Should You Drink Milk After a Workout?

Most of us have reached for that sports drink after playing a game of soccer, going for a run or after a session at the gym. But should we be reaching for a different beverage? Sports drinks have carbohydrates and electrolytes to help us recover after exercise, but could a glass of milk provide equal benefit with an extra hit of nutrients?  

We asked exercise and nutrition expert, Dr. Brian Roy, Professor of Kinesiology at Brock University, to fill us in on the best beverage for post-exercise recovery.  

What are the benefits of drinking milk post-exercise compared to sports electrolyte drinks?  

 Dr. RoyMilk is a good choice following exercise for athletes who are not lactose intolerant and do not have a dairy allergy.  

 The main reasons why milk is beneficial following exercise is that: milk is a very good source of carbohydrates. The carbohydrate content of milk is similar to sports drinks.  For example, a 250mL (one cup) serving of 1% partially skimmed milk contains 12g of carbohydrates, while the same size serving of 2% partially skimmed chocolate milk contains 27g of carbohydrate, and a similar size serving of a traditional sports drink (carbohydrates and electrolytes) contains approximately 15g of carbohydrates. The carbohydrate source in white milk is lactose, which is digested into the sugars glucose and galactose. These sugars help to replenish carbohydrate stores within the body. Chocolate milk has an even greater amount of carbohydrate in it and is an even better choice in situations where athletes have expended very large amounts of energy. Chocolate milk has the lactose found in milk, but also has significant amounts of added sucrose, which is digested into the sugars glucose and fructose, which also help to replenish the body’s carbohydrate stores. 

 Is protein a factor? 

 Dr. Roy: Milk is also a very good source of proteinConsuming protein following exercise is important to optimize your body’s response to the exercise. The protein helps your body repair and adapt the muscles that were used during the exercise. A 250mL serving of milk and chocolate milk contain approximately 9g of protein. Most traditional sports drinks do not contain protein, but there are some that do, and interestingly many that do have added protein that is isolated from milk.  

 There are two main types of protein found in milk, casein and whey. Casein tends to be digested more slowly, while whey tends to be digested more rapidly. Both of these types of protein are eventually broken down into amino acids, which are then absorbed into the blood and delivered throughout the body allowing muscles to recover and adapt.  These proteins found in milk are also rich in a specific type of amino acids that help to turn on the repair processes in muscles. Not all dietary proteins are rich in these types of amino acids, but milk is. 

 Besides carbs and protein, what does milk provide? 

 Dr. Roy: All types of milk are also very rich in electrolytes, which are lost through sweating during exercise. Traditional sports drinks normally contain two main electrolytes, sodium and potassium, which help with rehydration and replenishment of fuel stores. Traditional sports drinks normally contain approximately 115mg of sodium and 31mg of potassium in a serving. A similar serving of milk contains approximately 130mg of sodium and 410mg of potassium. Milk has been shown to lead to greater rehydration after exercise than water alone and more traditional sports drinks. 

 Another advantage of milk is that in Canada and the United States it is fortified with Vitamin D (100 IU/250 mL).  Vitamin D is important in helping calcium absorption and bone growth. Research has also shown that in some countries similar to Canada, climate wise, many athletes have chronically low levels of vitamin D. There have been some suggestions that vitamin D levels could impact performance, strength, and muscle mass, but more research is needed in this area. 

 Finally, likely one of the greatest advantages of milk as compared to traditional sports drinks is that milk is considered whole food due to its rich content of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and various minerals essential for maintaining good health. Milk contains 16 nutrients that are essential for the maintenance of good health, while traditional sports drinks only contain carbohydrates and electrolytes. So not only are you getting what you need to recover from exercise, you are also getting the added value of other nutrients that your body needs to maintain good health. 

 What’s the deal – white or chocolate milk?  

 Dr. Roy: “The main difference between white milk and chocolate milk is that chocolate milk has added sucrose and some cocoa for flavouring. This leads to chocolate milk having a greater amount of carbohydrate and energy per serving. Both types of milk still contain 16 essential nutrients. The amount of sugar in chocolate milk is similar to what is found in a cup of unsweetened apple juice. What type of milk is best? It depends on your nutritional goals and the intensity and duration of the workout you have completed. I personally usually only recommend chocolate milk for athletes who are involved with intense training cycles and are involved with multiple workouts per day.     

 What about just good old-fashioned water?  

 Dr. Roy: “If a person has a regular healthy diet, water is a great choice after a workout.  However, if the person is training hard (more than for recreation and general health) and is doing many workouts in a given week, water might not be enough, and milk might be a better choice. Again, it all depends on what their nutritional and exercise goals are.   

 Will drinking milk benefit me after every type of exercise?   

 Dr. Roy: “Research has shown that milk is beneficial after both resistance exercise, such as lifting weights, and after endurance exercise, such as running or biking longer distances. Both types of exercise are challenging, and recovery from these different forms of exercise is enhanced with proper nutrition following the exercise. 

 How much and how soon after exercising should I drink milk to ensure I reap all the benefits? 

 Dr. Roy: “Generally, we like to see athletes consume their milk within an hour after exercise, especially if they are involved in a heavy training schedule that involves multiple workouts per day. How much milk and the type of milk will depend on the nutritional needs and exercise goals of the athletes.” 

 After recovering from an intense workout or rehydrating after a sporting event, there are more drinks to reach for than just the traditional sports drinks. Choosing milk as your post-workout recovery drink can provide the same benefits and essential nutrients compared to other sports drinks. 



About The Experts