Dairy: the Perfect Refuel Food

With athletes of all makes resuming their training regimes post-quarantine, there is renewed interests in sports nutrition. Whether your thing is cycling, cross-fit, bodybuilding, basketball or the myriad of other things people do to stay active, exercise needs to be coupled with proper nutrition to be effective.

Dairy — especially when consumed as chocolate milk or in conjunction with other ingredients as whey, casein and colostrum powders — can be an integral part of the program that helps athletes compete and recover from physical activity. Jersey milk, with its higher protein and calcium content than average milk, makes an especially attractive post-recovery drink.

It is the combination of carbohydrates and protein in these dairy products that active people desire.

The protein-density of these products ranges from 8-30 grams per serving.

As well, milk offers a combination of fast (whey) and slow (casein) digesting proteins, thought to give milk some of its unique athletic performance properties. About 80% of the protein in milk is casein, which forms a gel in the stomach. This provides a slow release of amino acids and stimulates protein synthesis over several hours. The remaining 20% is whey, a swiftly digested protein.

Milk is also rich in branch chain amino acids, which have been shown to have anabolic effects on muscles when consumed in the recovery period.


The time immediately after exercise is a unique window of opportunity for recovery. Carbohydrates are required to restock glycogen stores, while protein supports muscle repair and can accelerate glycogen re-synthesis, which boosts performance in subsequent training sessions. To benefit, a mix of both is required.

Milk contains both a blend of protein and carbohydrate, making it an inexpensive and effective recovery food. Research shows a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate-to-protein is most effective for recovery, which can easily be found in the form of chocolate milk.

Providing around 50 grams of carbohydrates and 16 grams of protein per pint, chocolate milk also ticks off the necessary fluid requirement. It also provides more sodium than an equivalent volume of a regular sports drink.

One can also supplement whey protein with carb-rich fruits like bananas and berries to obtain the desired carb-protein balance.

Beyond Protein and Carbs

In recent years, milk has also attracted interest as a potential hydration aid due to its naturally-rich electrolyte and carbohydrate content.

During exercise, fluid and electrolytes are lost in sweat, and must be replaced to prevent dehydration and dips in performance. Fluid uptake in the small intestine is enhanced by the presence of glucose and sodium, both of which are found in milk in ideal quantities. In fact, milk has a sodium content similar to that of commercially-prepared sports drinks, making it a viable alternative.

Results from a 2008 study from the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Loughborough University showed that both milk and milk-with-glucose prolong time to exhaustion as effectively as sports beverages without any changes to metabolic or thermoregulatory responses. Further studies have shown that the addition of milk protein to a carbohydrate solution aids re-hydration more effectively than carbohydrate-only drinks after exercise-induced dehydration.

Milk from Jersey Cows

Did you know that Jersey milk averages 13% more protein and 16% more calcium than average milk? This makes for a richer-tasting, more nutritious product.

How does one find all-Jersey milk? Many Jersey dairy farmers are now processing milk from their own cows and bottling it for consumers. Check this website to find a producer in your area who sells dairy products using the Queen of Quality label.

Several Queen of Quality producers are currently providing chocolate milk to local sports teams as a delicious, convenient go-to for post-workout recovery. Queen of Quality who specialize in chocolate milk include:

Post-Training Recovery Ideas

Check out these recipes from the American Dairy Association (ADA) for three scrumptious smoothies using dairy ingredients. Read nutrition details to find one that suits your needs.

Or, check out these other ideas from the ADA for easy, tasty options to refuel after a workout. All can be easily packed to ensure recovery no matter where you train.

Learn More

For more detailed information about the role milk can play in sports recovery, along with information about weight loss associated with milk consumption, read this article from Cycling Weekly.

For more information on eating for peak athletic performance, read this article from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This primer provides useful information on calories, carbs, protein and fat and their role in nutrition.