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The Best Recovery Milk Drink for Muscles After Running

author image Fiona Bayly
Based in New York City, Fiona Bayly writes about running with a focus on health, nutrition and training strategies for athletes from beginner to professional. She is an avid triathlete, former New England Scholastic Cross Country champion and current member of TeamUSA's age-group championship team in the sport of Aquathlon.
The Best Recovery Milk Drink for Muscles After Running
Low-fat chocolate milk supports muscle recovery in runners. Photo Credit: 5PH/iStock/Getty Images

The best recovery milk drinks may already be in your own kitchen. Low-fat chocolate milk and skim milk, when compared to leading sports drinks in studies about muscle recovery, routinely come out on top. Dairy milk delivers proteins and natural sugars in optimal ratios for muscle glycogen synthesis, and it appears that its actual delivery system makes dairy milk superior even to the leading soy milk-based recovery beverages. Dairy milk is digested more slowly and completely than soy milk, and this makes a difference to athletic recovery.

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Low-fat Chocolate Milk Leads The Way

Carbohydrate-based drinks are popular with runners because endurance training routinely depletes muscle glycogen. However, in 2004 the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" published research showing that protein-fortified beverages are superior for glycogen re-loading. Researchers found that, among athletes who consumed carb-based drinks or low-fat chocolate milk after strenuous exercise, the milk group cycled nearly twice as long as the others in subsequent workouts. The study concluded that milk's protein boosts glycogen synthesis. Other studies concur. In 2006, an "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Metabolism" study highlighted chocolate milk as a muscle recovery aid. In 2009, "Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism" published a similar study showing endurance improvements via post-exercise chocolate milk consumption.

Dairy Milk and Soy Milk are not Equal

Direct comparison between milk beverages are rare, but one notable study did contrast dairy milk and soy milk, and this time the focus was on protein synthesis, critical to muscle growth and repair. In 2008, the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" published a study highlighting the different digestion rates for milk and soy proteins. The research found that when athletes consumed a soy-based beverage or fat-free cow's milk after hard exercise, the dairy drinkers' muscle recovery was greater. Soy protein digestion simply occurred too fast. The amino acids required for muscle repair were rapidly and incompletely processed. Skim milk's amino acid transport was slower, allowing for sustained, complete protein synthesis. Therefore, exclusively soy beverages are inferior to low-fat milk.

Big Brand Names Muscle In

Myoplex, a commercial recovery beverage, contains both dairy milk and soy ingredients. Its milk content is higher than its soy content, so Myoplex, like low-fat dairy milk, is superior to soy-only drinks. Muscle Milk, another commercial product, contains no dairy milk whatsoever. It is water-based, a fact emphasized in chocolate milk giant Nestle USA's 2009 lawsuit against Muscle Milk for false nutritional claims. Myoplex responded that its focus is not on dairy milk but on ingredients that scientifically replicate mother's milk, and that it remains on the market as a sports recovery drink.

Carnation Emerges From The Pack

Carnation Instant Breakfast drinks replicate dairy milk's carb-protein balance and delivery system. Carnation features high-quality dairy protein from whey, a byproduct of milk processing, and is basically plain milk dressed up for convenience. Both its regular and lactose-free versions provide the proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals of milk in dry-milk form. The pouch packages allow particularly easy transport. One of Carnation's most visible applications was during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when champion swimmer Michael Phelps consumed Carnation Instant beverages poolside between events.

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