Appropriate rehydration and nutrient intake in recovery is a key component of exercise performance. This study investigated whether the recovery of body net fluid balance (NFB) following exercise and thermal dehydration to −2 % of body mass (BM) was enhanced by a metered rate of ingestion of milk (M) compared with a carbohydrate–electrolyte solution (CE) or water (W). In randomised order, seven active men (aged 26·2 (sd 6·1) years) undertook exercise and thermal dehydration to −2 % of BM on three occasions. A metered replacement volume of M, CE or W equivalent to 150 % of the BM loss was then consumed within 2–3 h. NFB was subsequently measured for 5 h from commencement of rehydration. A higher overall NFB in M than CE (P=0·001) and W (P=0·006) was observed, with no difference between CE and W (P=0·69). After 5 h, NFB in M remained positive (+117 (sd 122) ml) compared with basal, and it was greater than W (−539 (sd 390) ml, P=0·011) but not CE (−381 (sd 460) ml, P=0·077, d=1·6). Plasma osmolality (Posm) and K remained elevated above basal in M compared with CE and W. The change in Posm was associated with circulating pre-provasopressin (r
0·348, P<0·001), a biomarker of arginine vasopressin, but could not account fully for the augmented NFB in M compared with CE and W. These data suggest that a metered approach to fluid ingestion acts in synergy with the nutrient composition of M in the restoration of NFB following exercise and thermal dehydration.