Nutrients in Milk: The Unsung Heroes

Author: Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM | June 20, 2019

Nutrients in Milk: The Unsung Heroes

Milk is America’s leading source of calcium, potassium and Vitamin D, and is well-known for supporting strong bones and teeth. But did you know that milk provides much more than just those three key nutrients? In fact, with every glass of milk, you get nine essential nutrients that play a role in overall health and athletic performance. It’s time to shine some light on those nutrients that are the “unsung heroes” in milk – B vitamins and magnesium.  

Let’s take a closer look at some of those less familiar, but equally as important nutrients in milk that help you perform your best on and off the field.  


Key Functions: Contributes to energy production, oxygen uptake, muscle contractions.

Attention Athletes: Strenuous exercise increases urinary and sweat losses that may increase magnesium requirements. Magnesium deficiency impairs exercise performance and amplifies the negative consequences of strenuous exercise (oxidative stress).

Shopping List: Milk, green leafy veggies, whole grains, legumes, yogurt, breakfast cereals. 

Niacin* (Vitamin B3)
Key Functions: Helps convert carbohydrates into glucose for energy, participates in the metabolism of fats and proteins, helps maintain nervous system function and helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Attention Athletes: Niacin is one of the B-vitamins that contributes to energy production, and also plays a key role in health. However, too much niacin can result in unpleasant side effects, which could impair performance. Supplementation should only be considered if advised by a physician. Instead, incorporate a variety of niacin-rich foods to meet your daily requirement.

Shopping List: Milk, poultry, beef, nuts, legumes, brown rice, whole grains, nutritional yeast.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Key Functions: Contributes to energy production, cellular function, growth and development and the metabolism of fats.

Attention Athletes: This is especially important for athletes, since exercise produces metabolic stress that can impact riboflavin metabolism. Vegetarian athletes are at increased risk for riboflavin inadequacy due to combination of metabolic stress and lack of animal products in their diets.

Shopping List: Milk, eggs, grains & cereals, tofu, soy milk, salmon, mushrooms, spinach, avocado. 

Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Key Functions: Important to several metabolic pathways, including the breakdown of carbohydrates and branched-chain amino acids.

Attention Athletes: As it does with riboflavin, exercise stresses the metabolic pathways that use thiamin, so requirements are higher in athletes.

Shopping List: Milk, whole or fortified grain products, lean pork, peanuts, broccoli, black beans. 

Vitamin B12
Key Functions: Keeps nerve & blood cells healthy.

Attention Athletes: Deficiency is characterized by fatigue & weakness, and such symptoms can be exacerbated by athletic performance. Vegetarian athletes are especially at risk as Vitamin B12 is only found in food of animal origin.

Shopping List: Milk, meats, fish, shellfish, fortified breakfast cereals.

You can see that milk – white or chocolate – is more than good for your body, providing many key nutrients packed into just one cup. 

*Niacin Equivalents(NE),1 mg NE = 1 mg niacin = 60 milligrams tryptophan
**The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

American Dairy Association North East is one of 16 state and regional promotion organizations working under the umbrella of the United Dairy Industry Association. It is the local affiliate of the National Dairy Council®, which has been conducting nutrition education and nutrition research programs since 1915. For more information, visit