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Table 1 Overview of milk and dairy product studies on exercise performance and recovery of muscle function

From: Impact of cow’s milk intake on exercise performance and recovery of muscle function: a systematic review

Study No. of participants (sex) Age (years) mean ± SD Fitness level Design Groups Exercise intervention Milk or placebo ingestion Study outcomes Results
Milk and acute resistance/high-intensity exercise
Rankin et al. [28] 18 (females) 22 ± 3 Team sport athletes Between-group design Cow’s low-fat milk (1%)
Placebo energy-matched carbohydrate solution beverage (glucose and an available orange-flavored fruit cordial mixed with water)
Repeated running sprint protocol (15 × 20 m sprints) plus 8 sets of 10 plyometric jumps 500 mL immediately after the exercise. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) peak torque of the best repetition (dominant leg); ii) RFD; iii) CMJ; iv) RSI; v) 5, 10 and 20-m sprint tests; vi) CK; vii) hsCRP; viii) passive and active VAS muscle soreness Cow’s milk attenuated losses in peak torque (at 60 and 180°/s for extension and flexion), CMJ, and RFD
No effects were shown for RSI, 10 and 20-m sprints tests, VAS muscle soreness, CK and hsCRP.
Rankin et al. [27] 10 (females) 22 ± 2 Team sport athletes Crossover design Cow’s low-fat milk (1%)
Placebo energy-matched carbohydrate solution beverage (glucose and an available orange-flavored fruit cordial mixed with water)
Cycling intermittent sprint protocol (5 min warm-up, 2 x [14 × 2 min bout of exercise comprising of 10 s of passive rest, 5 s of maximal sprinting and 105 s of active recovery, with a 15 s maximal sprint followed by 1 min active recovery after the 7th and 14th 2 min bout). The exercise bouts were separated by a 10 min rest 500 mL immediately after the exercise. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) peak torque of the best repetition (dominant leg); ii) RFD; iii) CMJ; iv) 20-m sprint test; v) CK; vi) hsCRP; vii) PC; viii) passive and active VAS muscle soreness Cow’s milk improved recovery of muscle function (peak torque, RFD, 20-m sprint and CMJ), inflammation and markers of muscle damage (CK, hsCRP, PC).
Rankin et al. [29] 32 (16 females, 16 males) 24 ± 4 Team sport athletes Between-group design Cow’s low-fat milk (1%)
Placebo energy-matched carbohydrate solution beverage (glucose and an available orange-flavored fruit cordial mixed with water)
Exercise inducing muscle damage in the hamstrings using isokinetic dynamometry (6 sets of 10 repetitions, eccentric and concentric contractions, with 90 s of rest between sets) at an angular speed of 60°/s 500 mL immediately after the exercise. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) peak torque of the best repetition (dominant leg); ii) 20-m sprint; iii) CMJ; iv) CK; v) sTnI; vi) passive and active VAS muscle soreness Cow’s milk attenuated the decreases in peak torque and 20-m sprint and blunted the increases in passive and active VAS muscle soreness in females compared with a carbohydrate drink.
Cow’s milk also attenuated increases in sTnI, and a similar effect on serum CK was only observed from 24 to 72 h and 48–72 h.
In men, cow’s milk produced a minimal positive effect on soreness and muscle damage (sTnI and CK).
Cockburn et al. [32] 14 (males) 24 ± 4 Team sport athletes (semiprofessional soccer players) Between-group design Cow’s emiskimmed milk (1.7%)
Placebo beverage (water)
Exercise inducing muscle damage in the hamstrings using isokinetic dynamometry (6 sets of 10 repetitions, eccentric and concentric contractions, with 90 s of rest between sets) at a speed of 1.05 rad/s 500 mL immediately after the exercise. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) CMJ; ii) RSI; iii) 15-m sprint test; iv) agility time; v) Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test; vi) CK; vii) Mb; viii) Passive and active VAS muscle soreness Cow’s milk improved performance on 15-m sprint test, agility time and mean 15-m sprint performance.
There was no effect on CMJ, RSI, serum CK, serum Mb, and active and passive muscle soreness.
Cockburn et al. [30] 24 (males) 21 ± 3 Regularly competed in a variety of sports (team and individual) Between-group design Cow’s semiskimmed milk (1.7%; 500 mL)
Cow’s semiskimmed milk (1.7%; 1000 mL)
Placebo beverage (water)
Exercise inducing muscle damage in the hamstrings using isokinetic dynamometry (6 sets of 10 repetitions, eccentric and concentric contractions, with 90 s of rest between sets) at a speed of 1.05 rad/s 500 mL or 1000 mL immediately after the exercise. The volume of placebo was 1000 mL i) Peak torque of the best repetition (dominant leg); ii) CK; iii) Mb; iv) IL-6; v) Passive and active VAS muscle soreness Decrements in isokinetic muscle performance of the dominant leg and CK increases were minimized with the consumption of 500 mL of cow’s milk.
1000 mL of cow’s milk could blunt the increase in IL-6; however, no differences between the cow’s milk groups were observed. No other effects were observed.
Cockburn et al. [31] 24 (males) 21 ± 3 Regularly competed in team sports (football, rugby, hockey and cricket) Between-group design Cow’s semiskimmed milk (1.7%)
Low-fat chocolate milk
Carbohydrate beverage
Placebo beverage (water)
Exercise inducing muscle damage in the hamstrings using isokinetic dynamometry (6 sets of 10 repetitions, eccentric and concentric contractions, with 90 s of rest between sets) at a speed of 1.05 rad/s 500 mL on two occasions, immediately after and within 2 h after the exercise (total volume: 1000 mL). The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) peak torque of the best repetition (dominant leg); ii) CK; iii) Mb; iv) passive and active VAS muscle soreness Cow’s milk attenuated the decrements (48 h) in total work of the set, peak torque, CK and Mb after a bout of exercise-induced muscle damage.
The muscle soreness assessed using VAS was similar between the groups.
Kirk et al. [33] 21 (males) 23 ± 3 Regularly competed in team sports (Gaelic football, soccer, rugby) Between-group design A2 milk
Regular milk (cow’s milk)
Placebo beverage (maltodextrin mixed with water)
Repeated sprint protocol (15 × 30 m sprints with 60 s of rest between series) 500 mL immediately after the exercise. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) CMJ; ii) MVCs; iii) 20-m sprint test; iv) VAS muscle soreness CMJ recovered quicker in both cow’s milk groups vs. the placebo group. No differences between groups were observed in either MVCs or VAS muscle soreness.
There were no effects on 20-m sprint test time; however, the cow’s milk group recovered quicker than the placebo group. Moreover, relative to the baseline, decrements over 48 h were minimized in the cow’s milk vs. placebo groups.
Milk and resistance exercise intervention
Volek et al. [37] 28 (males) 13 to 17 Not reported Between-group design Cow’s fluid milk (1%)
Placebo beverage (apple juice or grape juice depending on the week of study)
12 weeks of resistance training (1 h, 3 days/week). The program consisted of varying training loads and intensities each week, with concomitant decreasing volume 708 mL daily (plus their habitual diet). The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) RM of squat and bench press No differences in maximal strength (squat and bench press strength) were found between groups.
Milk and acute endurance exercise
Upshaw et al. [34] 8 (males) 22 ± 2 Trained cyclists Crossover design Cow’s low-fat milk (1%)
Chocolate Milk (1%)
Hemp chocolate milk
Soy chocolate milk
Placebo beverage (low-energy drink)
Cycling at different intensities until the participant could not continue with the appropriate cadence at an intensity of 70 and 50% of maximal power output. Afterward, a best-effort 20-km time trial test (cycloergometer) 2262 ± 148 mL (beverage plus water if applicable) immediately after the exercise and at 30 min intervals over 2 h before completing the 20-km time trial test exercise. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) best effort 20-km time trial test; ii) HR Cow’s low-fat milk improved the 20-km time trial test performance vs. that of the placebo group.
No differences in HR were observed during this test.
Lee et al. [36] 8 (males) 24 ± 4 Actives (regular physical activity) Crossover design Cow’s 0.1% fat milk
Cow’s 0.1% fat milk plus glucose
A commercially available CHO-electrolyte sports drink
Placebo beverage (water)
Continuous cycling exercise at an intensity of 70% VO2peak until volitional exhaustion, defined as an inability to maintain a pedal cadence of ≥60 rpm 1022 ± 470 (1.5 mL/kg of body mass) every 10 min during exercise. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) time to volitional exhaustion (exercise capacity); ii) HR; iii) expired gases; iv) RPE Exercise capacity, basal HR, exercise HR, expired gases and RPE were similar between groups.
Watson et al. [35] 7 (males) 23 ± 3 Actives (regular physical activity) Crossover design Cow’s skimmed milk (1%)
Placebo beverage (a commercially available carbohydrate-electrolyte drink)
Series of 10 min cycle (55 ± 6 VO2peak) with 5 min of resting between series, until the loss of approximately 1.8% of the initial body mass. Time to exhaustion (61 ± 4 VO2peak) 2263 ± 241 mL (150% of the body mass lost) during the exercise, in four equal boluses at 15 min intervals. The volume of placebo was similar to the intervention one i) exercise to exhaustion (exercise capacity); ii) HR; iii) RPE No effect on time to exhaustion, VO2 and RPE during exercise were observed.
HR was higher during the cow’s milk trial than during the carbohydrate trial.
  1. SD Standard deviation, RFD Rate of force development, CMJ Countermovement jump, RSI Reactive strength index, CK Creatine kinase, hsCRP High-sensitivity C-reactive protein, VAS Visual analogue scales, PC Protein carbonyls, sTnI Skeletal troponin I, Mb Myoglobin, IL-6 Interleukin-6, MVCs Maximal voluntary isometric contractions, rad/s radians per second, RM Maximum repetition, HR Heart rate, RPE Ratio of perceived exertion, VO2 volume of oxygen consumption, VO2peak Peak oxygen uptake, rpm revolutions per minute