The Multi-Talented "Athlete of the Dairy Aisle": Cheese

Cheese is like a multi-talented athlete: powerful and versatile. Here's why this international healthy food staple belongs in your nutritional starting lineup.


Cheese is like a multi-talented athlete—powerful and versatile. It's an international healthy food staple, and it belongs in your nutritional starting lineup because it contains muscle-building protein, bone-building calcium and vitamin D, and fat-burning CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid).

Here's why you should make cheese your ideal "all-in-one" portable food for boosting your on- and off-the-field overall health and peak performance. (See also Three Portable Energy-Boosting Foods.)

Sports Performance Benefits of Cheese

Aids Muscle Recovery and Growth

The protein content of many soft and hard cheeses (from 7 to 14 grams) helps muscles recover and rebuild following weight training. Cottage cheese and ricotta cheese are among the higher protein varieties. They pair well with fruits and veggies for a pre- or post-workout meal to build muscle and enhance recovery.

Great for Gaining Weight

High in calories (particularly full-fat versus low-fat varieties), cheese is optimal for athletes seeking to gain weight with protein for adding muscle and calcium for denser, heavier and strong bones. Athletes looking to cut weight should choose low-fat or part-skim cheeses with fewer calories. (See Eat Quality Calories for Healthy Weight Gain.)

Protects Bones

Athletes need strong bones to prevent injuries, so calcium and vitamin D-rich cheese is an ideal snack. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium for boosting bone density; and the combination of vitamin D and calcium deters osteoporosis (bone loss and weakness). Examples of calcium-rich cheeses include mozzarella (207 mg per ounce), Swiss (530 mg in 2 ounces), and ricotta (1/4 cup has 168 mg).

Burns Fat and Reduces Muscle Soreness

The CLA content of certain cheeses (sharp cheddar has the highest amount) promotes fat loss by converting fat to energy and minimizing the size of fat cells. A higher muscle-to-fat body composition is healthier for athletes. CLA is an antioxidant, which enhances the immune system to prevent disease, and an anti-inflammatory, which reduces muscle and joint soreness after workouts, practices and games.

Portable and Convenient

Cheese is wonderful for athletes on the go, serving as a great portable pre-workout or pre-practice meal when paired with energizing fruits, nuts or veggies. Place string cheese (e.g., mozzarella) with nuts and dried fruit (e.g., raisins or apricots) or carrot sticks in a plastic sandwich bag, and eat your snack 45 to 60 minutes before hitting the weight room or the practice court.

Health Benefits of Cheese

Say "Cheese" for Strong Teeth

Studies show that calcium-rich cheese promotes dental health by strengthening teeth and inhibiting tooth decay. Cheese helps stimulate saliva to flush away cavity-producing bacteria, minimizes tooth demineralization, and rebuilds lost enamel.

Good Source of Vitamins A and B

Cheese contains vitamin A for healthy skin, bones and teeth, and for building resistance to illness. Cheese also contains vitamin B for blood formation, strengthening the liver and promoting absorption of nutrients.

Clutch "Go-To" Player for Quick Protein

Cheese is often a "clutch" food when you need a convenient source of protein to complement a meal. It's also a perfect food—a "go-to player"—to accompany other foods. Fruits or vegetables go well with cheese. Other common combos are:

  • Cheese with bread or crackers (grilled cheese sandwich or melted on pizza, or spread on whole grain crackers)
  • Shredded, diced or sprinkled in a tossed salad
  • Melted or shredded in a taco or burrito
  • Blended with eggs in an omelet
  • Sprinkled over whole grain pasta

Be Adventurous: Sample These International Cheeses

Eating the same cheese all the time is as boring as using the same plays in a football game. There are dozens of international cheeses that could represent a soccer World Cup tournament. Be adventurous and sample these cheeses from around the world:

  • American, Cheddar, Cottage, Muenster, Colby, Monterey Jack (USA)
  • Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone, Ricotta, Pecorino Romano (Italy)
  • Brie, Camembert, Bleu, Roquefort (France)
  • Jalapeno (Mexico or Tex/Mex Style)
  • Feta (Greece)
  • Edam, Gouda (Holland)
  • Swiss, Gruyere (Switzerland)
  • Limburger (Germany)

Cheese Meal Suggestions

Sweet Cheese Dessert or Post-Workout Meal

Ricotta mixed with antioxidant-rich dark chocolate chips, dried cherries, honey and cinnamon. Protein- and calcium-rich ricotta aids muscle and bone development; antioxidant- and anti-inflammatory-rich dark chocolate chips, honey, cherries and cinnamon help muscle and joint recovery and reduce soreness.

Light Pre-Game or Post-Game Salad

Mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, red peppers, basil with mixed greens and olive oil. Try this light yet energizing protein- and vitamin-rich salad a few hours before game time or to soothe achy muscles after a game. Protein-rich mozzarella and antioxidant-, anti-inflammatory- and vitamin-rich red peppers, basil, cherry tomatoes, greens and olive oil promote muscle and joint recovery.

Pre- or Post-Workout Body-Building Meal

Cottage cheese with crushed or diced pineapple or sliced pear mixed with honey. Protein-rich cottage cheese is the muscle-building player, and pineapple, pear and honey are the switch-hitting players that provide energizing carbohydrates to fuel workouts and antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds for muscle repair/recovery after workouts.

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