Is chocolate milk the ideal recovery drink?

Sports drinks have evolved over the years, and recently several have arrived which are supposed to improve performance and recovery. But are these newer beverages the best for endurance athletes like soccer players? Or are more traditional beverages acceptable options? What about chocolate milk?

A recent study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that chocolate milk after exercise might be an optimal choice after exercise. Low-fat chocolate milk has the potential to replace carbohydrate-only recovery drinks, as it has similar calories but contains both carbohydrates and protein.

Lisa Ferguson-Stegall et al. studied elite cyclists and triathletes and had these endurance athletes consume chocolate milk, a pure carbohydrate beverage with equal calories, or a placebo. They consumed the drinks after completing more than 90 minutes of both steady pace (at 70% max VO2) and interval training. Four hours later, these cyclists then performed a 40-kilometer time trial.

Surprisingly the authors found that the cyclists who consumed chocolate milk after the first exercise session had significantly lower time trial times than did the cyclists who used pure carbohydrate drinks or placebos.

Chocolate milk as a recovery drinkThis study is encouraging to me for several reasons. First, chocolate milk is readily available in all grocery stores. No trips to fancy health supplement shops or ordering from online vendors are necessary. Plus it’s cheap. A gallon might only cost a few dollars compared to $30 or more for the same amounts of drinks marketed as “performance” or “recovery” drinks.

Also, these results could apply to other athletes. Elite youth soccer or baseball players often play multiple games in a weekend. A glass of chocolate milk after each game might help improve performance and decrease fatigue in subsequent games. Athletes training for marathons or triathlons might also benefit from this beverage between training sessions. All athletes and people who exercise could potentially benefit.

Also read:
Water vs. sports drinks: Is one better for you?
Are sports drinks and energy drinks appropriate for kids?

It is difficult to fully determine exactly how a protein/carbohydrate drink like chocolate milk improves performance. Several mechanisms have been proposed. The protein and carbohydrate could increase resynthesis of glycogen in muscle after exercise. It might also attenuate muscle damage. Finally, it might also increase protein synthesis, helping muscle tissue heal and adapt to training. The authors could not provide definitive explanations for the faster times in the chocolate milk athletes from this study, though.

Regardless, athletes of all ages and sports should pay attention to this study and at least consider reaching for a glass of chocolate milk after games, practices, or workouts.