Yogurt is also an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus to promote healthy and strong bones. The really cool part about yogurt, though, amongst other dairy products is that it contains live and active cultures, or probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial gut bacteria that we are finding contributes to gut health and even possibly immunity. This is especially critical for athletes, because gut distress and sickness are two things that can decrease your performance and even sideline you from your sport. Incorporating these probiotic-containing foods like yogurt could help you avoid those things!
THE DIFFERENT WAYS YOU CAN USE YOGURT
Of course, yogurt is the superstar of a yogurt and granola bowl. But yogurt is also an excellent, nutrient-dense option for many other things. Yogurt can be used in recipes for smoothies, pancakes, pasta dishes, and even breads! Yogurt can be a healthy swap for things like mayonnaise and cream cheese. You can use it to spread on toast and bagels, as a base in homemade salad dressings and fruit/veggie dips! There are so many ways to use yogurt!
WHAT IF I’M LACTOSE INTOLERANT?
Yogurt could still be an option for you! The probiotics in yogurt can actually help your gut digest the lactose yogurt contains. These active cultures make it easier for those with lactose intolerance to enjoy yogurt.
THERE ARE SO MANY OPTIONS! This is how you Decode the Yogurt Aisle to Find the Best Option for Yourself as an Athlete.
So you’re thinking of adding yogurt to your fueling plan. You look down the grocery aisle and instantly get overwhelmed at the seemingly endless options on the shelves. How do you choose one? It can feel incredibly overwhelming. Let’s “decode” the yogurt aisle to help you feel confident in choosing your yogurt!
GREEK VS. TRADITIONAL
What’s the difference? Greek yogurt has a thicker texture and tangier flavor than traditional yogurt. Greek yogurt is thicker and tangier because it is made by straining much of the liquid whey (dairy protein), lactose and sugar from the product. This contributes to Greek yogurt’s taste, but also to it’s nutritional breakdown.
Compared to traditional yogurt, Greek yogurt has double the protein, and about half the carbohydrate & lactose content of traditional yogurt. This added bonus of a lower lactose content and the probiotics make this an excellent option for those that are lactose intolerant.
Similar to other dairy products, yogurt also has options with varying fat content. The fat content is usually delineated by terms such as a percentage of milk fat, “light”, “nonfat”, whole milk, original, and more. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend more often than not choosing dairy products that are low fat or fat free to reduce saturated fat intake. There are some exceptions to this recommendation that I feel are important to note, especially when considering the athletic population. Increasing the fat content of yogurt may be a helpful strategy during times of a high training load, if an athlete is trying to gain weight, and/or recover from Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). Increasing the fat content of the yogurt could be an easy swap to meet your goals.
How do I know if something is low fat or nonfat with all these different terms and labels?
Many products will state “nonfat” outright, or it may read, 0% milk fat. Looking at the Nutrition Facts label, the total fat content should read 0g per serving. A nonfat product will have no fat grams listed.
The Nutrition Facts label, total fat content, will read <3g per serving. Similar to nonfat, low fat is branded in a variety of ways from 2% milk fat to Triple Zero. Checking out the Nutrition Facts label can help you ensure the product you choose is low fat, if that is relevant for you.
Sugar content is another aspect to consider when choosing yogurt. There are different types of sugar found in yogurt; natural sugars and added sugars. Natural sugars are found, unsurprisingly, naturally in the product. Dairy products contain natural sugar in the form of lactose. Added sugars are those that are added to the product. In yogurt, it is usually in the form of cane sugar or honey.
Do we need to fear sugar? No! Another term for sugar is carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is what our body uses to provide us energy for our day-to-day activities and our workouts. I generally recommend my athlete’s look to get most of their carbohydrate, or sugar, intake from natural sugars as these are more health-promoting overall.
THE YOGURT CHECKLIST FOR AN ATHLETE
Use the guide below to choose the optimal yogurt for yourself; fueling your performance, your health and satisfying your taste buds!
MY PERSONAL FAVORITE YOGURTS FOR ATHLETES
(These opinions are my own, I was not paid by any of these brands to include them in this article).
OIKOS Triple Zero
Chobani Greek Non-Fat Plain
Siggi’s Plain 0% Non-Fat
Here's to a flexible approach to nutrition and movement!
Written by Maddi Osburn RDN LD
*This post was sponsored by Midwest Dairy*
Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals. 6th ed., Chicago: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017.