If you are an endurance athlete of any kind you likely heard long ago about the use of chocolate milk as a post workout recovery beverage. It started with a study that compared chocolate milk to typical sports drinks, such as Gatorade, and found that chocolate milk was superior for recovery. Ever since many cyclists have touted it as the “perfect” post workout beverage and magazine ads and commercials promoting chocolate milk are everywhere.
So what’s the big deal? First of all it’s important to understand the concept of a recovery beverage and why and when it is necessary. Here is the simple version:
When we exercise we burn a mix of fat and carbohydrate. Lower intensity exercise burns mostly fat, which even the leanest athlete has plenty of stored up. Higher intensity exercise burns mostly carbohydrate, which the body can only store so much of (in the form of glycogen). On average, a person will burn through all of their body’s glycogen stores during 2-3 hours of exercise. That’s why endurance athletes have to consume a carbohydrate source of some kind to keep going during activities of that duration or longer. That is also why it is important to consume carbohydrates as soon as possible (ideally within 30 minutes) after strenuous exercise-in order to replenish your body’s glycogen stores. It is also recommended to consume some protein post workout to aid in muscle recovery. Fail to do so and your next workout will probably suck. So why would chocolate milk be superior? First of all, it is a good source of carbohydrate. It is also a good source of protein, and it specifically contains a good amount of the branch chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) which are particularly important for recovery from exercise. Another benefit of chocolate milk is that it is a liquid. A lot of athletes suffer from GI distress or suppressed appetite after workouts and have a hard time eating solid foods during that all important recovery window 30-60 minutes post exercise. Liquids are often more easily tolerated for these athletes. Bonus: it’s super affordable. Sports nutrition supplements can get pricey. A whole gallon of chocolate milk will only set you back 4 bucks.
That being said, not everyone needs to be concerned about a post workout recovery beverage (or meal). If your workout is 1 hour or less and at a moderate intensity you don’t need to worry much about post workout recovery nutrition. Your next meal or snack, as long as it is well balanced, should provide adequate carbohydrate and protein for your body to recover. Be particularly careful if your workout is sub 1 hour and your goal is weight loss. An 8 oz serving of lowfat chocolate milk still packs in 200 calories. This is why it annoys me to see personal trainers at the gym pushing hefty protein shakes on overweight women who are likely doing less than an hour of exercise-they don’t need it and it might actually contribute to weight gain- probably the exact opposite these women are at the gym for!
So what’s my final verdict? Although I don’t personally use it, I think chocolate milk is a quality post workout beverage (for those who actually need it, see above). It’s a good source of the nutrients you need post workout, it’s easy to digest, it’s cost effective, and it tastes pretty good (I think). I’m actually not sure why I don’t use it! Maybe I’ll start. However, chocolate milk is by no means the only post workout beverage and I don’t believe that it is necessarily superior to some of the other options out there. So if you dislike the flavor there is no need to choke it down. There are plenty of other ways to get in the nutrients you need after a workout. If you don’t know what those are-speak to a sports RD like me!
So how does chocolate milk add up?
Post exercise nutrition recommendations :
- Carbs: 1-1.5grams/kg body weight
- Protein: 10-20 grams
- Fluids: 16-24 fl oz for every pound lost
- Electrolytes- particularly sodium (1 pound of sweat loss contains about 100 mg Potassium and 400-700 mg Sodium)
Chocolate Milk (based on 8 oz low-fat, numbers will vary slightly by brand)
- Carbs: 28 grams
- Protein: 9 grams
- Electrolytes: 154 mg Sodium, 422 mg Potassium
- Fluid- 8 oz (duh!)