What Is The Best Sports Recovery Drink?


Chocolate milk has been touted as the best sports recovery drink out there. The problem is that many people have a hard time with dairy whether that is trouble digesting or sensitivity to it.  In comparing dairy milk to sports drinks and other alternative milks there are many factors to consider. Dairy milk is more nutrient dense than sports drinks with more fats, carbohydrates, proteins, calcium, potassium, and other nutrients.  Comparing skim milk to sports drinks milk has 9 grams of protein to 0 grams of protein from sports drinks. Milk has 3-9 grams of fat to 0 grams of fat from sports drinks. Milk has 12-27 grams of carbohydrate depending on regular or chocolate to 15 grams of carbs from sports drinks. Sodium is close to the same in both, but milk has about 400 mg of potassium to 31 mg of potassium from sports drinks. Because  milk contains casein and whey proteins in a ratio of 3:1 , this provides for slower digestion and absorption of these proteins resulting in sustained elevations of blood amino acid concentrations and better muscle recovery. The take away here is that having a good balance of carbs, fats, and proteins post exercise helps significantly with recovery times.
There was one study done comparing soy milk to dairy milk and dairy milk resulted in significant muscle recovery over soy milk. The conclusion was that this difference is due to the whey and casein proteins found in dairy milk. Whey has been shown in many studies to promote lean muscle mass. Soy milk has proteins that are phyto estrogens and in my mind wouldn’t be the protein of choice for building muscle. Is it the whey in dairy milk that makes the difference?
I haven’t seen any studies comparing dairy milk to other milk alternatives like flax milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or hemp milk. The benefit to these milks is that they actually have more calcium in them. And because dairy milk has such high phosphorous compared to calcium, the body pulls calcium out  of bones and tissues to balance phosphorous resulting in less overall calcium absorbed.  Dairy milk tends to be a high allergen food which can cause overall inflammation in the body. Coconut milk has great electrolyte balance that is closest to our own blood. Coconut milk is high in medium chain triglycerides that are helpful in helping the body burn fat for fuel. Flax milk is high in omega 3’s which is a great anti inflammatory, nerve building, and tissue building.
As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out and people need to decide for themselves which is best for them. What we do know is that having carbohydrates, fats, and proteins post exercise along with nutrients and electrolytes is significantly beneficial. Is it the whey that puts dairy milk above anything else ? I think that then next question is to compare dairy milk to non-soy milk alternatives and see the results. The other aspect to consider is personal variance. Try Dairy milk and see how you feel for 2 weeks. Then try flax milk or coconut milk and see how you feel. Maybe even adding 9 grams of protein to the flax or coconut milk so the protein amount equals what you would find in cows milk. What I do know is that your body won’t lie. It will tell you which one it likes better….. if we are wiling to listen.

Dr. Heidi Hook, ND

Born and raised in Auburn, California. Dr. Heidi Hook is a 1996 graduate of Bastyr University and is the owner of Auburn Naturopathic Medicine. Her practice focuses mainly on discovering the underlying causes of illness that is specific for each person.

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