Many tissues in the human body go through very interesting growth and repair processes, and muscles are a great example. As any regular weightlifter is well aware, much of the purpose of this process is actually to damage muscle fibers, then allow them to recover stronger than they were before — there are a number of resources those in these settings lean on to help with this recovery, and one of these is dairy protein.
At Idaho Milk Products, our milk protein concentrates and related products are ideal for many purposes, including active nutrition for athletes or any other people who are regularly looking for assistance with muscle recovery. What are some of the key ways dairy protein and its related nutrients help those in these positions, and why has this theme only increased among food scientists and other professionals in recent years? Here’s a basic primer.
Amino Acids and Protein Synthesis
As we noted above, the process of muscle recovery involves muscles first being damaged, then repaired. This occurs through a loss and regrowth of muscle proteins, which are made up of amino acids — the more amino acids available to muscles after exercise, the greater their ability to recover will be.
Dairy proteins contain all essential amino acids required for protein synthesis in humans, which is one reason they’re often thought of as an ideal post-workout or other muscle recovery food. However, it’s not just the quantity of amino acids that matters — their quality is also essential. Dairy proteins have a high concentration of leucine, which has been shown to be especially important in activating muscle protein synthesis.
It’s important to realize that muscle fibers are actually shaped like tubes, and when they’re damaged, those tubes can start to leak. When this occurs, it results in what’s known as exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), and it can cause serious soreness. Dairy proteins have also been shown to be helpful in repairing these leaks, which helps further reduce the amount of time it takes muscles to recover from exercise.
Combinations With Carbohydrates
Another common use of dairy proteins during muscle recovery is combining them with carbohydrates, which has been shown to further improve the rate of protein synthesis. This is likely due to the fact that carbohydrates help stimulate insulin release, and insulin has been shown to play an important role in amino acid uptake and muscle protein synthesis.
In general, it’s thought that consuming a combination of carbohydrates and protein after exercise can help improve muscle recovery to a greater extent than either nutrients alone. This is why many sports drinks and other active nutrition products contain both carbohydrates and protein, and dairy proteins are often a good choice for the protein component.
Especially when compared to products like soy or plant-based protein powders, dairy proteins (particularly whey protein) tend to be more rapidly digested and absorbed, which means they can get to work repairing muscles more quickly.
Increases in Lean Body Mass
A common form of exercise for those who often require assistance with muscle recovery is resistance training, which refers to any type of exercise that causes muscles to contract against some form of external resistance (such as weights).
Dairy proteins have been shown to be especially effective at helping people build lean body mass when combined with resistance training. In fact, one study showed that those who consumed a whey protein supplement while participating in a 12-week resistance training program gained more lean body mass and strength than those who didn’t consume the supplement.
Dairy proteins are thought to be especially effective at building lean body mass because they contain a high concentration of leucine, which has been shown to play an important role in muscle growth. In addition, dairy proteins tend to be more rapidly digested and absorbed than other types of protein, which means they can get to work repairing muscles more quickly.
It’s not just resistance training that can benefit from the use of dairy proteins during muscle recovery — endurance training can also be enhanced by these nutrients.
For example, one study showed that those who consumed a dairy protein supplement before and after completing a marathon ran faster and had less post-race inflammation than those who didn’t consume the supplement. Dairy proteins are thought to be especially beneficial for endurance athletes because they can help reduce the amount of muscle damage that occurs during these types of activities.
A big part of this is the slow speed at which casein proteins are digested and absorbed, which helps provide a steady supply of amino acids to muscles over a longer period of time. This is especially important for endurance athletes because they often exercise for long periods of time and need a constant supply of energy.
Uses of Chocolate Milk
It’s only tangentially related to our topic, but it helps drive home some of the themes we’ve gone over above — in many cases, chocolate milk is considered even more beneficial than regular milk for those looking to improve their muscle recovery.
This is because chocolate milk contains more carbohydrates than other types of milk, in addition to protein, which as we’ve seen can be a potent combo when it comes to rebuilding muscles after exercise. In addition, chocolate milk contains cocoa flavanols, which have been shown to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation.
For more on the role dairy proteins and related products play in the realm of muscle recovery, or to learn about how our milk proteins can enhance your consumer products, speak to the staff at Idaho Milk Products today.