Milk, your next recovery drink

Nutrition has always played a major role in sports. The ancient Greeks believed that athletes should have a special diet rich in protein with a special focus on meat, some athletes were known to eat a meat-only diet before the competition. As for hydration wine was the most popular drink at the time and the primary means for hydration before, during and specially after the event.


Nowadays, nutrition and hydration play a big role in long distance running. There are many different drinks, bars, pellets and gels available and it is not hard to feel a little lost on what to take and when. The timing is specially important as we have different needs during a race.


Before the race

You have 2 objectives:

1. Get fuelled

2. Feel comfortable

You need to get fuelled, get the energy and hydration you are going to waste beforehand. These will be foods high in carbohydrates, you will also need electrolytes and water.

You have to make sure that the foods and drinks you are taking will not make you nauseous, make you want to go to the bathroom more than necessary… You can only find out this part by experience but you should try to avoid foods high in fibre, fat, spicy, caffeine and alcohol

During the race

The idea is to delay depletion of fluids and muscle tissue so you need water, electrolytes and if you are running for a long time you are going to need some protein.

After the race

We need to provide muscle recovery and adaptations, allow the muscle to grow, we aldo need fluid replenishment. This is where our milk comes in.

Cow’s milk is a good source of protein, lipids, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.


This table provides a comparison between milk and a commercially available sports drink


Milk contains lactose which is a slow absorption carbohydrate. This means that it stays longer in your body giving it time to extract the energyfrom it.


Proteins and amino acids

Milk also contains casein and whey proteins which are digested and incorporated slowly so it results in a sustained elevation in blood amino acids (1). Which are necessary for muscle growth.

It also contains many branched amino acids necessary for muscle formation. It is well known that for muscle hypertrophy to occur there must be a net increase in muscle protein, this means that the buildup of protein must be greater than the breakdown. Running long distances results in an increase in both buildup and breakdown of proteins, but the buildup is greater, thus the importance of providing the body with amino acids for protein buildup.

Several studies have shown the importance of intake of amino acids (2), proteins (3), carbohydrates (4,5,6) soon after a resistance exercise. A study by Wilkinson (7) has shown that protein metabolism is enhanced with the intake of milk after a resistance exercise. This enhancement was greater with the consumption of 500 mL of fat-free milk compared to a soy-based protein beverage. Usually these studies conclude that drinking milk when compared to a commercially available sports drink results in a greater increase in hypertrophied muscle. Also there is a greater decline in fat mass related to the greater calcium intake associated with milk consumption (8).


They need to be replenished after being lost through sweat.

Goals of a Recovery Sports Drink

Glycogen resynthesis: One study performed glycogen depletion exercises and then let the participants rest for 4 hours and ingest either a chocolate milk or a carbohydrate recovery drink. Afterwards they were asked to perform a workout until exhaustion, and they found very similar results (9), so we may think that chocolate milk is as effective as commonly used sports drink

Fluid recovery: Another study compared low-fat milk, low-fat milk + sodium chloride, a sports drink and water and measured the urine output and net fluid balance, by the end of the 4 hours they concluded that low-fat milk was the better one at promoting rehydration after an exercise induced dehydration (10), this probably has to do with the high concentrations of electrolytes which aid in fluid retention, it probably also has to do with the slow emptying from the stomach which means slower absorption into the circulation

Final thoughts

barack_obama_thinking_first_day_in_the_oval_officeMilk shows great promise as a recovery sports drink, it appears to be at least as good as commercially available sports drink and it is very effective at promoting fluid recovery after exercise.

There is scientific evidence to promote the use of low-fat milk following intense exercise, it is as effective and possibly more effective than sports drinks and it also provides additional nutrients and vitamins. it is safe and effective, the only downside is on lactose intolerant people.


  1. Bos C, Metges CC, Gaudichon C, Petzke KJ, Pueyo ME, Morens C,Everwand J, Benamouzig R, Tome D: Postprandial kinetics of die- tary amino acids are the main determinant of their metabo- lism after soy or milk protein ingestion in humans. J Nutr 2003, 133:1308-1315.
  2.  Tipton KD, Ferrando AA, Phillips SM, Doyle DJ, Wolfe RR: Postex- ercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids. Am J Physiol 1999, 276:E628-E634.

  3. Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, Wolf SE, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR:Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anab- olism after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004, 36:2073-2081.
  4. Borsheim E, Cree MG, Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR:Effect of carbohydrate intake on net muscle protein synthe- sis during recovery from resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol 2004, 96:674-678.
  5. Roy BD, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDougall JD, Fowles J, Yarasheski KE:Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolismafter resistance training. J Appl Physiol 1997, 82:1882-1888.
  6. Roy BD, Fowles J, Hill R, Tarnopolsky MA: Macronutrient intake and whole body protein metabolism following resistanceexercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000, 32(8):1412-1418.
  7. Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Macdonald MJ, Macdonald JR, Arm- strong D, Phillips SM: Consumption of fluid skim milk promotes greater muscle protein accretion after resistance exercise than does consumption of an isonitrogenous and isoener- getic soy-protein beverage. Am J Clin Nutr 2007, 85:1031-1040.
  8. Hartman JW, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Lawrence RL, Fullerton AV, Phillips SM: Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accre- tion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr 2007, 86:373-381.
  9. Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM: Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006, 16:78-91.
  10. Shirreffs SM, Watson P, Maughan RJ: Milk as an effective post- exercise rehydration drink. Br J Nutr 2007, 98:173-180.

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