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The skinny on skim milk

MilkThe perfect recovery drink comes from a cow

After a training run, many runners immediately  reach for a bottle of energy drink or choose to fill up  on a protein shake. But you don’t have to turn to magic  powder concoctions in order to rehydrate and recover.  In fact, there’s one beverage that’s often put on the  backburner, but can efficiently help an athlete recover  after exercise: skim milk.

Milk as part of an everyday diet 

There are many myths surrounding skim and homogenized  milk: does skim milk really have way more  sugar than homogenized milk? Should we avoid  homogenized milk because it has more fat? Is one  variety of milk better for our health than others?  Ashley Charlebois, a registered dietician from Fortius  Sport & Health in Vancouver, explains that dairy can  make up part of a healthy diet. “Milk is a great source  of carbohydrates and protein, but it also meets an  individual’s calcium and vitamin D needs.”

Regardless of whether milk is skimmed or homogenized  or somewhere in between, the important  vitamins and minerals are provided at essentially the  same proportion. For example, the list of nutrient data  compiled by Health Canada demonstrates that both  skim and homogenized milk have 0.996 micrograms  of vitamin D per 100 grams of milk. The amount  of calcium is also comparable: skim milk contains  122 mg of calcium while homogenized milk has  113 mg of calcium. “While both varieties of milk  provide essential vitamins and minerals,” Charlebois  explains, “homogenized milk does have a higher saturated  fat content.”

Skim milk as a recovery drink 

Dr. Susan Barr, a food health and nutrition professor  at the University of British Columbia, explains that  “the nutrition guidelines for intake after training are  to rehydrate, replenish carbohydrates (especially if  another hard, glycogen-depleting workout will be  done the soon after), and consume a source of protein.”  While many immediately think of sports drinks or  protein shakes as the go-to post-run beverage, fluid  milk also fulfills all three of these criteria.

Rehydration is incredibly important after exercise.  “Water can be fine during and after training sessions of  less than an hour,” Barr explains. “But beverages with  some sodium are more effective rehydration beverages than plain water,  which contains no sodium at all.” The sodium level increases the body’s  retention of f luid, allowing for more efficient rehydration. Interestingly, the  sodium level in skim milk (109 mg per 250 ml carton) is comparable to the  sodium level of many sports drinks currently on the market.  After depleting glycogen stores during a long run, replenishing carbohydrates  is just as essential as rehydration. Barr explains that after vigorous  exercise, runners should try and consume 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram  of body weight for the first couple of hours after exercise. Skim milk  contains about five grams of lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk) per  100 grams, meaning a 500 ml carton provides roughly 26 grams of carbohydrate.  For athletes who need more carbohydrate than a large glass of skim  milk provides, Charlebois suggests pairing a glass of skim milk with a piece of  fruit. Another popular option is chocolate milk. It provides the same amount  of protein and fluid as skim milk but more carbohydrate, making it an easy  way to help replenish carbohydrate stores after a glycogen-depleting workout.  In addition to this, Barr explains that recovery guidelines recommend  an athlete consume between 15 and 25 grams of protein after exercise. A  500 ml carton of skim milk provides 17 grams of protein; just one large glass  will significantly aid an athlete’s recovery. Unlike protein powders, skim  milk provides athletes with a natural form of protein in absorbable amounts.

Is skim milk the best milk choice? 

So, when it comes to milk as a recovery beverage, should you go with skim,  1 per cent or homogenized? Put simply, it depends – there is not one right  answer here. Runners who know they are expending a lot of energy training  and who have trouble keeping their body weight up might prefer higher-fat  milk. Barr explains: “250 ml of skim milk has about 90 kilocalories, 250 ml  of 1 per cent milk has about 110 kilocalories, and the same amount of homogenized  milk has about 160 kilocalories.” On the other hand, athletes looking  to control their weight or regulate their fat intake might prefer skim milk.  An athlete’s milk choice will come down to their energy expenditure, their  training regime, and their taste preference.


1 cup frozen berries

½ banana

½ cup kale or baby spinach

1 tbsp natural peanut butter

½ cup yogurt (try 0–2% fat Greek yogurt)

1 cup skim milk

1 tbsp chia seeds

Serves 1

Nutrition Information

(per serving)

Calories. . . . . . . 450

Fat. . . . . . . . . . . 15 g

Saturated. . . . 3 g

Carbohydrates. 59 g

Fibre. . . . . . . . 11 g

Sugar . . . . . . . 37 g

Cholesterol. . . . 10 mg

Sodium . . . . . . . 210 mg

Protein . . . . . . . 26 g