When I was growing up, all we drank at meals was milk—a tradition I continued when I had my own children. Imagine my surprise when I became the director of a school nutrition program where milk drinking was not the norm. Upon seeing this, I challenged myself to make drinking milk a “no-brainer” for my students, to teach the astounding benefits of chocolate milk.
My first thought was to try and think about who the students in the school would look up to if they drank milk? In the South, that’s really a no-brainer, the football team. Getting the football team into the “drinking milk game” fell into my lap when the head football coach came to me to ask how he could get more protein into his athletes. I immediately told him that the solution to his problem was milk.
Our discussions progressed and I was able to talk to him about the benefits of chocolate milk as a recovery beverage and how low-fat chocolate milk contained just the right ratio of carbohydrates and high-quality protein to rebuild muscles after a tough workout. As a dietitian, I was thrilled to have the science to back it up. Research shows that drinking 16 ounces of fat-free chocolate milk 30-to-60 minutes after exercise leads to a greater concentration of glycogen in muscles, as compared to sports drinks that only provide carbohydrates.
Another important point about chocolate milk for children, especially athletes, is that it contains essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, protein and potassium to help build and maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of stress fractures.
Not only was the coach convinced, but he convinced the football team to start drinking milk at breakfast, lunch and requesting it for their after-school snack each day. The athletes are my biggest milk drinkers now, as they realize the benefits of milk for refueling, repairing muscles, rebuilding, recovery, electrolyte replacement and rehydration. Our coaches love their milk cooler they received from the “Coolers for Coaches” program for storing milk for in that their athletes.
And yes, my students are drinking more milk now because they see the athletes drinking flavored milk. Goal accomplished!
Donna S. Martin, EdS, RDN, SNS, FAND, is the Director of the School Nutrition Program at Burke County Public Schools in Waynesboro, GA. She has been a School Nutrition Director for more than 22 years.