Dairy for Young Athletes

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Recovering and refueling properly is just as important for young athletes, if not more so, than it is for adults. Proper rehydration and nutrition immediately following exercise both helps with recovery and improving future exercise performance.

Post workout recovery food and drinks should include a few important factors: hydration, protein, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. When it comes to the perfect nutritional refuel balance, young athletes don’t need fancy or expensive protein powders or energy drinks. Studies have shown that milk, particularly chocolate milk, has a powerful nutrient profile with several benefits for post-exercise recovery. It is a well-balanced, affordable, nutrient-dense beverage. Just one 8-ounce glass of milk offers 8 grams of protein, the right carbohydrate to protein ratio, 9 essential nutrients, including electrolytes, and it’s made up of 85% water. All of this comes together to rehydrate critical nutrients lost in sweat and refuel tired muscles.

What dairy brings to the game:

  • Hydration: Dehydration can reduce strength, energy and coordination leading to poor athletic performance. Milk is made of 85% water, making it incredibly hydrating. A new study from Scotland’s St. Andrews University found milk to be even more hydrating than plain water due to its nutrient-rich composition. Milk naturally has nutrients that make it better for keeping you hydrated for longer. Research shows that while water does a pretty good job at hydrating the body quickly, the addition of fat, protein and a little bit of sugar found naturally in milk does an even better job of keeping you hydrated. These nutrients help slow the emptying of fluid from the stomach, keeping the body hydrated over a longer period of time.
  • Protein: Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. It builds and repairs muscle tissue, is good for bone growth and serves as a source of energy during high-powered endurance exercise. Milk is an optimal source of protein on a daily basis to build lean muscle, strength and endurance, as well as post-exercise for muscle recovery. 
  • Electrolytes: We lose electrolytes through sweat. Electrolytes—such as sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate and magnesium—are important for a variety of reasons that impact hydration. This includes moving nutrients into your cells; helping your nerves, muscles, heart and brain work the way they should; and balancing the amount of water in your body. Water is hydrating, but it doesn’t include electrolytes and while sports drinks have become increasingly popular, you’ll find added sugar along with your added electrolytes. Milk is a great natural source of electrolytes.
  • B Vitamins: The B vitamins found naturally in milk (B2, B3 and B5) help convert carbohydrates, fats and protein into fuel for the body, increasing energy stores and performance.
  • Essential Nutrients: The nine essential nutrients in milk also contribute to overall health and wellness. For athletes, calcium, vitamin D, phosphorous, protein and potassium help to maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of stress factors.  In addition, vitamin A supports the immune system.

Milk’s ability to rehydrate and refuel has been recognized by many organizations including the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA). Low-fat chocolate milk is the official beverage of the NIAA. For the past decade, they have encouraged student-athletes to refuel with low-fat chocolate milk because of its nutrient-density of 9 essential nutrients—including electrolytes, 8g of protein, and composition of 85% water for rehydrating.

So the next time you reach for something to help your young athlete hydrate and quench their thirst, opt for a cool glass of milk or chocolate milk!

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