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?

A recent study in the May 2011 issue of 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.

This 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 of chocolate milk 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 chocolate milk between training sessions. All athletes and people who exercise could potentially benefit.

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 in chocolate milk 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.

Tweet about chocolate milk.

10 Responses to Is chocolate milk the ideal recovery drink?

  1. Annie Simpson says:

    I love this study and have fully embraced choc milk for recovery from Roller Derby practices and games…only question is, what is the proper dose and timing?

    • drdavidgeier says:

      I am not a nutritionist, but most experts recommend that athletes consume “recovery” drinks within 30 minutes of completing exercise. The amount depends on size of the athlete and duration and intensity of the exercise, but an 8 oz glass of chocolate milk is probably sufficient.

  2. TexBs says:

    Would a non-fat chocolate offer much the same benefits; without the additional calories?

    • drdavidgeier says:

      I’m not a nutritionist, but I think it would be helpful. I can’t say if it would be equally good. The protein and the carbohydrates in chocolate milk are what are providing the recovery benefits, according to the authors, so I think that avoiding the fat would be acceptable.

  3. Zach man says:

    I can definitely say that chocolate milk really seems to have a positive impact on ones post workout recovery. I workout at least 5 times a week and obviously benefit from something that can assist my body with a faster recovery!! After 3 weeks of continuous use I am hooked!! Chocolate milk works!!!

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