Is chocolate milk the best choice after a workout?

by Bailey Green Dietitian Candidate on March 23, 2015

Whether you’re an athlete or not, you’ve probably heard about one of the newest trends in sport drinks: chocolate milk.

In recent years, there’s been a huge push in the sports nutrition community for chocolate milk to be recognized as a recovery drink in the same way that commercially produced specialty drinks are. Because of that, there are a lot of mixed messages floating around in the media about whether or not chocolate milk actually works in place of a traditional recovery drink.

Advocates of chocolate milk as a recovery beverage can certainly make a strong argument for their case. The sweet drink not only replaces electrolytes like potassium and sodium that are lost during exercise, but is also a source of vitamin A and vitamin D. Additionally, like white milk, chocolate milk contains calcium; a crucial nutrient for bone health. Chocolate milk is also heralded by some sport and nutrition specialists as possessing the “Golden Ratio” of carbohydrate to protein. This ratio, (4 times as much carbohydrate as protein), is often described as an ideal mixture for recovery. The presence of protein in milk also means that it can assist in muscle repair, which is important directly after exercise. On top of all of these benefits, milk is generally easy to find, cheap, and tasty, which can’t be said for all recovery beverages.

So, is it a good choice? To answer this, we first have to look at what kind of person needs a recovery drink. It comes as a surprise to most, but current research shows that most people actually don’t need a special recovery drink in order to properly rebound nutritionally after exercise. Unless you’re participating in an endurance activity with constant, sustained movement (think cycling, marathon running, swimming, or workouts lasting upwards of an hour) you will likely be fine rehydrating with water. Unfortunately, while boasting an impressive nutrient profile, chocolate milk packs a punch in the sugar department. With more than 6 teaspoons of refined sugar in some brands of 1% chocolate milk, many would hesitate to call chocolate milk a healthy drink. Many sport nutrition researchers actually consider chocolate milk a “recovery food” rather than a drink due to its high calorie density!  Additionally, much of the research done on chocolate milk and exercise recovery is performed with elite athletes as participants, making it hard to apply the results to the general population.

Seem confusing? Luckily, post-workout nutrition doesn’t have to leave you scratching your head and scouring the Internet for answers. Packing a snack to have in the first half an hour post-workout to help you recover and get you feeling back to normal can be simple! Some quick, easy, and tasty snacks that we recommend include:

¼ cup hummus with 1 whole wheat pita and mixed sliced veggies

Plain, low fat Greek yogurt with ½ cup mixed berries

4 ounces lean turkey with a sliced apple

Homemade fruit smoothie with whey protein added

1/2 cup of mixed nuts and dried fruits

The Bottom Line: Unless you’re training at an elite level, a special recovery drink isn’t always necessary.  Water for rehydration and a snack can help most people get back to feeling like they did before a workout.  If you do decide to opt for chocolate milk after exercise, try to select a lower-fat option to make it a little healthier. Since many people who are working out are doing so to lose weight, it’s important to consider the implications of drinking back all of the calories that were so hard to burn off!

~Bailey

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