An Athlete’s Case for Chocolate Milk

choc milk smallAs I’ve said before, much of my writing is a   direct result of recent experiences. This post is no exception. Tonight when I got home from the gym, I opened my fridge and a light bulb went on (in the fridge and my brain).

Only a few hours earlier a client of mine had brought me fresh chocolate milk from a farm she had visited. As soon as I got home from work, I stuck the ice-cold glass container in my refrigerator and rushed to my Tuesday evening kickboxing class. After 60 minutes of one of the best workouts I’d had in a while, I knew I needed to put something nourishing in my body. Being that I’d already had dinner, my first thought was a whey protein smoothie. But when I got home and opened the fridge, my game plan changed immediately when I saw that frosty glass bottle of fresh chocolate goodness sitting on the top shelf. I poured a glass and started writing.

 

When’s the last time you had chocolate milk?

Adding chocolate used to be the only way my mother could get me to drink the Calcium-packed beverage as a child and it wasn’t until recently that I reintroduced it to my diet as an adult. Truth is, it’s not only a kid’s drink-it’s an adult beverage-an adult athlete’s beverage.

Chocolate milk has long since been touted by dietitians as an excellent post-workout sports drink. More recently it’s gotten some mainstream attention for its impressive nutrition profile specifically for exercise recovery. So tonight as I enjoyed my delicious and refreshing glass, I decided to take some time to share with you some of the science behind this restorative dairy cocktail.

Let’s start with the purpose of a sports recovery drink–to restore what’s been lost and repair and rebuild after physical stress. In order to do this effectively, we need to know what nutrients need to be restored.

Nutrients for Recovery

Carbohydrate

When restoring carbohydrate, efficiency is key. As we exercise, our blood sugar levels drop and our body relies on its storage form of energy (glycogen) to keep the body moving. The most efficient way to replace glycogen stores after a hard workout is through the use of simple (versus complex) carbohydrates. Think sugar (simple) versus whole grain (complex).

Protein 

During exercise, we actually experience muscle injury. For that reason, recovery drinks often contain protein to help rebuild that muscle. When it comes to protein, quality is essential—literally. A high quality protein will contain all nine of the essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine, phenulalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine and lysine) and will function to restore muscle after strenuous activity.

Carb to Protein Ratio

In addition to efficiency and quality, nutrient ratio must also be considered. A good recovery drink should contain a 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio with enough carbohydrate to restore glycogen.

Fluid and Electrolytes 

When we sweat, we lose water and electrolytes and it’s vital that we replenish both as soon as we can. The electrolytes lost in sweat include sodium and chloride, and in smaller quantities, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Now Lets Compare

Now that we’ve identified nutrients impaired during exercise, let’s see how a 12-ounce cup of chocolate milk measures up.

Low Fat Chocolate Milk

Carbohydrate————————————————36 grams of simple carbohydrate

Protein———————————————————12 grams (made up of 18 amino acids and all nine of the essential ones)

Carbohydrate to Protein ratio—————————-3:1

Water———————————————————-10 ounces

Sodium Chloride———————————————204 mg

Potassium—————————————————–571 mg

Magnesium—————————————————-3.6 mg

Calcium——————————————————–388 mg

Vitamin D(for Calcium absorption and just because)——134.4 IU

To give you a point of reference let’s now compare chocolate milk to a popular sports recovery drink.

 

Hammer Recoverite Sports Drink (2 scoops mixed in 12 ounces water)

Carbohydrate————————————————32 grams  (2 grams of sugar and 2.5 grams of sugar alcohols)

Protein———————————————————10 grams (from Whey protein which contains the nine essential amino acids)

Carbohydrate to Protein ratio—————————-3:1

Water———————————————————-12 ounces

Sodium Chloride———————————————74.4 mg

Potassium—————————————————–19.2 mg

Magnesium—————————————————-1.2 mg

Calcium——————————————————–37.2 mg

Vitamin D(for Calcium absorption and just because)—–no data

 

The reason I bring up commercial sports drinks is not to dismiss them or negate their valu
e. In fact, I often recommend the above-mentioned sports drink to many of my athletes. The reason for comparison is to illustrate just how competitive chocolate milk is in the sports-drink arena. It contains all the essential nutrients for recovery plus some extra potassium and vitamin D. And, it’s cheap! While many commercial recovery drinks can run $2-3 per 12 ounce serving, chocolate milk comes in at ap
proximately 45 cents.

Based on the data, it’s not surprising that more and more dietitians and sports professionals are recommending chocolate milk for recovery. And while I won’t go into the research, there are a number of studies that conclude chocolate milk not only measures up but also out-performs some of the top recovery drinks on the market today.

Please don’t get me wrong, however. Chocolate milk, though wonderful, is not perfect. For example, compared to other sports drinks, it has a very short shelf life and can spoil easily. It also doesn’t transport nearly as well as many powders and some athletes report intolerance to milk and milk products. For these reasons commercial recovery shakes can still be a great option so let’s not throw away our Gatorade just yet.

 

Professional Recommendation

So to wrap up my report on chocolate milk, I will confidently say that it’s not only a delicious alternative to your recent GNC purchase, but it may even outperform it. And as a dietitian, I always tend to prefer options that are the simplest and closest to nature. But ultimately, as an athlete and a consumer, you have to decide what makes the most sense for you and choose based on taste, preference, tolerance and convenience. But I must say if it’s been years since you’ve tasted a sweet, refreshing glass of chocolate milk—I really do recommend you give it a try.

 

References:

Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int. J. Sport Nut. Exerc. Metab. 2006, 16(1):78-91.
Nutrition Data collected from United States Department of Agriculture Research Service at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search and http://nutritiondata.self.com

Supplement information gathered from www.hammernutrition.com

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