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Back to Experts' Summaries

Milk: An Ideal Sports Drink

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.

Brian D. Roy Brian D. Roy, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Brock University

Highlights:

  • Milk has an optimal ratio of carbohydrate to protein, contains key electrolytes and has a high water content, making it an ideal beverage postexercise.
  • Drinking milk after resistance training promotes gains in muscle protein, which is important in repairing skeletal muscle damage caused by exercise.
  • Drinking milk postworkout contributes to greater losses of body fat and gains in muscle mass.
  • Milk is a healthier, cost-effective alternative to traditional sports drinks.

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

The main goals of postexercise nutritional intervention are usually:

  • to promote muscle glycogen resynthesis and fluid recovery following endurance-related 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-related activities (e.g., weight lifting).1,2

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.1,3

As for promoting rehydration, a review paper by Pritchett and Pritchett indicates that chocolate milk was not only effective at promoting rehydration following exercise-induced dehydration, it was superior to the sports drink due to lower total urine output during recovery.3

In terms of promoting optimal body composition, a recent study of weightlifters by Hartman and colleagues showed that milk 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.1,4

The ability of milk to effectively act as a rehydration beverage likely relates to its high water content (~85%) and composition of electrolytes, namely potassium and sodium, which are lost through sweating.

Reasons why milk is an ideal sports drink1,2

  • 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)—naturally lost through sweating during exercise.
  • Milk aids in fluid recovery as it is largely composed of water.

References

  1. Roy BD. Milk: the new sports drink? A review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008;5:15 doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-15.
  2. James L. Milk protein and the restoration of fluid balance after exercise. Med Sport Sci 2013;59:120-126.
  3. Pritchett K and Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: A post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med Sport Sci 2013;59:127-154.
  4. 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.

Keywords: chocolate milk , physical activity


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