MMMMM Chocolate Milk (and Recovery)

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.

chocolate milkSo 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!)









Coming Down From a 14,000 Foot High

It has been a more tiring than usual week.  Sure, it’s busy at work but that is nothing new.  And it’s ridiculously hot out- that doesn’t help.  But I think I am suffering a bit from Post Epic Event Let Down (PEELD).  When you’ve spent so much time training hard for an event and thinking about it non-stop there is a bit of a void afterwards.   The more epic the event, the harder it is.  Which is probably why my post Mt Evans Ascent week has been so blah.  Yes, my friends, it’s hard to come down from a 14,000 foot high.  Typically, the only solution is to get the next great adventure on the calendar.  Which I have done.  I’ve also done a lot of resting and a bit of beer drinking.  So since I don’t have the energy to write an actual informative blog this week, I figured out how to create a poll! What’s your strategy?



Can I Visualize Myself to the Finish Line?!

As I was driving home from a training run on Mt Evans last weekend, sitting in I-70 traffic, I started thinking about how the words “awesome” and “awful”, although fairly opposite by definition,  sound pretty similar.   I’m guessing they both come from the same root word-“awe”, which according to a quick Google search is defined as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”.  Yup, that about sums up how I feel about Mt Evans.   I’m betting that the Mt Evan’s Ascent will be a roller coaster that is both awesome and awful, possibly at the same time, and hopefully ultimately worth the battle.

I am at that weird place in training right before a race where there is really nothing you can do but sit back, relax, eat right, and hope that you’ve done the appropriate training to reach your goals. It’s sorta like that last hour before a big test.   There is typically a fair amount of freaking out during this time, but cramming won’t help, and might actually hurt you.   But there actually is something I can be doing: visualizing a successful race.  I once heard about a study that had basketball players practice visualizing themselves shooting the perfect free-throw over and over again.  They never actually touched a basketball, but their shooting average went up (sorry if that is incorrect basketball terminology).  So just by merely imaging yourself performing your particular sport with perfection, you may actually improve your performance.  The theory was that, if you do it right, you can “trick” (or teach if you are a glass half full kind of person) your brain into thinking you’ve physically practiced a bunch of free throws, and new neural pathways can be created, because your brain basically doesn’t know the difference between doing a free throw in real life and only imaging you are doing one (again you can choose to think of this as awesome that the brain is this powerful, or awful that the brain is this stupid!)  Think of it as an imaginary dress rehearsal.   It’s pretty cool stuff.

I’ve seen visualization mentioned in many other articles, so I figure it’s worth a shot.  I’m not talking cheesy “The Secret” type stuff, just simply picturing myself running up the course, feeling strong and fast, pumping my arms and breathing steadily….I’m feeling better about it already!

And even if it doesn’t help, it’s unlikely to hurt me (note to self: do not visualize self tripping and falling!)  If nothing else, doing it may help build confidence in my abilities and distract me from all of my nervous thoughts about what may go wrong during the race.

So time to sit back, eat carbs, and visualize success!


For info regarding visualization or “mental imagery”:

The Not So Simple Science of Hydration

ImageYou would think that hydration requirements would be pretty straight forward.  Your body needs water, so it’s good for you right?  Well, yes, and it’s not that simple.  While sports dietitians have long known about the dangers of hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels) due to drinking too much water, they don’t always agree on how much water you need when exercising, what the optimal carbohydrate concentration in a sports drinks is (not to mention when to start using one), if coconut water is a superior hydrator, or even when and how much electrolytes to include. 

I myself am in the process of trying to figure out my hydration strategy for my next race, the Mt Evans Ascent.  Being at altitude means I’ll have increased fluid needs from increased respiration, both from being at altitude and because I will be running uphill.  However, if I drink too much water I may experience that uncomfortable sloshing feeling.  Also, if I drink too many carbs I run the risk of GI distress, particularly stomach cramps and nausea, something that has on occasion been an issue for me. Below are some general hydration tips, and how I’m planning to implement, or ignore, them.  The bottom line is that it’s important to personalize your own nutrition and hydration strategies and to practice them before race day!

  • The main goal of consuming water during exercise is to replace water lost as sweat and prevent dehydration.  General recommendations are to drink 6-12 ounces every 15-20 minutes (18-48 oz every hour) and 16 oz of water for every pound lost after exercise.  The reality is that water needs vary from person to person, and some people can get away with drinking less water during exercise than others without sacrificing performance.  While it was originally thought that water weight loss as little as 2% during exercise could hinder performance, some researchers are not saying that is not the case.  It also depends on if you are running in the heat or not-you can lose more water weight in the cold and not sacrifice performance.  To calculate your personal sweat rate you need to weigh yourself naked before and immediately after a 1 hour run.  The difference, in ounces, is how much water you need to drink during your run.  So for instance if I weighed 2 pounds less after my 1 hour run I would need to drink 32 oz/hour (16 ounces in a pound). Of course this test assumes you didn’t drink anything during your run. If so, you have to factor that in.  For short runs it’s probably not necessary to bring water, as long as you are not starting dehydrated and make sure to drink water afterwards. 


  • Conventional (sports nutrition) wisdom has called for sports drinks with a 6-8% carbohydrate concentration (meaning 6-8 grams of carbohydrate per 100mL) for exercise greater than 60 minutes.  Anything higher than that is too concentrated for your stomach to handle during exercise and may result in GI issues and actually hurt your hydration.  There is some data that suggests that even 6-8% is too much for optimal hydration.  From this data have come products such as Skratch Labs and Osmo, which have a 3-4% carbohydrate concentration.  Everyone’s stomach is different, so some people may be able to tolerate a 6-8% concentration drink such as Gatorade, others might not.  I personally have a very hard time tolerating products such as Gatorade, which falls in the 6-8% range.  Check out the link at the bottom for an article on why too high of a concentration may actually dehydrate you.  Listen to your gut (pun intended) and practice drinking different amount of fluids with different carb concentrations to see what makes you feel your best (and fastest).


  • Ah how the coconut is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. Coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut oil are all enjoying some good press these days it seems.  Coconut water is higher in potassium than pretty much any sports drink, and is marketed as being the perfect hydrator.  However, sodium is the main electrolyte lost during exercise, not potassium, and coconut water provides very little sodium.  So if you are a heavy sweater or a salty sweater who prefers to use coconut water during exercise you’ll have to make sure to get your sodium in some other way, like salt tabs.  There is no good data to prove that coconut water hydrates better than plain water, so don’t feel like you have to use it if you don’t like it.  I had major GI distress the one time I drank it before a run, and almost had to stop running for fear of throwing up. I’m not sure what that was related to, because I have never had a problem with coconut water after exercise and do sometimes use it as a post run beverage because I like the flavor. More evidence for practicing your sports nutrition strategy before race day!


  • When does one start needing electrolytes?  Generally for workouts lasting longer than 60 minutes.  This is also the time frame where you may need a sports drink of some kind as well.  If you are doing an intense workout or tend to be a heavy sweater you may want to start including them sooner though.   Use your judgment.  I generally don’t take a carbohydrate or electrolyte supplement for any flat run less than 8 miles (which would take me a bit over an hour). For a hill workout I may take electrolytes sooner, but not necessarily carbs.  The recommendation is for 250-500 mg Sodium per hour, which is hard to get in most sports drinks without drinking way more fluid than necessary. This is where electrolyte replacement tabs may come in handy.

My plan:  For the Mt Evans Ascent I plan on wearing a small water belt that contains two 8 oz bottles.  I’m thinking in one bottle I will have plain water and in the other I will put a half tab of Gu Brew electrolyte tabs (1 tab has 10 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate, 320 mg Sodium, 55 mg Potassium), but I may decide to do electrolyte in both (game time decision!). I plan on bringing 2 more tabs to use to refill the bottle, ½ tab at a time.  I plan on using gels for carbohydrates instead of a sports drink. Since I’ll be running close to 3 hours, I will need anywhere from 54-144 oz of fluids during the race.  Sadly, I have not calculated my own sweat rate (note to self: calculate sweat rate), so I’ll have to estimate. My goal is to drink both of the water bottles (so 16 oz) per hour, which is a little under the general recommendations, but I want to avoid that sloshing feeling.  Especially since I also worry a lot about drinking too much during the race and having to stop at the bathroom!  If it’s cold I may have a hard time with even 16 oz per hour.  Since I tend to drink on the mid-lower side of water requirements, I make sure to really focus on proper hydration after!



For an interesting read on Osmo and hydration:

More interesting info (if you’re a sports nutrition nerd that is):


Disclaimer: I have no relationship with any of the above mentioned products