Milk: essential kit bag equipment

There’s a reason sports people don’t just go for gold, they reach for milk

Milk – essential kit bag equipment

Young people should be taking five portions of dairy foods per day for bone health and adults should be aiming for three. Photograph: Thinkstock


“In sports there are two big reasons we love milk,” says IRFU performance nutritionist Nóra Ni Fhlannagáin.

Recover and repair

“During exercise, your muscles break down. Tiny tears come in the muscle fibres and, when our bodies repair the muscles, knitting them back together to become bigger, better, stronger and more efficient, that’s when we get better at sports,” she says.

Recovery and repair is an ‘inside out’ job.  “Nutrition and feeding your muscles from the inside is a lot more important than outside strategies like stretching and compression leggings and ice-baths. The current scientific evidence shows that foods or drinks containing protein and carbohydrates straight after a training session will give your body what it needs to repair the muscles optimally.”

Ni Fhlannagáin beleves milk is “probably the best food source for recovery” for a number of reasons:

  • it’s a liquid, which means our bodies can access the nutrients faster than breaking down a food meal
  • it's high in leucine, a particular type of protein that's really important for muscle repair
  • it's got a natural source of carbohydrates (lactose, friendly milk sugars that aren't as bad for your teeth as other sugars) so it has a good combination of both carbohydrates and protein
  • it's got the right amount of protein. 1 pint of milk will give you the 20g of protein that the evidence shows is the right amount of protein to take after a training session.

A number of scientists have been researching milk in relation to sport, she says, including ones which show that low fat milk is an excellent recovery drink which is better than water, which has no carbs and no protein, and sports drinks, which have carbs, but no protein.


The other reason milk is good for sports is that it helps aid rehydration.

“There’s now a growing body of evidence to show that milk is excellent for hydration,” says Nóra Ni Fhlannagáin. “Milk is a natural source of the electrolytes sodium and potassium which help fluids to be absorbed into the body.” Milk also has a small amount of fat. “Fat takes longer to digest than other nutrients, so it slows down the movement of the milk through the digestive tract. Because it spends longer moving through the digestive tract, the body has more time to absorb the fluids,” she says. 

Water, by comparison, which has not got fat or carbs to be digested, moves through the body at a faster rate. The protein in milk also helps with fluid absorption.

Go bananas

There are additional reasons to think milk when you’re grabbing your kit bag. “It’s so handy!” says Ni Fhlannagáin. “It’s available in every shop so if you’re on the road, in a rush, on your way to school or coming out of training, you can nearly always access a pint of milk and a banana, which is a go-to recovery snack that will provide the right amount of carbohydrates and protein to get your muscle recovery started after excercise.”

It’s also a great source of calcium. “Young people should be taking five portions of dairy foods per day for bone health and adults should be aiming for three. It’s really important to have strong bones because stress fractures and fractures from impact are fairly common in many sports, including athletics, equestrian, soccer, GAA and rugby,” she says.

Treat yourself

Looking for a sweeter treat to help aid recovery after sport? Check out flavoured milk.

“Chocolate flavoured milk is really popular at the moment and there’s good evidence to show that it's a great recovery snack,” says Ni Fhlannagáin. “But because it’s very high in added sugars, in the IRFU’s age-grade programmes, we use milk & banana for recovery after training sessions (gym and pitch) and save flavoured milk for use after games when the intensity is extremely high.”

As an organisation, the IRFU is really keen on milk, she says.  “We see it as a great partner, as are lots of sports, that’s why you can see collaborations between Kilkenny GAA and Avonmore, Ulster rugby and Dale Farm, IRFU and Glenisk, the Kearney brothers and Irish Dairy Council. It's a really good fit for both.”

For more information visit ndc.ie/dairy-goodness

The National Dairy council