Milk: The Best Post Workout Recovery Drink
You Will Learn
— Myths and common beliefs about milk
— Why proper recovery is crucial
— How to determine the quality of a protein source
— The importance of a high leucine diet
— The benefits of combining whey and casein protein
— The optimal carb to protein ratio for recovery
— Practical recommendations for milk consumption
If you could save money on supplements and see as good, if not better results with a simple tweak, would you do it? If your answer is yes (which I hope it is), you should consider exchanging your protein powders and BCAAs for milk. Once thought to be fattening and unhealthy, recent research has consistently pointed to milk as a powerful recovery and muscle-building drink that deserves a place in your arsenal.
But why is milk given such a bad rap? What makes milk so special? Which type of milk is best for recovery? Why? All of these questions and more will soon be answered, if you give me a few minutes of your time. In exchange, you will learn all you will ever need to know about the best post workout recovery drink available and how to translate this knowledge into pounds on your lifts, inches off your waist and muscle on your body.
Myths and Common Beliefs
Before we explore why milk is such a powerful recovery tool, it’s best to dispel some myths and common beliefs about milk that have given it a bad reputation in the past.
1. All Milk except Organic Milk Contains Antibiotics
Beginning in 2010, the FDA tested raw milk from nearly 2,000 dairy farms for 31 drugs, most of which were antibiotics. Less than 1% of the sample tested positive for illegal drug residue. If you are worried about antibiotics in your milk, you have very little to worry about regardless of whether your milk is conventional, rBST free or organic. For more details, the study can be found here.
2. Growth Hormone in Milk Is Bad for You
Countless studies have shown that milk from cows treated with rBST is identical to that of untreated cows. This is because Growth Hormone cannot be assimilated by our body if orally ingested; it only works if injected. which is how cows are treated with rBST. Much like a protein, growth hormone peptides like rBST are nothing more than a chain of amino acids, which are broken down into smaller, harmless amino acid chains once they reach the intestine.
3. Organic Milk Is Better for You than Non-organic Milk
There isn’t a difference between the two. Both must abide stringent government standards and as previously shown, milk from cows treated with rBST is just as pure, safe and nutritious as the milk from an untreated cow. Cows on organic farms may be treated better, which I wholly support; however, this is purely speculation on my part and I would try my best to learn more about the farm I am buying from if purchasing organic for the sake of the cow.
4. Raw milk Is Superior to Pasteurized Milk
There has been an upward trend recently in the consumption of raw, unpasteurized milk based off the assumption that it is more nutritious and safer because it has not undergone pasteurization. This simply isn’t true. Pasteurization is a heating process employed to kill potentially dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Additionally, pasteurization does not affect milk’s nutritional value. If you are drinking raw milk, you stand a much higher risk of coming across these bacteria. According to the CDC, the consumption of raw milk has resulted in hospitalization and deaths. Consume at your own risk.
5. Soy Milk, Almond Milk and Other Similar Products Are Better than Cow’s Milk
Soy milk, almond milk and other milk beverages other than goat’s milk, are not as nutritious as cow’s milk. These products contain significantly less protein, and although they may contain the same amount of calcium, this is done through fortification which carries a lower absorption rate. If you shy away from refined foods, it’s also worth noting that milk is less refined than soy and almond milk products as well.
6. Milk Will Make You Fat
Milk doesn’t make you fat, excessive caloric consumption does. Cut back on the Twinkies and everything will be okay. In all seriousness, if you are trying to lose weight, milk is a great consumable to include in your diet. Because of milk’s high protein content, it is rather satiating, which makes it a better choice than juices and soda for weight loss.
What’s in Milk
Protein: To help build muscle, reduce muscle breakdown and work with carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen
Carbohydrates: To refuel muscles through glycogen storage
Electrolytes: Helps re-hydrate through replenishment of minerals lost through sweat (sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium)
Fluids: Provide rehydration along with electrolytes
Calcium and vitamin D: Increases bone density which strengthens bones, and reduces risk of stress fractures
B vitamins: Helps convert food to energy
10 essential nutrients: Offers additional nutrients not typically found in traditional sports drinks
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If your recovery methods aren’t up to par, you are never going to perform your best. Proper recovery can positively affect your next workout or athletic performance, stave off overtraining, overreaching and injuries, and will keep you healthy and feeling great. With this in mind, there are three major things to look for when choosing the best post workout recovery drink or meal.
1. Fluid and Electrolytes: You can lose pounds of water and electrolytes after a grueling workout, match or event. If you go too long without replenishing fluids and electrolytes, dehydration is a serious concern that can even lead to death.
2. Carbohydrates: Essential to refuel muscle glycogen. If you are unfamiliar with the role of carbohydrates and glycogen for athletes, you can learn more here.
3. Protein: Required for muscle growth and prevents muscle breakdown.
While milk fulfills all of these requirements, it is not the only drink or supplement out there that meets these needs. With that in mind, there are several additional factors that separate milk from the rest of the pack.
Not All Proteins Are Created Equal
Some protein sources are superior to others because of a multitude of factors. These include the amino acid profile (particularly leucine), digestibility and nutritional value. To account for all of this, the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Score (PDCAAS) was created. It serves as an effective way to evaluate protein quality based on digestibility and amino acid requirements for humans.
As seen from the table below, both casein and whey protein receive perfect scores. Therefore, milk protein, which is 80% casein and 20% whey, is an excellent selection when looking to add a protein source post workout, or in any meal for that matter.
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Importance of Leucine
While the PDCAAS is a useful tool, it’s benefits for the athlete are somewhat limited. Sure, digestibility and total amino acid profile is important, but we are also concerned with building and maintaining muscle.
To best accomplish this, we need a protein source that is high in leucine — the anabolic trigger responsible for initiating protein synthesis. Milk is 9.8% leucine, which means milk contains more leucine per gram than any other protein source other than pure whey. To put this into perspective, it takes only two cups of milk to reach leucine saturation — the minimum amount of leucine required to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
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Whey and Casein Combined
As seen from the PDCAAS chart, whey and casein are two high quality protein sources; however, whey has a greater concentration of that all important leucine. Which one is better? Are there any benefits to combining the two protein sources together as seen in milk?
At first glance, whey protein may seem to be superior to casein because it has a greater impact on protein synthesis than casein (most likely due to leucine content); however, whey protein may cause our body to use amino acids as an energy source in a process known as amino acid oxidation (source). This can result in a loss of muscle protein, which we don’t want!
On the other hand, casein is associated with an inhibition of protein breakdown and casein increases protein synthesis for a much longer time than whey protein which is beneficial when trying to maintain muscle protein synthesis throughout the day.
Because both proteins comes with distinct advantages and disadvantages, I would recommend combining the two sources for optimal results. When mixed, the absorption profiles of each are maintained, resulting in a quick boost in muscle protein synthesis from whey, followed by sustained levels from casein thereafter. Because milk protein is a combination of whey and casein, milk is an affordable, great tasting and convenient way to include both whey and casein into your diet.
For those who are currently taking BCAAs and can tolerate a few more calories; I recommend you check out this study. After ten weeks of resistance training, the group that consumed 40 grams of whey with 8 grams of casein showed significant increases in lean body mass and fat-free mass compared to the group that used 40 grams of whey, 3 grams of BCAAs and 5 grams of glutamine.
Although it is purely speculation on my part, I believe that the muscle protein synthesis threshold was already reached with 40 grams of whey protein, and that BCAAs confer no or little benefit if muscle protein synthesis is already at its limit. If this is true, we could conclude that BCAAs are unnecessary if you are already eating a high protein diet with leucine throughout the day.
A Case for Calcium
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of milk as a post workout recovery drink is its calcium content. Despite being the most important time for bone growth, research indicates that up to 90% of teenage girls and 70% of teenage boys aren’t getting the calcium they need! If you don’t maximize calcium and vitamin D intake (which milk is also high in), you are limiting your growth and setting yourself up at a greater risk for bone fractures.
If you are already an adult, adequate calcium intake is still crucial, particularly if you are a woman. Osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become brittle and weak, affects three million women per year in the United States alone and results in an osteoporotic fracture every three seconds. Resistance training, and the supplementation of calcium, vitamin D and creatine are all effective in preventing and even reversing osteoporosis, so lift hard and don’t forget to drink your milk!
If you are a powerlifter or like to lift heavy like I do, you are going to need a lot of calcium and vitamin D too. You can’t squat or deadlift 500 pounds with a weak bone structure. Be sure to drink your milk!
The Perfect Carbohydrate to Protein Ratio
While regular milk is a great beverage to have throughout the day, chocolate milk is the best post workout recovery drink. Not only does chocolate milk taste better, but the extra carbohydrates found in chocolate milk result in a carb to protein ratio around 3.0, depending upon the chocolate milk, which researchers believe is optimal for recovery. Chocolate milk even beats out specially designed recovery beverages like Gatorade Recover and Surge Recovery.
But What If I Am Lactose Intolerant?
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can still enjoy milk and other dairy products. Mixing your milk with food, using lactase enzymes, drops and purchasing lactose-free products like Lactaid Milk will help you overcome this issue.
Although the anabolic window is hugely overblown, and actually lasts over twenty-four hours, it is still important to return your body to an anabolic state as soon as possible. I recommend 2 cups/16 ounces of low fat chocolate milk post workout. This will be enough to replenish fluids, electrolytes, glycogen stores and initiate protein synthesis so that you can continue to grow bigger and stronger.
There may be plenty of expensive designer recovery products out there, but chocolate milk is the best post workout recovery drink of the bunch. Chocolate milk is naturally packed with vitamins and minerals such as the bone fortifying vitamin D and calcium, replenishes fluids and electrolytes, has eight grams of the highest quality protein per serving, is loaded with leucine and has a perfect carbohydrate to protein ratio. You can’t beat the price and taste of chocolate milk either! After your workout, drink two cups of chocolate milk and you will be well on your way toward recovering for your next bout of exercise or athletic event.
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