Cow's milk as a post-exercise recovery drink: implications for performance and health

Eur J Sport Sci. 2019 Feb;19(1):40-48. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1534989. Epub 2018 Oct 31.


Post-exercise recovery is a multi-facetted process that will vary depending on the nature of the exercise, the time between exercise sessions and the goals of the exerciser. From a nutritional perspective, the main considerations are: (1) optimisation of muscle protein turnover; (2) glycogen resynthesis; (3) rehydration; (4) management of muscle soreness; (5) appropriate management of energy balance. Milk is approximately isotonic (osmolality of 280-290 mosmol/kg), and the mixture of high quality protein, carbohydrate, water and micronutrients (particularly sodium) make it uniquely suitable as a post-exercise recovery drink in many exercise scenarios. Research has shown that ingestion of milk post-exercise has the potential to beneficially impact both acute recovery and chronic training adaptation. Milk augments post-exercise muscle protein synthesis and rehydration, can contribute to post-exercise glycogen resynthesis, and attenuates post-exercise muscle soreness/function losses. For these aspects of recovery, milk is at least comparable and often out performs most commercially available recovery drinks, but is available at a fraction of the cost, making it a cheap and easy option to facilitate post-exercise recovery. Milk ingestion post-exercise has also been shown to attenuate subsequent energy intake and may lead to more favourable body composition changes with exercise training. This means that those exercising for weight management purposes might be able to beneficially influence post-exercise recovery, whilst maintaining the energy deficit created by exercise.

Keywords: Muscle protein synthesis; appetite; energy balance; glycogen resynthesis; muscle damage; rehydration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Body Weight Maintenance
  • Cattle
  • Energy Intake
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Exercise*
  • Fluid Therapy
  • Glycogen / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Milk*
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Myalgia
  • Nutritive Value
  • Sports Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*


  • Muscle Proteins
  • Glycogen