Milk: The new sports drink?

Since the ancient Greeks there has been an understanding that good nutrition promotes good performance. Protein has always been pivotal in this concept with athletes such as body builders consuming more than double the recommended amount of protein normally required by humans.

Athletes are often targeted in marketing campaigns promoting expensive protein based drinks with the claims that they will improve performance. Research has shown that to promote muscle recovery and growth it is not necessary to consume double the recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein. However it is important to consume high quality protein, carbohydrates and fluids immediately post exercise to recover well from training and competition.

Bovine (cow) milk has well known health benefits but how well do the components of milk relate to recovery from sports training and competition?

  • Milk has concentration of carbohydrates (in the form of lactose) similar to commercially available sports drinks.
  • Milk contains casein and whey proteins at a ratio of 3:1 which slows digestion and absorption increasing blood concentration of amino acids (Protein).
  • Whey protein contains branched chain amino acids, important for the muscle metabolism and muscle growth.
  • Milk contains high concentrations of electrolytes, which may facilitate rehydration after exercise.
  • Milk is low fat when the low fat products are selected often with just 1-2% fat.

These claims are similar to those made by expensive commercially available sports drinks and protein drinks.

Milk and resistance training

  • Muscle growth requires that protein (the main component of muscles) is created faster than it is broken down. This process requires stimulation (resistance training) and an increase in protein consumption to aid muscle growth.
  • Protein and carbohydrate intake improves the body’s adaptation to resistance training.
  • Research indicates that milk consumption increases protein metabolism after resistance training.
  • Bovine milk as opposed to soymilk may be more beneficial: soymilk proteins are absorbed faster resulting in more protein leaving the body.
  • Bovine milk maintains slightly elevated blood protein levels for a longer period of time, due to its slow absorption rate, resulting in more effective muscle use.
  • Studies show milk consumption results in increased muscle mass gain from resistance training when compared with a commercially available sports drink.
  • Milk consumption results in a decrease in fat mass in the same studies.

Milk and endurance training

  • Endurance activities require low to moderate effort activities over a relatively long period of time.
  • Endurance activity results in the depletion of carbohydrates from the muscle.
  • Pre-exercise nutritional goals: Ensure the athlete is well fuelled.
  • During exercise nutritional goals: To provide fuel and maintain the electrolyte and fluid balance.
  • Post exercise: To replace nutrients, fluid and electrolytes deleted by the exercise.
  • No differences in performance have been found when athletes consume milk, water or a carbohydrate drink before exercise.
  • When milk is consumed during exercise there is a reduction in protein break down in the body after exercise. This means that less of the body’s proteins are being broken down to provide fuel and consumed protein is being used instead of carbohydrate. This may delay the effect of “hitting the wall”.
  • Milk can more effectively replace fluid than commercially available sports drinks.


  • There is strong evidence that milk is as effective or more effective as a sports recovery drink than water or commercially available sports drinks
  • There appear to be benefits for both endurance and strength and power based training.
  • Milk has vitamins and minerals not found in commercially available sports drinks and it s considerably cheaper than the protein drinks promoted in the sports drink market.
  • Milk is safe and effective as a recovery drink for lactose tolerant people.

Designed by Young Graphic Designer