Active Voice: Milk, Athletes & Nutritional Recovery Routines — Benefits Beyond Nature's Intent?
By Nancy R. Rodriguez, Ph.D., R.D., FACSM

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Nancy R. Rodriguez, Ph.D., R.D., FACSM is Professor of Nutritional Sciences with appointments in the Departments of Kinesiology and Allied Health at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. She directs the sports nutrition programs for the Department of Sports Medicine, Division of Athletics. Her research focuses on relationships between exercise, protein intake and protein utilization in athletes, physically active adults and healthy obese and non-obese children. Dr. Rodriguez currently serves on the editorial boards for several research journals, including ACSM’s Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®. Throughout her research career, Dr. Rodriguez has received funding for her research from various commodity groups, including the National Dairy Council.

As I sat at a research roundtable in the fall of 2001, shortly after completing one of my first investigations evaluating the potential benefits of milk to protein utilization by endurance athletes, a colleague commented, “It is not likely that milk will ever be a sports beverage.” At the time, the critical recovery beverage following an endurance exercise bout was carbohydrate-based with some electrolytes tossed in for good measure. More important, the palatability of milk as a thirst-quenching drink seemed unlikely.

Fast forward to 2010. Chocolate milk, the most popular flavored milk, has found a niche in the recovery routines of many different athletes and teams. Indeed, milk – chocolate milk in particular – can be found alongside other sports beverages in coolers in training facilities and at training tables across the country, if not the world. Most recently, “supercharged” versions of milk have entered the marketplace by distilling recent scientific findings into advertising campaigns that tout the benefits of adding more milk protein to the natural product.

While the positive effects of milk, as well as its isolated proteins, are well documented in combination with strength training, the role of milk in the diet of or as a supplement for individuals involved in endurance and aerobic-based sports has received more attention in the scientific community over recent years. The importance of consuming carbohydrates following endurance exercise remains paramount for glycogen replenishment. However, the potential for protein to contribute to the recovery process following endurance exercise has emerged as a viable component of recovery nutrition protocols. Chocolate milk’s high-quality protein is an excellent source of essential amino acids to support muscle protein synthesis, and its carbohydrate contributes to glycogen replenishment.

For most of my career, I have pursued a holistic approach to optimizing human performance and health with specific regard for protein utilization by the body and by the muscle. These efforts have focused on the role of whole foods and sources of high quality protein and in optimizing protein utilization in healthy active men and women. As the supplement industry pursues a parallel goal, the cost of products providing the same benefits of chocolate milk to various aspects of recovery nutrition are significant. For the calories, as well as the investment, chocolate milk is an exceptional package of essential nutrients that has great return for active individuals.