Henry Shefflin and Noel McGrath highlight the importance of dairy in sports nutrition

LIQUID FUEL: Former Kilkenny hurling player Henry Shefflin and Tipperary champion Noel McGrath

HOW sports nutrition has changed. When ten-time All-Ireland hurling champion Henry Shefflin first started playing with Kilkenny, he used to make regular visits to the chipper after training.

He’s still partial to a good takeaway, he admits. Now, however, he indulges only occasionally and always at the end of a week that is filled with nutritious food and exercise.

“I must say, the good habits I picked up as a player have stayed with me,” he tells Feelgood.

A typical day still starts with porridge and fruit. Then, it’s a turkey or ham sandwich for lunch, plenty of water, and a dinner of chicken or fish with salad or pasta.

Now that he’s retired, he allows himself some extra treats: “I do love my cup of tea to round off the day and you would have to have a small few biscuits with this!” he laughs.

The hurling All-Star says the approach to nutrition in sport has changed utterly – and with good reason.

“In today’s world, I think more and more of the general population know that diet is so important. And with the onset of sport science, I think all players at the top level know that diet and recovery are so important,” he says.

Part of that recovery process always included drinking milk, Shefflin said, speaking just after the National Ploughing Championships where he was joined by rugby stars Rob and Dave Kearney who are backing the National Dairy Council’s (NDC) new ‘Powered by Dairy’ campaign.

Henry Shefflin and Noel McGrath highlight the importance of dairy in sports nutrition

NDC chief executive Zoë Kavanagh said: “This is a campaign which brings sports enthusiasts on a journey to learn about the role of protein in building and maintaining muscle and the role of milk and dairy in sports nutrition.”

Expect to hear a lot more about the role of milk in sport as a growing number of studies highlight its effectiveness in aiding recovery and rehydration.

One of those studies, undertaken at the University of Limerick, showed that drinking milk is one of the best ways to rehydrate the body after exercise.

The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that milk restored fluid balance more effectively than water or sports drinks (carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions).

The benefits, however, go even further than that, explains Caroline O’Donovan, National Dairy Council nutritionist.

“Milk helps rehydrate the body, but it also helps to refuel and repair the body,” she says.

“Everyone is aware of the vitamins and minerals in milk, but it is also a really good source of high-quality protein, and protein is quite the buzz word.”

She goes on to explain that intense exercise breaks down muscles and causes wear and tear. 

Making sure to eat high-quality protein after exercising helps to repair those muscles.

Milk contains whey protein, which is high in an amino acid (leucine) known to help rebuild muscle protein.

As well as its role in rehydration, milk also helps to refuel energy stores because it contains the natural carbohydrate, lactose.

“Milk ticks all the boxes and the research showing that is growing,” says Caroline O’Donovan.

A study at Northumbria University found that milk and milk-based products – skimmed, low-fat and chocolate milk – helped to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.

Researchers gave some athletes 500ml of (skimmed) milk and some 500ml of water. 

Those who had the milk performed significantly better in performance tests.

In her own study, conducted as part of an MA for the University of Chester, O’Donovan looked at the effect of milk on teenage girls. 

She found that those who had milk after exercise registered a significant benefit in terms of their sprint performance.

More research is needed, she says, but it’s clear that milk had a very important role to play after exercise.

While she says there is also a role for sports drinks, they should be consumed sparingly, particularly by children: “They have a place in certain circumstances but they are for intense energy bursts, not after a 20-minute walk.”

Milk, however, is for everyone, she adds. 

“It’s not just for elite athletes. We want to emphasis the importance of exercise in general and the need to nourish your body afterwards. You don’t have to be in the ring for Ireland to give your body the nourishment it needs.”


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