Attention Athletes: Is Milk Part of your Post-Exercise Game Plan?

You’ve heard that “milk does a body good.” But perhaps you didn’t know that milk is not only beneficial for healthy bones and teeth, but milk and other dairy foods are a nutrient-rich alternative to sports drinks. Many of your favorite athletes refuel with milk after a strenuous workout, and for good reason…

When you exercise, you lose fluid in the form of sweat. Milk is 90% water and a great tasting choice after workouts and games. Milk’s fluids and electrolytes, including calcium, potassium and magnesium, rehydrate the body and replenish what is lost in sweat. Additionally, the potassium in milk may help ward off muscle cramping.

During exercise, your body relies on blood glucose and stored muscle glucose (glycogen) as fuel – or energy. This stored muscle glucose is often depleted after exercise and needs to be replaced. Chocolate milk provides carbohydrates to help restore glycogen levels.

Lastly, during activity, muscle is broken down. While this is a natural result of strenuous activity, future athletic performance is largely impacted by how well our muscles rebuild and resynthesize new muscle fibers after a workout. The high-quality protein in milk has been shown to help rebuild and repair muscle after exercise, aiding in this recovery effort.

You might be asking “Is chocolate milk better than white milk after exercise?” Chocolate milk provides what many consider the “golden ratio” of carbohydrates to protein (3 to 4 grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein) necessary for optimal recovery. While chocolate milk has more grams of carbohydrate per serving than white milk, both offer essential nutrients and either one can be an excellent choice post-workout.

Emerging research in adult athletes has demonstrated that one serving of milk post-exercise may help reduce muscle damage and improve muscle recovery – which in turn, may help the body perform better during its next workout. In fact, research shows that drinking milk after a workout can be as effective as some sports drinks in helping the body refuel, recover and rehydrate after exercise.

Improve your post-exercise regimen by refueling with milk within 30-60 minutes after a workout or game. Plan ahead and try these tips to get more nutrition in your post-exercise game plan:

  • Sip on low-fat or fat-free milk – white or chocolate. For most athletes, 8 to 14 ounces will provide the right amount of carbohydrate and protein to refuel after exercise.
  • Blend together low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, fruit and ice to satisfy post-workout hunger with a nutrient-rich smoothie. 
  • Enjoy cereal, granola or oatmeal with low-fat or fat-free milk.

Athletes can train harder and perform better with proper nutrition. Visit our sports nutrition page to read more about milk as an exercise recovery beverage and learn how to eat for peak athletic performance.

By Jenna Allen, M.S., RDN

Jenna is a registered dietitian with a passion for communicating science in an approachable way. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2008. When she isn't working, Jenna is trying out new recipes with her three kids and working on her food photography. Learn more about Jenna.

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