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Chocolate Milk: The Ideal Post-Exercise Drink?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD

For anyone who has spent any time around a gym or even around fervent gym goers, you have probably heard the adage that chocolate milk is the ideal drink of choice post exercise to aid in recovery. In fact, dairy companies have put out commercials advertising the purported athletic benefits of drinking chocolate milk post exercise. I must admit that I personally love a 500ml carton of chocolate milk after my workouts. But is there any evidence to support all the hype?


Now, before I go any further, I want to warn our readers that the evidence I am about to discuss may not pertain to many people who do a leisurely 20 minute jog as their workout. If your goal is weight loss, rather than recovery from intense exercise and thus improved performance on subsequent exercise bouts, then drinking 500ml of chocolate milk (330 kcals) may not be appropriate. Indeed, some obesity experts liken chocolate milk to a liquid chocolate bar – as in, something that should be seen as a treat and thus consumed in minute quantities.

Endurance exercise performance (cycling, running for long distances) depends highly on the amount of glycogen (stored sugar) in the muscle, and intense endurance exercise can quickly deplete these muscle glycogen stores. Thus, it is important to replenish these stores between bouts of exercise to ensure good performance in the subsequent session. However, there is an important window of time after an exercise session during which your body will replenish your glycogen stores – within 30-60 mins post exercise. If you wait over 2 hours to eat or drink something rich in carbohydrate, your levels of muscle glycogen may be half of that if you had the same meal within 30-60 mins of exercise. As this has stuck with me ever since my undergraduate course on sports nutrition, I try my best to time my workouts so that they occur directly before a meal.

With regards to the composition of what you ingest post intense endurance exercise, it is currently recommended that 50-75g of carbohydrates along with some protein (in quantity of 1/4 to 1/2 the grams of carbohydrates, or approximately 15-30g) are ingested soon after intense exercise. Interestingly, one 500 ml serving of 1% chocolate milk includes 55g of carbohydrates and 16g of protein – thus seemingly being designed ideally for post-exercise recovery.

While research directly testing the ability of chocolate milk to help with exercise recovery is a bit scant, I found one good example. In this study, published back in 2006, Karp and colleagues tested 9 trained cyclists by having them perform an interval workout followed by 4 h of recovery, and a subsequent endurance trial to exhaustion at 70% intensity, on three separate days. On each of the 3 days, the subjects received a different drink – a fluid replacement drink (basically water with 30g of carbs - Gatorade) , a specially designed post-exercise carbohydrate replacement drink (~70 g of carbs, 18g of protein, and 1.5 g of fat), and chocolate milk (70g carbs, 18g protein, and 5.0 g of fat) . In contrast to consumption of the fluid replacement drink (basically Gatorade), the ingestion of either chocolate milk or the carbohydrate replacement drink resulted in 50% increase in endurance performance in the test to exhaustion. Thus, it turns out that chocolate milk is better than Gatorade and just as good as specially designed exercise recovery concoctions for helping athletes recover from intense exercise and improve subsequent performance. Keep in mind that chocolate milk is also cheaper than special exercise recovery drinks.

Again, I must emphasize that unless you are exercising strenuously for extended periods of time, and you could care less about your time to exhaustion on your next exercise bout, or if you are exercising for weight loss purposes, chocolate milk may not be the ideal choice. In this situation, as your carbohydrate stores are less likely to be depleted, a nice glass of water will suffice.


Peter

Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, & Stager JM (2006). Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16 (1), 78-91 PMID: 16676705

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7 Response to "Chocolate Milk: The Ideal Post-Exercise Drink?"

  1. thomas Said,

    how does it compare to something like rice or quinoa?
    besides isn't half a liter of milk per day a bit much?

    Posted on February 10, 2010 at 11:49 AM

     
  2. thomas Said,

    how does it compare to something like rice or quinoa?
    besides isn't half a liter of milk per day a bit much?

    Posted on February 10, 2010 at 11:49 AM

     
  3. Anonymous Said,

    I think that a sugary drink like chocolate milk is a bit much unless you are really intense, but I suppose it is better than those half-litre bottles of Gatorade (sugar, water...yes, electrolytes, I suppose, but do they compensate for the sugar and artificial flavouring?).

    Posted on February 10, 2010 at 6:30 PM

     
  4. Anonymous Said,

    Who funded this study? I suspect that milk producers did and in fact I know that they are funding various trials at a number of universities.

    Posted on February 11, 2010 at 12:04 PM

     
  5. Nicole Said,

    Thomas, chocolate milk doesn't compare to rice or quinoa - those are lone carb sources, wheras chocolate milk in this context is a meal replacement. Quinoa may have some protein, but you would also need to include another protein source with it to make an ideal post workout meal (with similar carb-protein ratios that Peter mentions in the article).

    Eating whole foods after a workout is also fine. Some might argue that glycogen is not absorbed as fast as a liquid meal, but I think the differences are fairly negligible if you're an average trainee.

    Whether you drink or eat your post workout meal really comes down to preferences. Personally, I'd rather eat than drink my calories.

    Posted on February 11, 2010 at 1:29 PM

     
  6. thomas Said,

    Nicole, quinoa actually meets peter's numbers. it has 60g of carbs and 15g of protein, which is pretty close to the milk he quoted.
    i was off with the rice, true.

    i was more wondering about the difference between eating and drinking after a workout

    Posted on February 11, 2010 at 2:30 PM

     
  7. tom Said,

    I've long been a proponent of a post-exercise hit of chocolate milk (long before it became fashionable). I guess I just like the taste. But i think these days, there's too much emphasis on getting a big dose of protein after exercise and not enough recognition that protein doesn't do much good if blood-sugar levels are low. Everything in moderation (including exercise intensity).

    Posted on February 15, 2010 at 3:45 AM

     

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