Key nutrition goals after exercise
There are several key nutrition goals after exercise.1-3 These include:
- Rehydration with fluid and electrolytes;
- Replenishing muscle glycogen stores after endurance activities such as: running, swimming and cycling;
- Repairing muscle tissue damage and optimizing body composition following resistance training such as weightlifting.
Fluid and nutrient replacement can also help reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after intense workouts. This in turn can help athletes keep up with and maximize their training regimens.
How milk fulfils sports recovery goals
Research shows that milk’s unique nutrient package makes it an ideal choice as a sports recovery beverage for rehydration, refuelling, and muscle repair.2,3 The specific nutritional requirements will depend on the type of exercise undertaken and the individual goals of the exerciser.2
- Milk contains energy in the form of carbohydrate (i.e., lactose) to help replenish muscle glycogen stores.
- Unlike traditional sports drinks, milk is also an excellent source of complete protein with a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (such as leucine) to support muscle protein synthesis. The 3:1 ratio of casein to whey proteins in milk is ideal because it facilitates slower digestion and absorption leading to sustained elevations in circulating amino acids, the building blocks for muscle repair.
- The combination of milk’s high water content along with electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, and sodium, helps to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.
- Milk also contains other essential vitamins and minerals, many of which are missing in the diet of most Canadians.
Milk is an ideal sports recovery beverage. The choice of plain milk or chocolate milk will depend on the individual’s exercise and sports recovery goals.
- Drinking plain milk as a source of complete protein, particularly after exercise, is good for building and repairing muscles. It is also an effective source of hydration.
- Chocolate milk may only be more advantageous compared to plain milk under specific conditions when additional carbohydrate is needed. For example, chocolate milk is a good option as a recovery beverage after a demanding exercise session that is followed by another demanding exercise session within an 8-hour period. Sessions need to be demanding enough and of sufficient duration to substantially deplete carbohydrate stores. Some examples include:
- Higher-level athletes who do different or similar types of training sessions throughout the day.
- Training for a triathlon with training sessions in the morning followed by more training sessions in the afternoon.
- Tournament situations with more than one event per day, such as for swimming, soccer, or hockey.
Milk makes sense for rehydration
Studies have found both plain and chocolate milk are effective for restoring fluid balance after exercise. 2,3,6,7 For example, in one randomized controlled trial, healthy young adults remained in net positive fluid balance throughout the recovery period after drinking plain milk; but returned to net negative fluid balance one hour after drinking a sports drink and water.6 Urine output was less after drinking milk compared to the sports drink and water. A review focused on chocolate milk also suggests that it is superior to sports drinks due to lower urine output during recovery.7
Milk helps build lean muscle mass
Studies have also shown that drinking plain milk regularly after resistance training can help promote optimal body composition, increasing lean muscle mass and reducing fat mass. For example, men who drank plain milk after weightlifting benefited from greater gains in lean mass (including muscle) and greater reductions in fat mass, over a period of 12 weeks as compared to a soy beverage or a traditional carbohydrate-rich sports drink.8 Women who drank plain milk after heavy whole-body resistance training also benefited from greater muscle mass accretion, strength gains and fat mass loss, over a period of 12 weeks, compared to a carbohydrate-rich drink.9
- Thomas DT et al. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet 2016;116:501-528.
- James LJ et al. Cow’s milk as a post-exercise recovery drink: implications for performance and health. Eur J Sport Sci 2019;19:40-48.
- Roy BD. Milk: the new sports drink? A review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008;5:15. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-15.
- Alcantara JMA et al. Impact of cow’s milk intake on exercise performance and recovery of muscle function: a systematic review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2019;16:22. doi:10.1186/s12970-019-0288-5.
- Amiri M et al. Chocolate milk for recovery from exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Eur J Clin Nutr 2018;73:835-849.
- Shirreffs SM et al. Milk as an effective post-exercise rehydration drink. Brit J Nutr 2007;98:173-180.
- Pritchett K and Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: A post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med Sport Sci 2013;59:127-154.
- Hartman JW et al. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:373-381.
- Josse AR et al. Body composition and strength changes in women with milk and resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2010;42:1122-1130.