Dairy industry wants to slap sports-related health claims on milk

Esther Han
Research finds milk can be more effective than standard sports drinks after exercise.
Research finds milk can be more effective than standard sports drinks after exercise. 

Chocolate milk, not brightly hued sports drinks, can be a better way to enhance exercise and speed up recovery, research has found.

And the milk industry wants everyone to know it.

Dairy Australia has urged Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), which has proposed to ease health-claim labelling rules for electrolyte sports drinks,  to consider milk and milk-based beverages as well.

The milk industry is promoting the health benefits of milk for athletes.
The milk industry is promoting the health benefits of milk for athletes. 

"There's lots of evidence that shows milk can replenish fuel stores after a workout, rehydrate, repair muscles, and support exercise performance," said Helen Mair, policy adviser at the industry services body. "We want to communicate these [on milk packaging]."

New research, funded by Griffith University, found Pauls full cream milk, So Good soy milk and Sustagen Sport liquid meal replacement restored lost fluids better than Powerade sports drink.

In the study, published last monthin Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 15 men rode on stationary bikes wearing heavy clothing to encourage sweat loss.

At the end, they were stripped nude, dried and weighed. The men lost nearly 2 per cent of their starting body weight. They then consumed one of the four drinks in the first hour and were weighed again three hours later.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Ben Desbrow, found milk was as good, if not better than, sports drinks in replacing lost fluids after intense exercise.

"The results of this investigation demonstrate that consumption of a milk-based liquid meal supplement following exercise results in improved fluid retention when compared with cow's milk, soy milk, and a carbohydrate–electrolyte drink. Additionally, cow's milk and soy milk were similarly effective at enhancing fluid restoration in comparison with the carbohydrate-electrolyte drink," the researchers reported.


Dairy Australia's submission to Food Standards pointed to five academic papers that found chocolate milk restored and supported exercise performance after intense exercise.

Geoff Parker, chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council, said he welcomed the dairy industry's push for increased labelling rights, as long as there was credible and substantiated research to prove milk's effectiveness on athletes.

The organisation's members include Coca-Cola - the maker of Powerade - and producers of flavoured milk. 

"Research proving the effectiveness of sports drinks has been around for three decades. So if milk can meet that same evidence base, they should be able to make a sports-related health claim," he said.

Veteran nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said the general population did not need to worry about rapid fluid replacement and other electrolyte benefits if they were not engaged in strenuous, high-endurance sports at elite levels.

She is against FSANZ's proposal to ease restrictions on manufacturers to allow them to add health claims on sports drinks, which can have as much sugar as soft drinks.

"But milk's good for everyone, so I don't have any objections to that," she said. "The next stage is to find out about fortified milk. Some don't have much protein, such as rice milk, and may not be as effective."

Part of FSANZ's proposal could lead to sports drinks being exempted from a regulation that prohibits health claims on products deemed unhealthy overall.

Jane Martin, from the Obesity Policy Coalition, said she did not want to see chocolate milk with high added sugar being promoted as healthy.

"It might be better to drink a milk-based product instead of Coca-Cola because there is some benefit to it, but people are already very confused by what's healthy and what's not," she said.

"Health claims are a very powerful marketing tool and unfortunately I think we're going to see more of these kinds of challenges to the food code."

Dairy Australia also wants lactose, which can account for up to 8 per cent of milk, to be added to the regulator's list of specified sugars required in electrolyte drinks.