The National Dairy Coun-cil is releasing a new campaign that seeks to educate athletes about the benefits of drinking chocolate milk after a workout. Research highlighting the post-workout recovery benefits of milk have opened new opportunities for the industry.

The recognition began with a 2006 University of Indiana study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Researchers found that during an interval workout, endurance-trained male cyclists who drank chocolate milk outperformed those who drank a typical carbohydrate sports beverage. Since then additional studies consistently have shown that milk and enhanced milk beverages may function as sports nutrition beverages.

Milk inherently contains the right mix of nutrients to perform as a sports beverage. Further, the whey proteins found in milk are recognized for their positive impact on muscle health. The benefit is attributed to the high concentration of the branched-chain amino acid leucine found in whey proteins.

“Athletes need fuel for both immediate and stored energy,” said Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., senior medical editor with the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. “The body’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrate in the form of sugar, which is stored as glycogen in the muscles. Protein is needed to build muscles and repair them after use.

“Milk offers both carbohydrate in the form of lactose and protein in the form of whey and casein. When compared to sports drinks, studies show that low-fat milk, plain or chocolate, was equivalent or better for fueling, repairing and building muscle. The results were especially impressive when milk was used as a recovery or post-exercise beverage.”

In addition to carbohydrates and protein, fluid milk-based beverages contain the same nutrients present in fresh milk. Chocolate milk, as well as other flavored milk beverages, contain a bonus of additional carbohydrate from the added sweetener.

“Milk has other performance-enhancing qualities,” Ms. Zeratsky said. “It inherently is a source of a number of electrolytes, including sodium and potassium, which are lost through sweat and must be replenished after exercise. Milk is also rich in nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D.”

Fluid milk processors are banking on the new “got chocolate milk?” campaign entitled “Built with chocolate milk” to help them reverse the continuing slump in fluid milk sales. The campaign features athletes chugging bottles of chocolate milk after their workout. The overall message is that chocolate milk has what it takes to help one recover after pushing their body to the max.

Adding value with extra dairy protein

Research shows adding whey proteins to milk may make it an even better sports beverage. As mentioned, whey proteins are a concentrated source of leucine, which has been shown to have a significant role in muscle maintenance and repair. This presents an opportunity for fluid milk processors to add value by creating niche products that command a premium.

Suppliers offer an array of whey proteins for beverage fortification. For example, Davisco Foods International Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., has developed a proprietary whey protein isolate ingredient that is a concentrated source of leucine: 13.1% vs. 11% for standard leucine.

“This ingredient is a high-quality, ultra-pure whey protein isolate that delivers all of the essential amino acids needed by the human body, without added carbohydrates and fat,” said Phanin Leksrisompong, director of business development. “Made from pasteurized cheese whey by ion exchange technology, it has superior functionality, solubility and clean flavor. It is ideal for nutrition enhancement of all types of medical foods and food products, in particular sports recovery beverages.”

Jack Madsen, business development manager at Arla Foods Ingredients, which has offices in Basking Ridge, N.J., said, “Dairy proteins are an innovator’s dream come true. They are a gateway to creating some truly great new product opportunities that are perfectly in tune with the needs and desires of the millions of consumers leading active and healthy lifestyles.”

Arla markets a whey protein hydrolysate that has been shown to be quickly absorbed by the body. This results in faster muscle recovery after exercise, enabling elite athletes to compete at their best time after time.

Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis., offers an ingredient that contains high levels of leucine-rich peptides isolated from whey proteins. It is produced using patent-pending technology designed to improve delivery of amino acids to muscle tissue, thereby allowing for more efficient nutrient delivery for improved muscle synthesis and growth.

Innovations in the marketplace

A forerunner in the value-added, milk-based sports beverage business is Shamrock Farms, Phoenix. In 2010, the company introduced Rockin’ Refuel, a 100% real milk sports recovery beverage fortified to contain 20 grams of proteins per 12-oz single-serve container. The formulation provides a 2:1 carb to protein ratio, which is considered to be the optimal balance for rebuilding muscle.

Since then three other formulations have joined the original line. For those who want even more protein, there’s Rockin’ Refuel Muscle Builder with 30 grams. If lower calorie and less protein is desired, then there’s Rockin’ Refuel Lean Recovery, with 50% less sugar, 20% fewer calories and 17 grams of protein. The newest product in the range is Rockin’ Refuel Lean Builder, with 20 grams of protein, 6 grams of sugar and 150 calories.

“Our new Lean Builder product comes with even fewer calories for everyday active people looking to stay in shape and build lean muscle,” said Blake Atkinson, director of brand management. “As one of the pioneers in protein-fortified milk, Rockin’ Refuel is constantly evaluating the needs of people who lead active lifestyles in order to create new products that are beneficial to achieving their physical goals.”

Another forerunner in this category is fairlife L.L.C., Chicago, formerly Fair Oaks Farms Brands Inc. The company is owned by a group of farmers and is also the developer and marketer of the Core Power line of high-protein milkshakes.

Core Power, the lactose-free recovery beverage that made its initial debut a few years ago under the brand Athletes HoneyMilk, is manufactured with fluid milk and honey. Core Power’s ratio of 20% whey and 80% casein is the same ratio that is naturally found in milk. It is sold in 11.5-oz plastic bottles and is aseptically packaged so it may be distributed in a shelf-stable environment until chilled before consumption.

“Our unique cold filtration process, which allows us to increase the amount of protein and calcium, is a true innovation in the dairy category,” said Steve Jones, chief executive officer. “Core Power replenishes strength and builds lean muscle after a workout. It’s a perfect recovery drink for everyone — from the elite athlete to those just trying to keep fit.”

Since June 2012, when the five-variety line — chocolate in both 20 grams and 26 grams of protein per serving, banana (26 grams), strawberry banana (20 grams) and vanilla (26 grams) — started being distributed by Coca-Cola Refreshments, Atlanta, sales have boomed for the company.

“This past year, sales of Core Power grew to five times what we accomplished in 2012, which itself was five times more than 2011,” said Anders Porter, director of communications. “We look for that trend to continue in 2014.

“Core Power is now in national distribution in all channels and is growing in popularity not only amongst fitness enthusiasts, but with on-the-go active lifestylers looking for a nutritious snack. The popularity of the product is largely due to the superior taste, which is driven by the fact that Core Power does not use protein powders or milk powders, instead relying on the natural, in-solution whey and casein proteins naturally found in milk.”

Core Power’s nutritional profile attracted the attention of elite athletes, as the product was named “Official protein drink of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games,” which will be taking place this February in Sochi, Russia.

“This adds credibility to the fact that Core Power is not just a great-tasting product, but is appreciated and utilized by some of the most well-trained and focused athletes in the world,” Mr. Porter said.

As an emerging dairy-based health and wellness company, fairlife is aware of the growth of milk-based products in the sports nutrition category.

“We are excited to be leading the way with the fresh milk-based nutrition in Core Power,” Mr. Porter said. “We look forward to going beyond sports nutrition by contributing with other high-protein milk based products in the future.”

Other dairies around the world are joining in on the protein-enhanced fresh milk sports nutrition trend. Most recently, Saputo Dairy Products Canada G.P., Montreal, introduced Milk2Go Sport. Formulated to deliver 26 grams of protein per 11-oz bottle, this new sports variety joins the company’s other on-the-go fresh milk products.

“People are increasingly mindful about their protein intake, but are often pressed for time or unsure about what to consume post-workout to ensure proper recovery,” said Philippe Duhamel, marketing manager. “Milk2Go Sport was formulated for on-the-go people who are looking for a great tasting product that is high in protein with the natural goodness of milk.”

It is that natural goodness of milk that give it an edge in the sports nutrition beverage business.