Healthy or Hype? Chocolate Milk for Recovery

The Claim

Drinking chocolate milk after exercising will help you recover from your workout.

The Evidence

Chocolate milk contains fluid that you need after a workout, plus carbohydrates and protein in a ratio shown to enhance recovery (4 grams of carbohydrate for each gram of protein). The carbohydrates and added sugars in chocolate milk will help replenish glycogen (your body’s carbohydrate stores), and the protein in milk helps repair muscles.  Chocolate milk also contains sodium and potassium that can help replace electrolytes lost in sweat, as well as calcium, vitamin D, and B-vitamins (not necessarily important for recovery, but good for overall health!). Studies examining chocolate milk’s potential to promote recovery have shown that it outperforms commercial sports drinks or water, improving performance in subsequent intense workouts, and enhances muscle repair processes. Research has also shown that the main protein blend of milk (80% casein and 20% whey) is optimal for muscle repair and synthesis. Soy milk, which contains a different blend of protein, may not be as effective at repairing muscle.

Isn’t added sugar bad? For most people, added sugars and foods that raise blood sugar levels aren’t desirable, but after a strenuous workout simple sugars can help you recover more quickly by replenishing glycogen stores: so go ahead, and indulge your sweet tooth when it will have some benefit! You can drink regular milk, but you won’t get enough simple carbohydrates.

 Smoothie made with strawberries and bananasWhat about other foods? Chocolate milk is convenient, but it’s certainly possible to help your body recover with other foods, which might also help you meet other nutrient needs that are important for good health. For example, cereal with fruit and milk, yogurt and fruit, or a fruit smoothie would be good recovery foods. I have other ideas listed here. Following up your workout with a well-balanced meal that contains proteins and complex carbohydrates will also help you recover from your workouts.

Do you even need a recovery drink? If you have exercised for less than an hour at moderate intensity, you probably don’t need anything beyond water to “recover” from your workout: and if you don’t need the extra calories or sugar, it’s probably not what’s best for your overall health.  Athletes who are exercising more intensely, or who have another workout planned later in the day, can benefit from recovery beverages or foods.

Bottom Line

Chocolate milk consumed after a strenuous or long workout can help enhance recovery; other foods/beverages with a similar carbohydrate to protein ratio (4:1) will also likely work. For everyday nutrition (meals outside of training) regular milk is a better choice (since you don’t need the added sugars).


>>You can view other foods in the Healthy or Hype? series here

About the Healthy or Hype? series:

In this series, I’ll be looking at popular foods to see if they stand up to the hype or health claims behind them.

Media reports, company marketing efforts, and self-proclaimed experts can make interpreting nutrition and health news confusing. These outlets recognize that people are drawn to exceptional or miraculous stories that elicit an emotional response. Beyond stories and anecdotes, many “experts” are now citing studies (often out of context) to back up their claims, making it even more difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Finding out “what works” isn’t usually the result of a single study, but often years of research from various disciplines. It’s critical to synthesize all the scientific evidence to create a coherent picture. Good science is the best tool that we have to figure out how something is influencing our health.


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