Hear ye, hear ye, all milk lovers (and haters!)! I've come across some information that will contribute to the conversation about milk. (WHAT?! You're not engaged in a dialogue about milk?! Ok, leave it to us food geeks to hash out this topic.)
Over the last year or so, I've engaged in conversations about milk with some of my nutritionally saavy friends, most of whom shun cow's milk (or certainly non-organic versions). Their reasons vary, including that it sets off immune disorders, exacerbates chronic respiratory diseases, creates digestive issues, is filled with antibiotics and chemicals, is zapped of its nutrient content through pasteurization and homogenization, and simply, that it's just not natural to drink the milk of another creature.
In full disclosure, cow's milk has been one of my favorite beverages since I was old enough to pour my own satisfying, thirst quenching, creamy cup. As a girl, I truly believed that the reason I never broke a bone growing up was because the calcium in this miracle drink made them stronger than steel (truth is, ounce for ounce, bone IS stronger than steel!). But as a wellness advocate, I felt compelled to research my options in the milk category, particularly because it's a staple of my kids' diet (one of whom has asthma), and I want my family to consume what's healthiest.
If you peered into my refrigerator over the last few months, you would have found a combination of organic skim cow's milk, organic plain soy milk, organic rice milk, organic almond milk and organic coconut milk, and last year, I experimented with raw cow's milk (geez, I've spent a ton of money on milk!).
After all of this sampling, what remains in my fridge today? Organic skim cow's milk and a carton of Silk's almond/coconut blend (Score! Two in one!). As info, I use the almond/coconut blend in smoothies that will also include either yogurt or powdered whey protein.
So, for now, I'm comfortable continuing with organic cow's milk, particularly when I come across articles like the one I included below from The Running Blog by The Guardian. The article (with only minor edits for brevity) aims to prove that milk is the best recovery drink out there. Additionally, several other sources support milk's benefits for post-workout recovery:
For those of us who train hard, want quick recovery and nutrient replenishment, and desire faster results, what we consume, and when, really matters. Based on these articles, milk--with yummy chocolate!--should be on the menu.
THE SECRET POWERS OF CHOCOLATE MILK
Source: The Running Blog by The Guardian
Mo Farah drinks it, scientific studies recommend it, and a round-the-world athlete swears by it – could chocolate milk drink be a runner's best friend?
Studies indicate that chocolate milk contains the ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio for post-run recovery.
Mo Farah has a penchant for chocolate milk after races and intense training sessions, but far from being a rare moment when the double Olympic champion strays from his almost monastic nutritional regime, this is actually a vital part of his post-run recovery program.
The explosion of research in sports science over the past decade has allowed elite athletes to approach every aspect of racing in minute detail in a bid to gain even the smallest of edges. And as unlikely as it sounds, there is a growing belief that a humble bottle of chocolate milk may be the best recovery drink out there: "We now know that chocolate milk has the ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, which your muscles require to replenish glycogen levels," says Kelly Pritchett of the department of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia.
The surprisingly revitalising qualities of chocolate milk were only discovered by accident. A scientific study looking at the best beverages for post-exercise rehydration was supposed to pit the finest electrolyte sports drinks on the market against each other. Nine elite cyclists were taken through a series of glycogen-depleting exercises, consuming various recovery drinks in between, while a handful were given just milk as a control to gauge the relative benefits of each drink. But in an unexpected twist, the cyclists on milk outperformed their rivals by a considerable margin.
Initially this was thought to be a fluke, but sports scientists from a variety of different institutions have since repeated the experiment with similar results. Chocolate milk contains a three-to-one ratio of carbohydrate grams to protein grams which appears to enhance glycogen replenishment, as well as far more potassium, calcium and vitamin D than most sports drinks. Crucially, chocolate milk also appears to be naturally tuned to human digestive systems – the dairy-intolerant or allergic clearly notwithstanding – containing exactly the right balance of fast-absorbing proteins such as whey protein (which pumps essential amino acids into the bloodstream promoting muscle growth and repair), and slow-absorbing proteins such as casein (which keeps amino acids in the blood stream many hours later, reducing the amount of muscle breakdown).
In response, the manufacturers of Gatorade and other similar post-exercise thirst quenchers have attempted to copy the optimal carbohydrate-protein ratio found in milk, but even with their upgraded products, they cannot outperform the real thing.
"The key thing is there are still no studies which have found chocolate milk to be inferior, so it's always either equal or superior to your over-the-counter recovery drinks," Pritchett says. "And from a cost standpoint, on a weekly basis you're looking at maybe £7 a week versus up to £24. So it's more economical."
While it may appear that the chocolate is only there to make it taste nice, the extra sugar actually plays a key part in ensuring you're getting the post-exercise recommendations for carbohydrate: an 8oz glass of chocolate milk contains about 30-35g of carbohydrate compared to just 12g in normal milk.
With athletes including Farah constantly seeking ways to push the boundaries, several studies have also investigated whether alternative milks such as almond or soy may prove even more effective recovery beverages. But while it was found neither contains the optimum balance that makes low-fat chocolate milk ideal – with soy lacking the carbohydrate content and almond lacking the requisite amount of protein – this research did reveal that timing is crucial.
"In order to enhance recovery, the key is to get the carbohydrate and protein you need in the first two hours after exercise," says Pritchett. "We say this is the window of opportunity, as the ability to replace muscle glycogen is boosted during that period when you have increased blood flow going to the muscles. If you wait longer, it could take more time to restore your natural levels."
Chocolate milk has also been found to be an excellent drink for runners taking part in intense multi-day endurance events. Last September, 52-year-old Tom Denniss, a mathematics researcher from Sydney, broke the world record for a round-the-world run, completing more than 600 consecutive marathons to cover 26,000km in just 622 days. Denniss firmly believes that chocolate milk made a huge difference to his ability to clock up the miles without sustaining injury: "To recover I just sat down at the end of each day, and before the day started, and I'd mix up a litre of chocolate milk," he said. "I found that was really important for hydration. I had always been a reasonably big milk drinker anyway, but I thought that was just me, just what I liked. It turns out it contains exactly the right sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium electrochemical balance which the body requires for the muscle synapses to fire."
"Chocolate milk is a very effective recovery beverage especially when doing something like multiple marathons back to back," Pritchett confirms. "You're not going to be able to recover if you can't get in the carbs and the protein, and the nice thing about it is that it's convenient and it's an easy way to get something in if you find you don't want to eat after exercise."
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I am not a registered dietitian, nor a medical professional. My blog is a representation of my views and experiences, which are not intended as medical advice. While I am a certified personal trainer, descriptions of things I eat and exercises I perform may not be suitable for everyone. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your current routine.