What Does it Mean to “Refuel” with Milk?

After a long, grueling workout, what is the first thing you grab to help replenish your body? If not milk, you’re missing out. Staff dietitian Allie Elison, RDN, CD, explains why refueling your body after workouts is so important and why milk is the perfect recovery beverage.

There are a lot of reasons why refueling with milk is a good idea—milk is a nutrient powerhouse, providing not just one, but nine essential nutrients. But what exactly does “refuel” mean and why do so many people swear by milk as their go-to refuel beverage? Let’s break down this word…

Part 1: ”Fuel”ing

Fuel is energy. By definition, fuel is an energy source, something that sustains and stimulates power. In nutrition science, fuel and glucose are synonymous. Our bodies prefer glucose for energy - just like a car needs gas, our bodies needs glucose to help keep us running. Glucose courses through our blood and is stored in our muscles so that our cells have available energy to maintain life functions—the power to jump, to run, to walk, and to operate. And this glucose fuel comes from food.

Carbohydrates (whether a complex carbohydrate like the kind found in grains or a simple sugar like a sugar cube or a piece of fruit) all break down into small energy units of glucose during digestion. Our bodies are always preparing to use this energy by storing it and maintaining a level of glucose in our blood.

Part 2: The “Re” part of Refueling

During a workout, because it is readily available, our bodies use glucose for energy. After a workout, our bodies are left depleted of energy, stored glucose is used and our tanks are on empty. After a workout our bodies need to “refuel.” Replacing lost glucose after a workout helps us to rebuild glucose stores and refill our tanks with the energy necessary for our next activity.

Part 3: Refuel with Milk

Milk, both white and chocolate, naturally contain the carbohydrate lactose. Digested lactose breaks down into two simple sugars, one of which (you guessed it), glucose. In fact, an 8 ounce cup of milk provides 12 grams of lactose—a pure, natural source of fuel energy.

Chocolate milk has been touted for its special benefits in the sports nutrition world greatly due to its added glucose. Chocolate milk provides the same great nutrition that white milk provides with an added splash of glucose in the form of sugar and cocoa.

Research in adult athletes has shown that chocolate milk’s perfect ratio of glucose to milk protein is as effective as some sports drinks in refueling muscles after exercise.

Milk’s natural package of nutrients provides the energy that your body needs to “re-fuel” after exercise, setting you up for future workouts and better health. Next time you “re-think” your post-exercise drink, don’t second guess milk as one of your best options; it tastes great and carries the nutrition science to back up. 

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