Is Chocolate Milk the Best Post-Workout Drink?
Many athletes – on every level – have tried-and-true food and drink routines that unfold before and after a challenging workout or big game.
Chocolate milk, a seemingly odd champion’s choice for post-exercise recovery, has indeed carved a spot as a go-to drink. But what does the science say?
“The research is promising, but still somewhat limited when it comes to chocolate milk,” said Avera Heart Hospital registered dietitian Lauren Cornay, RD, LN. “The most important aspect, when it comes to post-exercise recovery beverages, is that they’re designed for endurance athletes after training sessions or competitive events lasting several hours.”
So if it’s chocolate milk or something else, they only truly “help” if you’re burning more than 600 calories per hour over an hour or more of exercise.
“For the average exerciser looking to either lose weight or maintain the weight they have, it might not be the best choice,” Cornay said. “If you’re working out to improve your health, most pre- and post-workout beverages should be avoided. Stick to water.”
The drink most often associated with young children does have some things going for it, though. Consider these facts:
- Chocolate milk naturally has a four-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.
- It has relatively high electrolyte content, with nutrients like sodium, potassium and calcium, which may help with rehydration.
- Some studies have shown decreased oxidative stress due to the flavonoids in chocolate; higher levels of actual cocoa powder would be a better choice.
“Many of its properties are similar to what you’d find in commercial post-workout specific drinks,” she said. “The protein in milk is mostly casein and whey, and both have high percentages of branched-chain amino acids, which play important roles in muscle health.”
That factor could be why some studies have shown improvement with post exercise muscle soreness for athletes who favor chocolate milk instead of commercial – typically soy-based – alternatives.
Athletic trainers and coaches are seeing the proof of chocolate milk in their work.
“While we aren’t set up to offer chocolate milk at Avera Sports, I know the University of Sioux Falls offers it as part of their strength and conditioning programs for athletes,” said Derek Ferley, PhD, CSCS, Director of Sports Science Research and Sports Performance Training at the Avera Sports Institute. “Of all the things on the market for athletes to consume post-workout, I’d be most comfortable with offering chocolate milk, provided the athlete isn’t lactose intolerant.”
Ferley said there are many alternatives – and many are expensive choices – which makes chocolate milk’s appeal grow. He’s not alone in his observations.
“I have worked with athletes that have used chocolate milk over other nutritional supplements as a post workout recovery drink, in part because you know what’s in it,” said Dustin Gebur, MS Ed, ATC, athletic training supervisor for Avera Sports Institute. “It’s a great place to start when looking at replenishing your body with the proteins and carbohydrates.”
So while the bedrock research is still developing, picking this drink after your workout isn’t a bad idea.
“Although research is still somewhat limited, chocolate milk seems to be equal to commercial recovery beverages when it comes to post-exercise recovery and subsequent exercise performance,” said Cornay. “It’s readily available and it’s tasty – and if you like it, it’s not a bad idea.”