Adapted from articles by Brian D. Roy, PhD and Elizabeth (Beth) Mansfield, MSc, RD, CEP. Visit dairynutrition.ca to find references and original versions of each article (Milk: An Ideal Sports Drink and Chocolate Milk and Post Exercise Recovery).
There is growing evidence of the potential of milk as an optimal exercise beverage, especially after resistance training and endurance sports. Loaded with nutrients, milk is readily available and a cost-effective alternative to traditional sports beverages.
Milk and milk products are a source of up to 16 essential nutrients and their health benefits are well established. Numerous characteristics of milk also make it a potentially good beverage after physical activity.
Nutrition and Exercise
There are two main goals of post-exercise nutritional intervention, a.k.a. eating well after a workout: to promote muscle glycogen resynthesis and fluid recovery following endurance activities (e.g., running, swimming, cycling) and to repair tissue damage and optimize body composition via increases in muscle mass and reductions of fat mass, following resistance activities (e.g., weight lifting).
While research into milk as a sports drink is limited, chocolate milk has been found to be at least as effective at promoting glycogen resynthesis as traditional sports beverages.
As for promoting rehydration, a review paper by researchers at Central Washington University showed that chocolate milk was effective in promoting rehydration following exercise-induced dehydration, and also was superior to the sports drink due to lower total urine output during recovery.
In terms of promoting optimal body composition, a recent study of weightlifters by researchers at McMaster University showed that milk consumption resulted in greater gains in lean mass (including muscle) and greater reductions in fat mass compared to a soy beverage and a traditional carbohydrate-containing beverage.
Clinical sports nutrition research continues to show that chocolate milk has the potential to aid active men and women in their quest for losing excess body fat and gaining muscle mass, and to improve athletes’ refueling, rehydration, and their subsequent performance.
A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that chocolate milk has the potential for maintaining exercise performance in subsequent bouts of exhaustive endurance exercise when used as a post-workout recovery drink. In other words, chocolate milk can help keep you at the top of your game throughout the course of the hockey season.
Similarly, research from Northumbria University in England recently demonstrated that chocolate milk is a substantially more effective recovery aid after prolonged exercise in preparation for subsequent exercise than two commercially available sports drinks.
Looking for more support to work chocolate milk into your repertoire? A 2007 study at McMaster University found that young men engaged in resistance training could achieve greater gains in muscle protein by drinking milk versus equivalent amounts of a soy beverage.
In addition to being about 85% water, chocolate milk supplies a carbohydrate-protein combination that maximizes post-workout recovery and rehydration. It also contains nutrients such as sodium and potassium to restore electrolyte balance as well as calcium and vitamin D to promote overall muscle, bone and cardiovascular health. The final verdict? Chocolate milk can help you perform at your best whether you’re in the gym or on the ice.
Science in Your Glass
Post-workout is the perfect time to pound back a glass of milk or chocolate milk. Science helps explain why:
- Unlike traditional sports drinks, milk contains protein and has an optimal ratio of carbohydrate to protein
- Milk contains casein and whey proteins in a ratio that provides for slower digestion and absorption resulting in sustained elevations of blood amino acid concentrations
- Milk contributes electrolytes (e.g., potassium and sodium), which are naturally lost through sweating during exercise
- Milk aids in fluid recovery as it is largely composed of water
Follow the R5 approach to optimal recovery:
- Re-energize muscles with carbohydrate-rich foods like breads, cereals, fruits, chocolate milk and fruit-flavoured yogurts
- Re-vitalize muscles with antioxidant vitamins and minerals found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruits
- Re-build bones and muscles with protein and other essential nutrients found in milk products, meats and alternatives
- Re-oxygenate muscles with iron found in meats, leafy green vegetables, fortified grains and cereals
- Re-hydrate with water and other fluids, before, during, and after physical activity