Do you have a lot of bottle?

30 August 2017 - By Graham Eyre

It’s not always easy to understand the difference between: Evidence-backed, performance-focused, fuel for sport, and a fad like ‘clean’ eating, some of which is heavily influenced by health and wellness trends and may not have a science based logic. This is particularly true of hydration with regard to running. So check out this drink which is relatively cheap, accessible and has a lot going for it.

Can milk improve your performance

Our love of the animal-derived white stuff started when we were weaned off breast milk and convinced of dairy milk’s calcium-rich (good for the bones) and protein-filled (good for growth and repair) qualities.

Us really old runners even remember free milk for school children. The government decided that cow’s milk was one of the foods that could help with poor nutrition (which was considered one of the principal hindrances to learning).

You may not be old enough to remember that but old enough to remember the days when milk had its own Marketing Board. The phrase ‘Gotta Lotta Bottle’ may ring some bells. Hey you footie supporters may remember the cup now known as the Carabao Cup (energy drink) has also gone by, amongst other titles as, Carling Cup, (beer) Worthington Cup (beer) Coca Cola Cup (er? Coke) and yes you guessed it, The Milk Cup. These days however, new diets, the animal rights movement and price wars have somewhat soured (pun intended) milk’s reputation.

There is a wider political, ethical and environmental debate about dairy farming and milk production but the focus of this post is about nutrition and, more specifically, whether cow’s milk (or other animal milks) or non-dairy alternatives are better from a sports nutrition perspective.

So, why is cow’s milk good for you?

1) It’s an excellent source of calcium. Calcium has several important functions in the human body, these include helping build strong teeth and bones, regulating muscle contractions (including your heartbeat) and making sure your blood clots normally.
A 250ml glass of semi-skimmed cow’s milk provides over one third of your daily recommended intake, as well as a good dose of vitamin D, another nutrient required to maintain strong bones. Of course, you can get calcium from other sources. A large plate of Brussel Sprouts should do it ☹

2) It’s also high in protein.

Again, a 250ml glass of semi-skimmed provides roughly 38% of your recommended daily allowance and helps to build, maintain and repair muscles.

3) It’s packed full of other nutrients that are ideal for endurance athletes.

  • A 250ml glass of cow’s milk contains about 8g of the proteins whey and casein, which help to repair muscle damage after running. Whey protein is high in the amino acid leucine, needed for muscle synthesis.
  • 250ml also contains 12g of carbohydrate in the form of lactose, the naturally-occurring sugar. This makes milk an excellent recovery drink, especially if it’s combined with some additional carbohydrate, e.g. from chocolate or fruit, to help replenish your glycogen stores.
  • Drinking milk also helps you to rehydrate and restore your body’s fluid balance, especially as it contains electrolytes: 250ml will provide you with 110mg of sodium and 40mg of potassium.
  • 250ml of cow’s milk also gives you 310mg of calcium (40% of your daily recommended intake), 27.5mg of magnesium and 2.5 IU of vitamin D, all nutrients needed to maintain strong bones.
  • Milk is a good source of vitamin B12, which is required for red blood cell production and your body’s use of iron, both very important for athletes.
  • Other nutrients in cow’s milk include vitamin B2, needed to convert food to energy, vitamin A which supports immune and digestive health and iodine, required for thyroid hormone function.
  • Cow’s milk also contains the amino acid tryptophan. This is converted in your body to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin, both of which play a role in encouraging sleep, another benefit for endurance athletes.

“Milk may seem a tad ordinary next to the huge array of commercial recovery products out there, but actually the science leans in milk’s favour. It appears to do just about everything – aid muscle growth, promote muscle repair, reduce muscle soreness and rehydrate the body – after both resistance and endurance exercise, in men as well as women.

So, milk stacks up brilliantly against some of the popular commercial recovery drinks.

Compared with traditional sports drinks, 500ml milk consumed after training produces greater gains in muscle mass and strength as well as a greater aerobic capacity, and reduced body fat levels. It also rehydrates you as well as if not better than isotonic sports drinks.”

In the next post: What are some of the potential downsides of cow’s milk?

Leave a reply