Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cutting-Edge Research: Milk, The Ideal Recovery Drink?

One of the most important aspects of high-level athletic performance is the ability to recover quickly from a day’s match or training session. Recovery is the first step in readying the body for the challenges of the next day. For years, researchers have dedicated considerable time and effort towards developing foods and beverages that aid the recovery process. Companies such as Gatorade have devoted countless resources and entire divisions of their corporations towards this goal. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute has supported research into nutrition and hydration for many years and has played a key role formulating much of what we currently know about sports nutrition and recovery.

Despite years for research, it may be that the best recovery drink has always sat quietly in the refrigerators of nearly every soccer players home. Recent research suggests that it’s the drink our moms urged us to drink as young children – milk.

It’s not surprising that milk might be an excellent recovery drink. Low-fat chocolate milk has approximately 190 calories of energy compared to 52 for Gatorade. Milk provides 27 grams of carbohydrate plus 5 grams of protein while Gatorade offers only 14 grams of carbohydrate. Milk also contains substantially more sodium and potassium than Gatorade, minerals that are needed to replenish lost electrolytes. Lastly, for growing athletes, the calcium contained in milk is invaluable for skeletal development.

In an article appearing in the October issue of the Journal of the International Society for Sports Nutrition, Dr. Brian Roy discusses the potential benefits of drinking milk during recovery. He argues that there is a growing body of research supporting milk as an aid to both strength and endurance exercise. Several recent research projects indicate that milk may be beneficial as a supplement to weight training and for recovery after prolonged exercise.

Drinking milk after a bout of weight lifting facilitates protein synthesis in the muscle by elevating the concentration of amino acids in the blood. Over the long term, this could improve strength and muscle mass gains during training. Milk consumed within a few minutes of completing a training session may result in greater muscle gain and fat loss (although the documented effects are somewhat small)(Rankin et al. 2004). As for recovery after endurance exercise, milk seems to be as effective in aiding recovery as a commercial sports drink. If an athlete drinks either low-fat chocolate milk or Gatorade immediately after exercise, replenishment of muscle glycogen during the next few hours is nearly identical. In addition, exercise performance measured four hours after the initial effort is similar between the two beverages (Karp et al., 2006).

Interestingly, training and competing in soccer incorporates both resistance and endurance exercise components. While players don’t usually lift weights during a training session, they do perform movements that simulate resistance exercise. Cutting, stopping and jumping are all components of a plyometric training program and fall under the category of “resistance exercise”. It’s also clear that both the duration of a typical match or training session and the amount of sprinting and running required, makes soccer an endurance sport. As such, milk may be an ideal beverage for training and recovery in soccer.

It's important to emphasize that there are only a handful of research studies examining milk as a recovery drink. This is especially true compared to years of work and hundreds of studies focused on drinks such as Gatorade. However, the evidence is favorable. Milk provides fluid, carbohydrates, protein, electrolytes and calcium - ingredients that are critically important for full recovery. Thus, drinking low-fat chocolate milk immediately after a match or hard training session may be just as effective (or perhaps better) than commercially available sports drinks


Karp JR, et al. (2006) Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 16:78-91.

Rankin J, et al. (2004) Effects of post-exercise supplement consumption on adaptations to resistance training. J Am Coll Nutr, 23:322-330.

Roy BD (2008) Milk: the new sports drink? A Review. J Int Soc Sport Nutr, 5:15 (doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-15)