chocolate milk workout recovery

When it comes to post-workout nutrition, chocolate milk is an increasingly popular choice. And for all the right the reasons.

In fact, this magical beverage might be one of the best drinks to consume after running, (or any other form of exercise for that matters).

Countless studies (some of which I will mention briefly in this post) have investigated the post training effects of chocolate milk and concluded that it has promising results.

In this article, I’ll delve a little deeper into some of the main reasons chocolate milk is a superior post workout recovery nutrition choice.

So, are you excited?

Then here we go.

The Science behind the claims

The high quality (and abundant) nutrients make low-fat chocolate milk the perfect solution if you are looking for a practical and inexpensive post workout drink to hasten recovery and improve performance.

This delicious beverage has some of the most critical nutrients that a runner needs, including some not usually found in other recovery shakes.

In fact, research suggests that chocolate milk might even be more effective than supplements for post-workout recovery.

Here are some of the main perks chocolate milk has to offer.

The Ideal Ratio

As a rule of thumb, to maximize post-workout recovery, you need to consume carbohydrates alongside some protein to help restock your reserves and repair any damage or micro tears that occurred in muscles during exercise.

For that reason, chocolate milk can come in handy since it contains the ideal ratio of carbohydrates to protein—roughly 3:1 to 4:1 to be more precise.

In fact, the mix of carbohydrate and protein found in this drink appears to be the right recipe for refueling exhausted and “damaged” muscles.

If this ratio seems familiar to you, then you shouldn’t be surprised. In fact, this ratio is a proven recipe used in many commercial sports recovery drinks and training supplements.

The Research

Research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th Annual Meeting, has looked  into the effects of fat-free chocolate milk consumption on cellular and kinetic markers of muscle glycogen, protein synthesis, and performance during recovery from running in a group of eight male athletes.

All of the eight male runners were in relatively good shape and completed two runs, each lasting for 45 minutes at an effort of 65 percent of maximum heart rate, during two weeks of training while consuming a balanced diet in line with their individual caloric needs.

Following each run, the subjects drank either a 16-ounce of fat-free chocolate milk or carb-based beverage with the same amount of calories, then muscle biopsy samples were taken during the three-hour period post-run.

These biopsies revealed that the group who opted for the fat-free chocolate milk had heightened markers of muscle protein synthesis—a telltale sign that the muscles were better able to repair and rebuild—compared with the carb-only control beverage.

What’s more,  the researchers also concluded that chocolate milk could help retain muscle glycogen,  and boost athletic performance on an endurance test performed three hours post the initial workout routine.

High in carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a key ingredient for an active lifestyle, especially for us runners.

When you consume carbohydrates, your digestive system breaks them down, and through an intricate chemical process converts them into complex chains of glucose called glycogen. Then, it’s stored in the liver and muscle cells for future performance—making glycogen your body’s preferred source of energy.

But here is the bad news. Our bodies’ capacity to store glycogen is pretty limited—only enough to support light to moderate exercise.

So, when you run,  especially when doing intense and/or prolonged training, you can run out of glycogen. In fact, your stores can be completely tapped out. That’s what endurance athletes refer to when they say they “hit the wall.”

Therefore, as a runner, it’s essential that you restore your glycogen reserves quickly following exercise.

This is where chocolate milk can come in handy.

Chocolate milk scores are high on carbohydrates.  In fact, one cup—roughly 250ml—of chocolate milk contains about 25 to 30 grams of carb, along with 8 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fat, for a total of 190 calories.

The Research

In a research conducted at the University of Connecticut, drinking 16 ounces of fat-free chocolate milk led to a greater concentration of glycogen, your body’s primary source of fuel, in muscles 30 to 60 minutes post exercise, compared to carbohydrate-only sports drink with an equal amount of calories.

High on Protein

When it comes to post-workout recovery, protein is king.

After all, proteins—or more specifically, amino acids—are the building blocks of life, in all forms and shapes.

So, what’s the exact link between protein and recovery?

Here is what you need to know.

Running out Of Protein

Exercise increases stress on your muscles. In fact, following a run—especially a quality workout, such as interval session or a long run—muscle damage and tissue tears is expected to occur.

Here is the good news.

Protein is an integral part of the muscles growth and tissue repair processes, and it’s what’s needed to heal damaged muscle cells.

Experts recommend consuming at least 0.8 to 0.9 gram of protein for each pound of body weight (that’s way above the recommended guideline for sedentary people).

So, what’s a great (and convenient) source of high-quality protein?

The answer is, of course, chocolate milk. In fact, an 8-ounce glass of the stuff contains roughly 8 to 10 grams of high-quality protein.

The Main Types

Chocolate milk contains two different types of protein: whey and casein. More specifically, cow’s milk contains roughly 20 percent whey protein content and 80 percent casein protein content.

Whey is the fast digesting protein. In fact, it can be absorbed within a couple of hours. As a result, it gets into the bloodstream quickly, allowing for healing and repair processes to start as soon as possible.

On the other hand, casein is described as the slow digesting protein. This can help keep you feel full longer, aid muscles repair, and promote fat loss, according to research.

In other words, whey ensures that your body is getting the raw materials needed promptly, whereas casein helps ward off any further breakdown of muscle tissue following a run.

Furthermore, milk also scores high on branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Research

According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, milk-based post workout protein shake led to better muscle protein synthesis than soy-based proteins when consumed right after a workout.

Another research revealed that untrained subjects who consumed fat-free milk after intense training increased muscle mass while losing more “body fat” at the end of a three-month training program compared to those who drank a carb-only or soy protein beverage.

Fluids and Electrolytes

Not only does chocolate milk as the right combination of carbohydrates and proteins needed to refuel and repair muscles after running. It’s also better at rehydrating than plain water and commercial sports drinks.

In fact, research that looked into the rehydration efficacy of four drinks: low-fat milk, low-fat milk with added sodium, a sports drink, and plain water, revealed that milk-based beverages might be more effective than sports drinks or plain water at restoring and keeping healthy hydration levels post exercise.

Why it’s the case?

It’s quite simple. Chocolate milk scores high on water and electrolytes—all of which you lose through sweat. These include essential electrolytes,  such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

This is especially the case if you are training in the heat where you are sweating profusely.

In other words, a cup, or two, of chocolate milk can help you replenish water level throughout your body, preventing dehydration in the process.

For more on the importance of proper hydration for running performance, check my post here.

Improve Performance

Reaching for low-fat chocolate milk after a hard run could even help prep your muscles to perform better in the upcoming workout, according to research.

The Research

One example is research conducted at the University of Texas that reported that cyclists who opted for chocolate milk performed better and had more power, shaving about 6 minutes from their ride, than those who went for water or a sports drink.

Another research conducted at Indiana University, swimmers who drank chocolate milk post workout drink had a performance edge when compared to when they consumed a calorie-free beverage or carb-based sports drink.

Up the Calcium

Reaching for chocolate milk right after exercise is also a smart move because of its calcium content.

Research suggests that intense running might cause significant calcium loss, which, in turn, can boost the risks of bone issues and other serious health troubles.

Calcium is a powerful ingredient that runners can’t do without, especially if you’re serious about preventing stress fracture, a notorious overuse injury partly blamed on deficiencies in calcium levels in the blood, according to research.

Luckily for us runners milk is jam-packed with calcium. A cup of the chocolate milk may contain a third of the recommended calcium intake.

Further, calcium also induces a power stroke, which can help your muscles perform at peak level.

The Vitamins

Chocolate milk is also an excellent source of an array of nutrients your body needs for optimal functioning, both on and off the running field. These include:

Vitamin A–Vital for bone and tooth development.

Vitamin B–Essential for converting food into energy

Vitamin B12—Key for red blood cell formation.

Vitamin D—Crucial for calcium and phosphorus absorption, supporting bone and skeletal health.

Riboflavin—Also known as vitamin B-2, this is an important factor in tissue formation and energy metabolism

Thiamine—Vital for releasing energy from carbohydrate and assisting healthy growth.

Folate—A power factor in red blood cell formation.

It’s For Everyone

Runners are not the only athletes who can benefit from chocolate milk. Therefore, all trainees across a wide range of sports and training backgrounds can reap its benefits.

For that reason, a lot of athletes, whether they are avid marathoners, professional swimmers, or hardcore CrossFitters drink chocolate milk right after an exercise.

What’s more? Chocolate milk is often a cheaper alternative to most sports drinks in the market today.

How Much is Enough?

Here is the tricky part.

According to my own experience, I cannot recommend a specific amount since every runner is different and has different needs and training aspirations.

In fact, I’m not aware of any scientifically proven guide to how much chocolate milk one needs to consume after exercise for maximum muscle recovery.

But as a general guideline,  drinking roughly 200 to 300 milliliters of the stuff—the equivalent of one cup—is a good starting point.

Just feel free to readjust that in line with your fitness level, training intensity, training goals, and personal preference. No suit fits all.

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David Dack

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