Young athletes are not immune to the strong grips of dieting and sometimes those diets involve taking out entire food groups – including dairy. Milk has caught the peril of the egg, unfortunately, with “experts” going back and forth on whether or not it’s good for you. Spoiler alert: it’s good for you.
Over the last 10 years, there has been a lot of research on the benefits of chocolate milk as a recovery drink, so for most athletes, that’s where it stops. They drink milk for recovery.
That’s great, but it also underscores the benefits of milk as an everyday drink, not just for after a workout. The nutrient profile of milk makes it important for young athletes, for growth and for performance.
What is in milk?
- Protein: Since this is where most athletes like to start, let’s get this out of the way. Milk contains two proteins, casein and whey. Casein accounts for about 80% of the protein, and the remaining 20% is whey. Milk is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. Milk contains an amino acid called leucine. This is one of the branched chain amino acids and thought to be the stimulator of muscle protein synthesis (building muscle). In addition, milk contains two amino acids, cysteine and methionine, which are needed to make glutathione, an antioxidant that can help keep all of those cells in the body (including muscle cells) healthy. Another cool fact about casein protein is that is might help increase the muscle building process in the body if consumed prior to sleeping.
- Carbohydrates: Athletes know that carbs are energy, but unfortunately, many athletes are taught that carbs are only bread, pasta, and fruit. Milk is also a source of energy and any way you drink it (fat free or whole), you’ll get 12 grams of carbs per cup. Typically an athlete should replenish their glycogen (carbohydrate) stores in the body after exercise with 1.0-1.2 grams/kg/body weight, so depending on the weight of a young athlete, the carbs in milk could be substantial way to get some of those carbs back in the body.
- Hydration: Milk is 80-85% water and dehydration of just 2% causes a decrease in performance through fatigue and weakness. Coaches and athletes alike know the importance of hydration in all sports. Most athletes can rehydrate with water alone, but having other options for hydration and rehydration are always welcome for young athletes.
- Micronutrients: The diet of a young athlete may not always be the best, but getting key nutrients for growth and performance in a single food is a smart choice. Milk provides calcium for bone growth and strength. This is extremely important for all athletes, regardless of the sport, weight bearing or not. When milk is fortified, there is vitamin D added. The importance of vitamin D for immune health cannot be overstated. In addition, we all need vitamin D to absorb calcium. If you live in the United States, your dairy milk is fortified with vitamin D (if you buy it from a grocery store). Milk contains high levels of the electrolytes sodium and potassium, which are essential in replenishing those lost during sweat.
So, there you have it. Milk is much more than protein, fat, and carbs for a good recovery drink – it is packed with nutrients that help keep athletes — young and old — healthy for optimal performance.
If you aren’t able to consume dairy, first figure out why. It’s not always the lactose that might keep dairy off limits, there are also protein allergies. The good news with both of these conditions is there are products on the market right now that allow you to consume dairy without having the side effects from lactose or A1 proteins.
Coaches and parents: Encourage your athletes that eating a healthy diet including milk provides nutrients needed for good performance, growth, and a healthy immune system. Milk is still an exceptional recovery drink, but its health benefits reach beyond recovery.