Is Chocolate Milk Really a Good Recovery Drink After Running?
Multiple research studies have been highlighted recently touting the power of chocolate milk and its role in recovery.
The claims are that chocolate milk (or any flavored milk) contains the perfect ratio of carbohydrate to protein (between 3:1 to 4:1) to hasten recover after intense exercise, it helps replace fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise, it contains key nutrients for health such as calcium and vitamin D, and it is relatively inexpensive when compared to the engineered sports beverages on the market today.
But, are these claims true? Is chocolate milk really the ideal recovery drink and how does it compare to much more expensive recovery drinks on the market?
The research on chocolate milk as a recovery drink
As you may recall, the purpose of post-workout recovery is to replenish glycogen (sugar) stores in the muscle and start the process of protein synthesis (muscle rebuilding) so that your body is ready for the next workout. One particular research study (Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid.) compared chocolate milk to a fluid replacement drink (Gatorade) and a carbohydrate replacement drink (Endurox R4) to measure each drink’s effect on recovery and subsequent endurance performance.
In this study, trained endurance cyclist completed a glycogen-depleting bout of exercise. Immediately following the exercise and 2 hours later they consumed equal amounts of Gatorade, Endurox, or chocolate milk (each participant was tested using each product on three separate days). They recovered for 4 hours and then exercised to exhaustion. Researchers measured each cyclists’ time to exhaustion, average heart rate, perceived exertion, and total work.
Results of this study suggested that chocolate milk out-performed the Endurox in measures of time to exhaustion and total work.
It was thus concluded that chocolate milk is just as effective, if not more effective, of a recovery drink than specialty sports beverages with an identical nutrition profile.
It should be noted that this is one of just a handful of studies and that this particular study was funded in part by the dairy industry, which is not uncommon in nutrition research and does not necessarily negate the results.
Nevertheless, the purpose of this post is not to dive deep into the research and come up with a recommendation for the absolute perfect recovery drink for every runner. It is also not to promote any one product over another. At the end of the day, each individual will have their personal preference for what product they want to use and like best.
Rather, my intention is to show how different foods and supplements can produce the same results and to provide you with the information that can help you make the best choice for yourself.
What are the components of an ideal post recovery beverage
- An ideal recovery beverage will have between a 3:1 and 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.
- The carbohydrate should be an adequate amount to refill glycogen stores and should enter the bloodstream quickly for optimal storage.
- The protein should contain many, if not all, of the essential amino acids necessary to stop muscle breakdown and begin muscle repair.
- Finally, the beverage should adequately replace the fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise while being acceptable in taste and digestion.
Comparison between chocolate milk and specifically-designed recovery drink
1% Chocolate Milk (12 ounce serving)Endurox R4 Chocolate (2 scoops in 12 ounces water)
|Fat||4 g||1.5 g|
|Sodium||345 mg||210 mg|
|Potassium||570 mg||190 mg|
|Calcium||45% DV||20% DV|
|Vitamin D||38% DV||0% V|
|Avg. Cost per 12 oz serving||$0.47||$1.60|
Looking at the comparison above you can appreciate why there is such a buzz surrounding chocolate milk.
- It isn’t anything magic, but research has shown thus far that it performs as well, or better than, specially engineered products that have a similar nutrition profile.
- Furthermore, it is rich in key nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, which play an important role in bone health and are often lacking in a runner’s diet.
- Finally, chocolate milk weighs in at a 1/3 of the cost of most sports products.
I have nothing against specially designed sports products and I think they play an important role in endurance sports, especially those that require fueling during competition.
Some drawbacks to chocolate milk include:
- Its short shelf life (it is prone to spoiling and needs to be kept cold)
- It isn’t as portable as powders are for storage and later use
- And a large percentage of athletes report difficulties in digesting milk and milk products. It should be noted that flavored soymilk is an equally effective product, but tends to cost a little more than cow’s milk.
The final verdict on chocolate milk as a recovery drink
The final decision on which products you use is up to you. My purpose here was simply to describe why you might be hearing so much hype about chocolate milk. When I create nutrition plans for my clients, I will often choose to use whole foods such as chocolate milk instead of specially engineered sports products. The reason for this is two-fold:
- For starters, I like to keep cost in mind because athletes tend to need more calories and more food than the standard person. More food means more money so any place you can cut costs without sacrificing nutrition is a good thing to focus on.
- Secondly, I feel that the further away we get from “real” foods, the more complicated our diets become. I don’t like when I see diets in which the majority of calories and nutrients come from powders and pills. No powder or pill can replicate the array of vitamins, nutrients, fiber and phytochemicals we get from eating a variety of whole foods.
Simple is best and an optimal sports nutrition diet can be achieved without the use of supplements or specially engineered foods. However, the choice is yours. No matter what product you select just be sure that it is safe, well tolerated by your body, and is something that you enjoy.
Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int. J. Sport Nut. Exerc. Metab. 2006, 16(1):78-91.
Ferguson-Stegall L, et al. Postexercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signaling for protein synthesis. J Strength Cond. Res. 2011, 25(5):1210-24.
Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med. Sport Sci. 2013, 59:127-44