Does anyone else have fond memories of lunch time in elementary school - when you got to occasionally have CHOCOLATE milk because mom wasn't there to stop you? (Sorry, mom!) Chocolate milk evokes a certain comfort and indulgence in us, even now as adults. Good news - it's healthy! It makes a fantastic post-workout recovery drink.
Why do I need recovery, and how quickly do I need to get it in?
Ideally, within 30-60 minutes of finishing your workout. That's when your muscles are most primed and ready to accept the nutrition you send them. Good recovery can prevent further muscle breakdown, help to optimize muscle and liver glycogen stores, and ultimately promote adaptation to training. If you skip out on this, your body won't stop the "breaking down" process that exercise brought on, which means you're more likely to experience muscle soreness after a hard workout.
Notice I said "hard workout". Let's be honest, not everyone workout qualifies for needing recovery. Many people get so excited about their recovery snack, that they consume more calories than they burned during their workout! Stick to around 250 calories or less, depending on your calorie needs and goals. For more specific advice, talk to a sports dietitian!
What's important about a recovery snack?
- Carbohydrates (replenish your glycogen stores)
- Protein (muscle repair and adaptation)
Turns out that chocolate milk meets all of the above criteria. Also, it's rather cheap and easy to grab - much cheaper than the average sports drink, smoothie, or protein shake. Need more convincing? How about the calcium and vitamin D for bone support. Potassium and sodium for electrolyte replenishment.
But how does it compare?
Researchers (see three such resources below) have tested the role of chocolate milk in recovery against other sports drinks and water. The sports drinks had the same amount of calories as the chocolate milk, to make sure it wasn't a factor of how MUCH nutrition, but rather what KIND athletes were getting. Turns out in the examples of runners and swimmers, the chocolate milk provides a better recovery than either choice.
Wait, doesn't chocolate milk have a lot of added sugars? Isn't that why we want our kids to drink plain milk?
Yes, chocolate milk is going to have added sugars. In the case of your recovery drink, you're benefitting from those easy to digest carbohydrates (sugars) because your body can use them quickly. And you should still be mindful of how much added sugar you're getting over the course of the entire day. Don't forget that sports drinks lack much of the nutrition that milk provides - and includes more added sugars.
Sure, there are other options out there for you. Chocolate milk isn't the ONLY recovery option that will do you right. But it's quick, easy, nutritious, cheap - and a healthy bit of indulgent. Which is kind of nice after a hard workout, don't you think?
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.
Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med. Sport Sci. 2013, 59:127-44.
Stager JM, Brammer CL, Sossong T, Kojima K, Spanbaur D, Grand K, Wright BV. Supplemental recovery nutrition affects swim performance following glycogen depleting exercise. Presented at the American College of Sports Medicine, 2014.