Q&A: Dairy products bad for your asthma?

Can you give me some advice? I’m 49 years old and I ride long distance events and training rides. I try to make sure I eat and drink appropriately. Someone advised me to use milk based drinks for recovery shakes but I heard that dairy products are bad if you’re asthmatic. I have mild asthma that doesn’t really stop me riding but I don’t want to risk making it worse. Any advice would be appreciated.

Liz McLaughlin

Personally I advise riders to use milk or yoghurt based recovery drinks because of all the good things they contain. Milk contains Whey protein, which helps rebuild muscles after hard exercise but also has more general health benefits like boosting the immunity and reducing the effects of high blood pressure and diabetes.

A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning tested milk against carb-based sports drinks post exercise and milk was found to improve performance in subsequent sessions to a greater extent than the sports drink, while another test carried out by a university in Texas showed that combining carb-based sports drinks with chocolate milk boosted endurance and lean muscle mass when compared to a group using sports-drink recovery alone. So there’s fairly good evidence on the positives of milk.

You can take it a stage further by boosting its potency by making post-ride shakes. An old favourite of many riders is to blend different kinds of berry fruits, milk and honey together to make a great tasting immune boosting recovery shake.

As to the effects dairy products have on asthma, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence on this but very little in the way of hard facts. There’s been a long held belief that the texture and consistency of dairy products might increase mucus production.

Despite a number of tests in this area which couldn’t relate increased mucus production to drinking milk, you often hear of riders reporting increased breathing discomfort during rides after consuming milk.

In these cases it might be a case of using milk as a recovery drink post training and never before or during a ride. The obvious way to figure out if this is affecting you would be to try a basic exclusion diet. Simply do your weekly schedule of training rides without any milk or other dairy products as part of your diet and see how that compares to a week where all other factors are constant but you include dairy as part of the diet.

If you do find that dairy is having any kind of negative impact and you choose to cut it out, make sure that you are getting sufficient, calcium potassium and vitamin D from  other dietary sources. Cyclists are notorious for developing brittle bones as we age due to the low impact nature of our sport, and the problem is greater in female riders, so make sure that if you’re not getting these essential contributors to bone mineral density from milk, that you get them from other sources of food.

Huw Williams, BC Level 3 coach

This article was first published in the November 1 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.