Exercising takes it out of you doesn’t it? You’re hot, sweaty, knackered and your mouth is so dry you feel as though you could drink the entire Atlantic Ocean and still be dying of thirst! But what do you rehydrate with after a workout; what really hits the spot and quenches that unrelenting thirst, whilst also helping to restore your body back to it’s functional best?
Many of us would naturally choose water, I mean surely that’s the most hydrating liquid of all, right?! And if you’re happy with drinking the stuff that comes out of the tap, then it’s free. Perfect solution.
Or maybe you go for something a bit more performance based, one of those sports drinks with added electrolytes and minerals that look as though they’ve been poured straight out of a glowstick – seriously how on earth do they make them look so day glo?! But it’s ever so confusing, because there are so many sports drinks out there that it is near on impossible knowing a) which one to choose and b) whether it’s actually doing you any good. And don’t even get me started on the sugar content of some of those drinks!
So, it’s back to good old refreshing, albeit slightly boring, H2O. Downing a pint of water post-workout can’t be a bad thing surely? Well, no of course not, water is a key element to hydration and considering the average adult body is made up of 60% water, it’s pretty obvious that if you’ve just sweated out a large amount of it, then you’re gonna need to get those levels topped up quick smart. But drinking too much water in a short space of time i.e. downing it like a student on an all you can drink bar crawl, is not doing you any favours, because it ends up diluting any remaining minerals in your body all of which will be lost when you inevitably need to go to the little girl’s room more frequently!
What’s The Solution?
Yep I know, it’s not exactly the first drink I’d think of reaching for post-workout either. Personally, I always feel pretty close to puking after I’ve worked out (well, I do like to push myself sometimes!), so the thought of drinking something so creamy, thick and rich makes me gag just thinking about it. But hear me out, because a rather knowledgeable running friend of mine (Lizzie Mant I’m looking at you!) informs me that milk is the absolute best thing you can give your body when it needs some intense rehydration and here’s why:
Milk is made up of two different types of protein – Casein and Whey. Recognise those words? Yeah, they’re the very proteins you’ll find in your favourite protein powders, snacks, sports and energy drinks, but milk actually contains higher levels of these proteins and most importantly it’s natural! Casein is a slow digesting protein and milk is predominantly (80%) made up of this bad boy.
Slow digesting = fuller for longer…simple.
And the 20% that’s left is whey; the fast digesting protein. Whey helps muscle repair, so get this in your system straight after exercise and it will set straight to work repairing all those muscles you’ve just trained the hell out of. Ideally you need to be getting a good supply of protein in you within half an hour of finishing your workout, as this is the time your body benefits most. Drinking a big glass of milk will not only start rebuilding muscle, but it will also help prevent soreness and replenish essential fluids. And if you’re exercise goal is for greater gains, then milk is your secret weapon. Drinking the white stuff after resistance or weight training is the best way to boost muscle gain and reduce body fat.
People often shy away from carbs, believing they are the root cause of rapid weight gain. And OK yes, too many of the wrong type of carbs isn’t exactly going to do much for your waistline, but carbs are an essential part of any healthy, balanced diet and in fact they help activate protein and get it working quicker and more efficiently. Which is great, because milk contains both protein and carbohydrates; the perfect all in one liquid solution. Unfortunately it’s not good news for everyone though, as it’s the carbs, in this case the lactose, in milk that can sometimes cause discomfort to people who have an intolerance. If this is the case you can opt for a lactose-free cow milk and still benefit from it’s nutritional content or alternatively you could try exploring some of the other numerous milk alternatives out there, such as:
- Goats milk
- Coconut milk
- Soy milk
- Rice milk
- Nut milks – almond, cashew, hazelnut to name but a few!
- Oat milk
- Hemp milk
- Sheep milk
- You can even get camel milk!
Slow and Long
Research has proven that milk remains in the digestive system longer than both water and sports drinks do, and therefore hydrates and satisfies for much longer too. And the main reason for this slow releasing energy is fat. Contrary to popular belief, eating the right amount of full fat foods will actually help you lose weight. Now, don’t all go rushing out to the shops to stock up on family sized tubs of lard, because that’s not what I’m saying, but basically all those diets that tell you to swap from whole milk to semi or even skimmed milk…poppycock! Fat digests slowly, keeping you fuller for longer and therefore decreasing hunger levels. So do you see? Drinking a glass of full fat milk after exercising is not only a fantastic hydrating drink, but also a satisfying keep you going until lunchtime snack!
You’ve probably all seen the word electrolytes on the side of sports drinks, but what actually are they? I confess, I had to Google it. Basically they are chemicals found in the body that help certain functions from, well…functioning. From regulating heartbeat, allowing muscle contraction, preventing cramps, headaches and dehydration (ah ha hydration!), electrolytes include the minerals sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate and chloride. These minerals are the ones we lose when we sweat, so it’s absolutely essential that we help get them back into the body after a workout. Sports drinks add them, milk naturally has them…which one you gonna choose?!
So we’ve established that milk has a lot more going for it than water, but of course water is still incredibly important, it’s the very essence of hydration itself. Well the good news is that milk is made up of approximately 87% water, so you’re getting two drinks in one! It can be very difficult to gauge how much water has been lost from the body through sweating, particularly for long distance runners or athletes who compete in very intensive training regimes. The best indicator is wee! Just remember this:
If it looks like pale straw you need no more, if it looks like ink make sure you drink!
Proper hydration improves muscle recovery and will increase strength levels by preventing fatigue and energy loss. It’s also important to bear in mind that more often than not, when you think you’re hungry you are actually thirsty, so always have a drink first, give it 10 minutes or so and then decide if you still need something to eat. Chances are if you’ve had your milk, you wont!
Cheap and Easy
And finally, other than water (which is basically free if you drink it from the tap), there is no other fluid that will give you as many benefits for literally the price of a pint of milk. Considering its high nutritional content, milk really is one of the cheapest foods going. And what could be easier than grabbing a bottle of milk from the fridge, opening it and taking a dirty great big swig – just don’t tell your mum!
It certainly makes you think about milk in a whole different light doesn’t it?
So next time you workout, rather than grabbing a ghastly neon sports drink from the vending machine at the gym, save your money and reach for a pint of the white stuff instead.