Plain chocolate milk--the creamy, sweet, satisfying goodness you enjoyed as a kid--turns out to be one of the best ways to supplement a tough workout. When you exercise intensely, the muscles need something to help replenish their energy supply, especially if you plan to hit a hard workout again within a day or two. Studies show chocolate milk is at least as good as, if not better, than scientifically manufactured sports recovery drinks at aiding this recovery. Chocolate milk contains a perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein, provides essential vitamins and minerals, rehydrates you and it tastes good.
Multiple studies support chocolate milk as a beneficial workout supplement. The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise and James Madison University both conducted separate studies to determine the effectiveness of chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery drink. A 2006 study reported in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise involved nine male athletes who were told to cycle until depleted of all muscular energy. These cyclists then rested four hours, during which they drank either chocolate milk, a sports drink, or a newer sports drink product that contains a ratio of protein and carbohydrates similar to chocolate milk. The cyclists then biked again until exhaustion. During the second cycling stint, those who drank the chocolate milk were able to bike about 50% longer than those who took in the synthetic protein drink and equally as long as those who drank the sports drink. In the 2009 James Madison University study, 13 male college soccer players trained over the course of several weeks and were given either chocolate milk or a carbohydrate recovery drink after the most intense sessions. The researchers conducted specific tests to evaluate muscle recovery and found that those who drank chocolate milk had lower levels of muscular damage than those who drank the carbohydrate drink. Both of these studies point to chocolate milk as an effective post-workout recovery food.
These studies demonstrate what many nutritionists have long proclaimed--whole foods, like chocolate milk, contain key nutrients and compounds that just can't be found in engineered supplements. Drinking water can help with hydration, but it cannot help repair cellular damage incurred when exercising intensely. Chocolate milk provides hydration too, and a whole lot of other good things. Athletes lose minerals through sweating--including calcium, potassium and magnesium--milk contains these and other trace minerals that cannot be duplicated in a lab.
When you exercise intensely, you tap into the stores of glucose (also referred to as glycogen) that provides your muscles with energy. To rehabilitate muscles and fill their energy reserves back up, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends taking in a serving of carbohydrates within 30 minutes of a strenuous workout. Chocolate milk contains these carbohydrates and mainly in the form of sugar which is also critical to muscle recovery. Spiked insulin levels that result from the intake of sugar help force glucose into the muscles, which hastens muscle repair.
Sports drinks traditionally contain carbohydrates, but fitness professionals maintain that adding some protein into a post workout snack helps fuel muscle repair and glycogen restoration better than just carbohydrates alone. Between 10 and 20 grams of protein is considered ideal--one cup of chocolate milk contains between eight and eleven grams of protein. Consuming 12 to 16 ounces of the good stuff within a half hour of exercise will satisfy the post workout protein requirement. Chocolate milk contains one of the best types of protein to fuel recovery. Cow's milk is comprised of roughly 80% casein protein and 20% whey protein. Tired muscles readily eat up the amino acids in whey protein while the casein protein is digested more slowly and remains available to your muscles for hours after your workout.
Both amateur athletes and full-force competitors may benefit from a post-workout shot of chocolate milk. But remember, a walk around the block does not stress your muscles enough to warrant a recovery drink. Despite its positive effects post-exercise, chocolate milk still contains significant fat and calories. Be honest about your workout's intensity--endurance sports like cycling, long-distance running and swimming require lots of calories and supplemental nutrition. If your training requires frequent workouts or super intense interval sessions, chocolate milk can help enhance your performance.