Sports nutrition

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What is the difference between ‘protein milk’ and protein supplements?

‘Protein milk’ is milk with added milk protein – it contains 5% protein compared to 3.5% in ordinary milk.

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‘Protein milk’ is milk that contains additional milk protein (made up of 80% casein and 20% whey). This increases the protein content to approximately 5% compared with the 3.5% protein of plain milk. Unless other additional ingredients (such as flavourants) have been added, ‘protein milk’ has a similar nutrient profile to plain milk. Any additional ingredients will be shown in the ingredients list.

In contrast, protein supplements are usually supplied in powdered form and have to be mixed with other foods. There are many different protein supplements available on the market. Those that provide milk protein may be either an isolate or a concentrate of casein or whey. An isolate form provides only the specified protein constituent, whereas a concentrate form may include additional ingredients.

Do athletes need protein supplements?

A healthy, balanced diet will generally provide all the energy, protein and other nutrients we need. Protein supplements are usually unnecessary for athletes.

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A healthy, balanced diet will generally provide all the energy and nutrients we need. Supplements are usually needed only if a deficiency is identified.

Eating protein-rich foods such as dairy products, meat, fish, eggs and soy should be sufficient to fulfil an athlete’s high protein needs. The intake of supplemental protein when the diet is already sufficient in protein will probably pose no additional benefit for the athlete. There is also little evidence that supplementing with individual amino acids is beneficial when athletes are already consuming an adequate diet. If athletes find it difficult to consume protein-rich food sources at the ideal time, a protein supplement may add some convenience to their training plan. However, athletes should be aware that some protein supplements may contain additional ingredients or impurities.

Is there a role for chocolate milk in sports nutrition?

Low-fat chocolate milk is a popular, convenient, available and affordable post-exercise recovery drink, with an appealing taste. This is because chocolate milk provides important nutrients that address the three key considerations of post-exercise recovery, namely refuelling energy, enhancing muscle repair and helping to rehydrate.

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Low-fat chocolate milk has been highlighted as a popular post-exercise option among sports people. This is because chocolate milk provides important nutrients that address the three key considerations of post-exercise recovery:

  • Refuel: Chocolate milk contains carbohydrates, both in the form of lactose and added sugars (such as glucose and sucrose), which assist in refuelling energy stores.
  • Repair: Chocolate milk provides high-quality protein (casein and whey), which stimulates muscle growth and repair.
  • Rehydrate: Chocolate milk naturally contains electrolytes (e.g. potassium) and is packaged as a fluid (approximately 87% water), which aid rehydration.

Chocolate milk is considered a convenient, accessible and relatively affordable recovery choice, and its appealing taste makes it an enjoyable beverage option after exercise. Owing to the added sugar, which increases the carbohydrate content in comparison to plain milk, it is best to drink chocolate milk after intense exercise and as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Will milk help me to build muscle?

Building muscle tissue requires sufficient stimulation, such as resistance exercise, together with a healthy, balanced diet that provides adequate energy and muscle-friendly nutrients such as protein. Consuming milk can contribute to muscle building as it is rich in high-quality protein.

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Muscle protein anabolism implies that muscle protein synthesis must exceed muscle protein breakdown. Building muscle tissue requires sufficient stimulation, such as resistance exercise, together with a healthy, balanced diet that provides adequate energy and muscle-friendly nutrients such as protein. Consuming milk can contribute to muscle building as it is rich in high-quality protein. This means that it provides all the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) the body needs.

Milk protein consists of 80% casein and 20% whey. Whey is particularly rich in the amino acid leucine, which is recognised for its role in rebuilding muscle protein. Current research shows that the consumption of milk after resistance exercise is an effective option for stimulating muscle growth, both in men and in women.

Is milk good for muscle recovery?

After intense exercise, muscle tissue must be repaired and adapted to improve its function. An intake of 20–25 g dairy protein has proved to be better than other protein foods in optimising muscle protein synthesis after resistance training. Milk specifically contains leucine, which is recognised for its role in muscle protein synthesis.

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Intense exercise results in muscle tissue undergoing repair and adaption to enhance function. An intake of 20–25 g high-quality protein after resistance exercise, high-intensity interval training or endurance events contributes to muscle repair and adaptation. Dairy protein has been found to be better than other protein sources in optimising muscle protein synthesis after resistance training. Milk protein provides all the essential amino acids and specifically leucine, which is recognised for its role in muscle protein synthesis. Current research suggests that consuming 500 ml low-fat milk after exercise is effective in assisting muscle recovery.

Is milk good for rehydration?

A dehydrated athlete needs to drink fluid to replace sweat losses. Fluids that contain electrolytes, such as milk, help the body to absorb more fluids. Milk contains about the same amount of sodium as other sports drinks and it is just as effective as commercial sports drinks or water for rehydration. It also contains other electrolytes (e.g. potassium), which help the body to absorb and retain fluid.

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For effective rehydration, fluid intake should replace sweat losses. Electrolyte-containing fluids ensure greater retention of fluids in the body. Milk and liquid dairy foods provide the body with a great source of water and electrolytes. The sodium concentration of milk is similar to that of other sports drinks, with several studies showing that it is equally effective (or even better) than commercially prepared sports drinks or water for rehydration. Milk also contains additional electrolytes such as potassium, which will assist in fluid absorption.

How can milk help with exercise recovery?

Proper recovery after intense exercise is vital to support performance in training or competitions. Milk helps the body to refuel by providing lactose (energy); repair by providing high-quality protein (muscle growth and repair); rehydrate by providing electrolytes (potassium, sodium) and fluid needed.

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Adequate recovery after intense exercise is essential to ensure sustained performance in subsequent training sessions or competitive events. Many athletes consider milk to be a convenient, accessible and affordable drink to consume after exercise to address the key considerations of recovery:

  • Refuel: Milk naturally contains a form of carbohydrates (lactose), which assists in refuelling energy stores.
  • Repair: Milk provides high-quality protein (casein and whey), which contributes to muscle growth and repair.

Rehydrate: Milk naturally contains electrolytes (e.g. potassium) and is packaged as a fluid (approximately 87% water) to aid rehydration.

Why is milk popular amongst sports people?

Milk provides many beneficial nutrients to help the body rehydrate,  recover energy and repair muscles after sport or strenuous exercise.
Sports people can use milk as a convenient, affordable, widely available and versatile recovery drink.

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Milk is a natural source of many nutrients that benefit sports people.

  • The carbohydrate in milk (lactose) supplies energy.
  • Calcium, protein and phosphorus contribute to normal bone health.
  • Protein supports the growth and maintenance of muscles.
  • Iodine, vitamin B12 and riboflavin support energy release.
  • Milk naturally contains electrolytes in a fluid form and therefore supports rehydration.

Many sports people consider milk to be a convenient and versatile recovery drink. It is affordable, widely available in shops and can be consumed alone or blended with fresh fruit to create a post-exercise smoothie.