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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Milk can do wonders for an exercised body
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By Eric Uthus

Milk as an exercise recovery drink?

That’s what I was questioning when my youngest daughter said she started drinking milk after strenuous exercise. She read about this on the Internet, and having run track in college, she never tried milk as a recovery drink, only sports drinks.

Strenuous physical activity through training or sporting events depletes the body of water and electrolytes, uses up stored energy (glycogen) in muscles and breaks down muscle. The ability to replenish fluids, electrolytes and glycogen and to rebuild muscle is fundamental for an athlete to succeed in competition.

Sports drinks are designed to aid the exercise recovery process. They can be broken down into several categories. Fluid replacement drinks are used to replenish the fluids and electrolytes that are lost during exercise. They became popular when it was realized that more than water was needed for proper fluid and electrolyte replacement.

The other category of sports drink is the carbohydrate replacement drink. These drinks contain extra carbohydrates and are used to replenish energy (in the form of muscle glycogen, an important energy reserve in muscle cells) after exhausting exercise.

Past research has shown that resynthesis of glycogen between training sessions occurs most rapidly if carbohydrates are consumed within 30 minutes to one hour after exercising. This research also showed that delaying the carbohydrate ingestion until two hours after the exercise reduces the rate of glycogen resynthesis by half.

This is one reason, other than rehydration, why athletes use carbohydrate-based sports drinks after exercise or competition. More recently, sports drinks containing protein have been used. It turns out that ingestion of protein along with carbohydrate further hastens the rate of glycogen synthesis and improves exercise/sports performance.

Because of this, milk has been touted as an exercise recovery drink. Studies have shown that a combination of carbohydrate and protein, such as that found in milk, appears to be the key nutritional factor in reducing exercise-induced muscle damage.

It turns out that chocolate milk may be of more benefit than white milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. This is because of chocolate milk’s higher ratio of carbohydrate (chocolate milk has more sugars) to protein. Studies that have looked at milk as an exercise recovery drink have concluded that the carbohydrates and protein in milk complement each other — the carbohydrates replace energy and glycogen while the protein rebuilds muscle.

Many research studies have shown benefit in drinking milk as an exercise recovery drink.

Moreover, at the recent Olympic Games, athletes including Michael Phelps were regularly seen drinking chocolate milk. For years, the National Dairy Council has stated, “Milk does a body good!” Maybe they should add that “milk does an exercised body good!”


Last Modified: 11/12/2008