Milk as a Sports Drink

Girls Racing track on starting lineAthletes have good reason to focus on nutrition: replacing fluid and nutrients after an intense work out helps repair and replenish muscles and maintain strong bones. If nutrients are not replaced during and after exercise, athletes experience fatigue and may not be able to keep up the intensity of their workouts.

One beverage that is often overlooked as a recovery drink is milk.1 Milk’s nutrients—protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water—are rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the body to produce energy during and replenish nutrient stores after activity. New research shows that milk consumed as a post-exercise recovery and rehydration beverage is just as effective, if not more so, than commercially-available sports drinks, and can increase muscle growth.2

One of the key nutrients in milk is protein. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for healthy adults is 0.4 grams per pound of body weight, however for athletes it may be higher. The International Journal of Sports Nutrition makes the following recommendations for athletes3:

Type of Athlete Daily Protein Recommendation
Recreational Exerciser, Adult 0.5-0.75 g/lb
Competitive Athlete 0.6-0.8 g/lb
Growing Teenage Athlete 0.9-1.0 g/lb
Adult Building Muscle Mass 0.7-1.0 g/lb
Athlete Restricting Calories 0.8-1.0 g/lb

So, a growing teenage athlete who weighs 160 pounds needs 144 - 160 grams of protein per day and a 120 pound woman who exercises recreationally needs 60 - 90 grams.

One cup of low-fat dairy foods in California contains 10 grams of protein per cup (milk produced in other states contains 8 grams). Whey protein in milk may confer additional benefits to physical performance. Whey protein contains an ideal balance of essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body, and branched-chain amino acids which ensure proper muscle tissue growth.4

man playing Water PoloAthletes requiring extra protein can easily reach their recommendation by enjoying one or two more servings of high-protein foods such as milk, cheese, eggs, nuts or lean meat. There is no need for protein or amino acid supplements, however--it is best to get protein from food sources throughout the day for the right combination of readily-digestible amino acids.

Milk is also a good source of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates consumed within thirty minutes after exercising will be transported to muscles for immediate use or stored as glycogen for the next activity. Failing to consume adequate carbohydrates after exercising can lead to fatigue and muscle soreness.

The vitamins and minerals in milk are important for maintaining good health and optimizing athletic performance. Most dairy foods contain vitamins A and D. Vitamin A maintains healthy tissue growth while vitamin D helps the body utilize minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. The minerals found in milk—calcium, potassium and magnesium5—help maintain strong bones, proper muscle functioning and fluid balance.

Flavored milk has become a favorite of athletes as a post-exercise rehydration beverage. While providing all of the nutritional benefits of plain milk, the additional carbohydrates from sugar in chocolate or strawberry milk are easily absorbed and metabolized. Recent research has found that chocolate milk is not only an effective recovery aid after prolonged exercise,6 but that it can actually improve performance in subsequent exercise bouts.7

For more information on the nutrients in milk and the benefits of whey protein and chocolate milk, check out these links:

1Shirreffs SM et al. Br J Nutr 2007 Jul;98(1):173-80.
2Roy BD. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Oct 2;5:15.
3Hinton. Int’l J Sports Nutr Aug. 2004.
4Whey Protein. Dairy Council of California 2004.
5Shirreffs SM et al. Br J Nutr. 2007 Jul;98(1):173-80. Epub 2007 Apr 26.
6Thomas K et al. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Feb;34(1):78-82.
7Karp JR et al. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Feb;16(1):78-91.