Got milk? The Huskies do, and it's chocolate

Got milk? The Huskies do, and it's chocolate
University of Washington football player, Ryan Bush, drinks chocolate milk after practice as part of the teams' cool down routine at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
SEATTLE (AP) - For a period each afternoon, the entire Washington football team is transported back to the hard-plastic trays and lunch lines of elementary school.

One by one they trudge after another exhausting practice to the edge of the Husky Stadium turf where coolers await with refreshing drinks.

Of course, water and sports drinks are there, along with a cooler that appears out of place on a football field - filled with chocolate milk.

"It tastes good to me and, hey, if it's nutritious and helps my body, I'm all for it," wide receiver Cody Ellis said.

The Huskies are experimenting with a new form of nutritional replacement following practices. Along with giving water and sports drinks to rehydrate and replenish during grueling preseason practices, the football staff is requiring players to drink a small carton of chocolate milk.

And no, cookies are not included.

"This is just another way to facilitate post exercise carbohydrate replenishment. This is another facet that we can use in our supplement program," said Washington director of sport performance Trent Greener. "The research substantiates it and its something, too, that the kids are going to be compliant with."

The decision to implement the program came after a study last fall from scientists at Indiana University that was published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism and was supported in part by the Dairy and Nutrition Council.

The small study found no significant difference between using a fluid-replacement drink or chocolate milk for athletes to replenish following exercise, with dairy folks touting the nutritional benefits of drinking milk.

It was a limited study, but caught the eye of Greener and UW sports nutritionist Emily Edison. Along with athletic trainer Rob Scheidegger, the trio developed a plan to take the use of chocolate milk one step further, building upon a program already in place.

"We've always used Gatorade," Scheidegger said. "But we're always trying to find ways to get natural foods into people. So if we can find a natural product at the end of practice that aids with recovery, keeps them hydrated and gives them the energy that they need, we're going to go with something like that."

So, following practices this month, while players are taking ice baths to cool their legs, they are required to drink a bottle of Gatorade and a carton of milk back-to-back before leaving the field.

There was some hesitation on the players' part. Not so much that it was chocolate milk, but drinking it before or after downing a fluid-replacement drink that could be any sort of flavor - orange, watermelon or lemon-lime, for example.

In stepped head coach Tyrone Willingham to calm some of the apprehension.

"It was good. I love chocolate milk anyway," said Willingham, who tried the combination in front of his players at the start of practice earlier this week.

"I check to make sure as much as possible what is going on and what they're going through. There are somethings that I don't have to experience because I've already done them, but in this case I hadn't done that. So I wanted to see what it was, the combination, and get a feel for it."

There is little exception for players who don't like milk. Only those lactose intolerant are excused from the requirement, and those players are given a substitute drink with similar benefits.

Wide receiver Marcel Reece - a stout 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds - couldn't remember the last time he voluntarily poured himself a glass of milk.

"You just trust what the strength and conditioning coach say, you trust what the trainers say, you trust what our coaches say," Reece said. "They say it helps this, so it helps that. So we just do it."

Does that mean he likes it?

"You don't have to taste it, you just do it," he said.

Greener said Washington isn't alone in experimenting with chocolate milk, but wasn't sure how extensively it is used. The Huskies plan to work a similar regime into their regular season nutritional plans as well.

Should the Huskies win a big game, fans aren't likely to see Willingham getting doused with chocolate milk instead of the traditional Gatorade. But the idea is a hit with some players.

When asked recently what was the best part of being a Husky, center Juan Garcia was slightly serious and slightly joking in his answer.

"I said tradition and chocolate milk."