Many of us think of chocolate milk as the ultimate recovery drink for after a workout. And it is, for after the workout, but what about the other stages of exercise?
“Milk is packed with electrolytes and is more hydrating than traditional sports drinks and water,” Michelle McBride says. “But milk is not great when you are trying to exercise because the protein is slow to digest and can cause stomach distress.”
McBride, founder of GoodSport Nutrition, developed an all-natural, typically clear sports drink to provide superior hydration for all stages of a workout by harnessing the electrolytes and carbohydrates from milk. It contains three times the electrolytes and 33% less sugar than leading sports drinks. Research funded by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and supported by Dairy Business Innovation Alliance (DBIA) and Dairy West demonstrates that GoodSport hydrates better than water and traditional sports drinks and improves exercise performance.
Inspiration for a dairy-based sports drink
The idea for this innovative sports drink came from a scenario many parents find themselves in at youth sports events.
“My son plays baseball, and growing up he was offered a leading sports drink at every game,” McBride says. “I did not want him drinking those beverages with artificial flavors and high amounts of sugar.”
McBride researched chocolate milk as a recovery drink and gave it to her son after games but was still unable to find a natural sports drink to keep him hydrated while he played. However, the natural electrolytes found in milk made McBride think of it as a good source of hydration.
When the idea came to McBride to develop this sports drink, she knew she needed not only good business partners, but experts in sports hydration. McBride’s founding partner is Andy Friedman, founder and former CEO of SkinnyPop popcorn. They worked with Bob Murray, Ph.D., FACSM, co-founder of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, who helped oversee the formulation of the drink, and the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison to help with the dairy application of the product.
Trial, error and success
When first developing prototypes for the product, McBride and her team visited sports facilities, such as CrossFit gyms and hockey rinks, to gather feedback.
“Our first prototype at the time was still milky,” McBride says. “People loved the idea of natural electrolytes and milk providing hydration, but they did not want a milky sports drink.”
McBride worked hard to make the drink refreshing, and after a few attempts with the product, she was introduced to Dr. Kimberlee (KJ) Burrington, who is the dairy ingredient applications coordinator at the Center for Dairy Research.
“When I told KJ about my idea to make a sports drink from milk, she said she had waited 15 years for someone to walk in the door and want to do this,” McBride says.
The component that makes milk “milky” is its protein. While milk’s protein is great for after workouts to aid in muscle recovery, it is not ideal for before and during workouts. The research team at UW – Madison taught McBride how to use ultrafiltration to remove the protein in milk, which left a clear liquid packed with electrolytes and carbohydrates, otherwise known as ultra-filtered deproteinized milk or milk permeate. Other nutrients from milk found in the product include calcium and B vitamins.
Establishing a refreshing and sustainable brand
Based out of Chicago, the company was founded in 2017 to begin initial research and development on the product. GoodSport was launched online in February 2021 and first sold at Chicago area retailers in June 2021. Priced at $2.79 per bottle, there are four flavors of the sports drink: lemon lime, fruit punch, wild berry and citrus.
“We picked four of the most popular sports drink flavors, so they would be refreshing and thirst quenching for athletes,” McBride says. “If a drink doesn’t taste great, it does not matter how many electrolytes are in it because no one will drink it. Consumers tell us they think GoodSport is delicious and tastes very natural.”
The company is Upcycled Certified, and McBride works closely with Midwest dairy processors who use only the protein component of milk to make products like whey protein powder. Using the remaining milk permeate from these dairy processors adds a measure of sustainability to the food system.
“I get to know the processors personally and go to the plants myself,” McBride says. “There are a lot of plants generating milk permeate, and traditionally it is not used as a food ingredient. It has to be treated differently, and dairy processors have to be willing to take the steps to procure the ingredient in a way that makes it usable for human consumption.”
Proud to be part of the dairy industry
McBride has personally interacted with dairy producers through organizations such as DMI, Midwest Dairy, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and at the Dairy Business Association Dairy Strong conference. For McBride, coming from outside the dairy industry to create the product has been challenging, but the positive reception of the drink has made it all worthwhile.
“After the talk at Dairy Strong, a dairy farmer came up with tears in his eyes and thanked me for appreciating the value of the milk his family works so hard to create and doing something innovative with it,” McBride says. “This product means a lot to the dairy industry, and I am proud to be part of the community. It is exciting, fun and I learn something new every day.”
“A lot goes into making milk,” McBride says. “With the 24-hour, 7-day-a-week work it takes to make a gallon of milk, we should not let any of it go to waste. Milk permeate is so nutrient-rich, and I hope we inspire others to use dairy byproducts to create other nutritious foods and beverages.”
Setting GoodSport apart
“It is not just that we made a sports drink from dairy,” McBride says. “The point is that we made a sports drink that’s all-natural and has been scientifically shown to work better than non-dairy options.”
“We think this is the biggest innovation in the sports drink industry in 60 years,” McBride says. “I did not set out to innovate in dairy initially; it just happened to be that milk was the ideal ingredient that provided the electrolytes for an all-natural, better hydrating sports drink.”
Currently, there are teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB and WNBA providing GoodSport for their players. The beverage is an official hydrator of WNBA champions the Chicago Sky, and the company has partnerships with nonprofit organizations such as Dare2tri, Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation, Jackie Robinson West Little League and the C.H.A.M.P.S. Male Mentoring Program, all organizations dedicated to creating accessibility in sports while fostering a more positive sports culture.
Opportunities for the future
The company plans to broaden its offerings with new flavors and product innovations. McBride is excited about what opportunities this beverage offers for the dairy industry as a whole.
"GoodSport represents a new, modern format of dairy for today's consumer, especially Gen Z and millennials who are looking for products to meet their lifestyles,” McBride says. “It’s a complement to milk and provides a new usage occasion for dairy-sports hydration and everyday refreshment.”
McBride also says she feels her product will inspire the next generation of consumers to continue consuming dairy. “Think about the negative dairy messaging targeted toward younger consumers,” McBride says. “Now we have a product that fits their lifestyle and can bring them into the fold of dairy.”
Research demonstrates that when Gen Z consumers consider beverage choices, three product characteristics stand out in terms of importance to their purchase decision-making:
- Products that deliver functional nutritional benefits such as enhanced hydration
- Products that are made with only natural ingredients (with no artificial ingredients)
- Products that are sustainably sourced
As this dairy-based sports beverage gains more real estate in retail, such as the sports drink aisle and at fitness centers, the dairy industry will continually benefit from increased exposure and a broader consumer base.