The idea of drinking chocolate milk as a recovery drink has grown into a widely accepted practice. But is it a good idea or a bad one?
When you work out for an hour or longer, you should follow your exercise with a meal, snack, or beverage to replenish what your body loses during the workout. Runners who would prefer to have a snack or recovery drink traditionally choose an energy bar or sports drink.
But chocolate milk is becoming increasingly popular and some research is supporting the fact that it helps recovery. But there is not a lot of information about it, including whether or not there are disadvantages to choosing chocolate milk over other nutrition.
Let’s have a look at why post-workout nutrition is important and if chocolate milk can be a good recovery drink option.
The Importance of Good Post-Workout Nutrition
Athletes tend to focus on pre-workout nutrition much more than post-workout nutrition. While pre-workout nutrition focuses on providing easy-to-access energy for the body to utilize during its workout, the purpose of post-workout nutrition is to replenish the glycogen stores in your muscles.
When you exercise, your body uses your pre-workout nutrition to power itself through the workout. When it has worked through that readily-available energy, it begins to use the glycogen stores in your muscles.
Your post-workout nutrition will begin the process of replenishing the glycogen that has been depleted from your muscles. It also kicks off the process of protein synthesis, which is the process of healing and rebuilding the muscle fibers that have been damaged during your workout.
This is why it’s important to fuel yourself with healthy post-workout nutrition. Healthy, nutrient-dense post-workout nutrition options will help you to heal and recover faster, while unhealthy, sugary, or empty-calorie nutrition options won’t replenish your nutrients and rebuild your muscle fibers as well.
What Should a Post-Run Drink Contain?
Ideally, a recovery drink should contain a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of 3:1 or 4:1. This combination offers the best glycogen-replenishment and muscle-building properties.
Some runners may find that a ratio of 3:1 is adequate to refill their energy stores, while others may prefer a ratio of 4:1. It’s important that the form of carbohydrates you choose is easily absorbed and enters the bloodstream quickly, which most post-run recovery drinks do.
The protein contained in the drink should contain as many essential amino acids as possible. The drink should also contain electrolytes to replace those that were lost during exercise.
Does Chocolate Milk Contain Everything You Need to Recover?
Most store-bought chocolate milk brands contain the right carbohydrate to protein ratio for recovery. But because there are no regulations or nutritional standards applied to these drinks as sports products, it can be hard to tell if what you’re drinking is truly healthy.
Different brands may contain different forms of sugar, and some may contain unhealthy artificial sweeteners or hormones. Others may use artificial flavors or colors which can be detrimental to the body in large doses.
Some sports nutrition companies have started making chocolate milk recovery drinks. These are typically formulated to certain standards, but it’s important to know that they may also contain artificial ingredients.
They will typically contain more nutrition than generic store-bought chocolate milk drinks, but you should always double-check the rink label before choosing the right drink for you.
Chocolate milk does contain both protein and carbohydrates, as well as amino acids and electrolytes. Not all recovery drinks contain such a comprehensive range of nutrients.
You can also mix your own chocolate milk with plain milk and chocolate syrup. If you’re careful, you can create the perfect carb-to-protein blend.
But if you are like most of us, you’ll just dump in a bunch of chocolate syrup until it looks right. Not ideal if you want the right ratio.
Pros of Drinking Chocolate Milk Post-Run
Contains Important Nutrients
Chocolate milk—whether bought at the grocery store or in a sports supplement store—contains a range of nutrients that are essential for the body to perform its recovery process properly. Some of them include:
- Vitamin A, B, C, D, E and K
The nutrients may differ slightly across different brands of chocolate milk.
Usually Offers the Right Carb/Protein Ratio
Most chocolate milk drinks offer the correct carbohydrate to protein ratio to promote recovery—3:1 to 4:1.
One of the advantages of chocolate milk over many other recovery drinks is that it contains protein—about 8 grams per 8-ounce serving. Most sports drinks aimed at recovery replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes but don’t offer protein.
Milk-Based Protein Contains BCAAs
Proteins that are milk-based contain BCAAs—branched-chain amino acids—in the form of leucine. BCAAs are muscle-protecting and can help to protect against muscle damage and loss when taken pre-workout. When taken post-workout, they promote muscle regrowth and repair.
Many powdered sports drinks or pre-formulated recovery drinks can be hard to stomach. Drinks containing protein in the form of whey powder can also have a gritty or powdery texture that some people may find off-putting.
Chocolate milk is a tasty alternative that’s usually easy for most people to deal with. Most people quite enjoy a glass of chocolate milk!
Cons of Drinking Chocolate Milk Post-Run
Not All Brands Are The Same
You can’t just grab any bottle of chocolate milk off the supermarket shelf and assume that it will be a good recovery drink option. Not every brand is equal, and some may even be quite unhealthy.
You will have to double-check before buying something new to be sure that you’re still getting the nutrients you need.
Possibly Contains Unhealthy Additives
Not all chocolate milk drinks will be healthy, even if they do have the right carbohydrate to protein ratio.
It’s important to double-check the ingredient list and make sure that you’re drinking something that’s not loaded with sugar, artificial ingredients, or hormones.
Doesn’t Necessarily Cost Less
Store-bought chocolate milk is typically more affordable than other post-workout drinks. But there is a catch—most powdered recovery drinks come with 8 or 10 sachets in a packet, while chocolate milk usually comes one serving at a time.
Even if you have to add protein to your other recovery drinks, it may not necessarily end up costing less in the long run. Also, if you are going to buy a chocolate milk drink that’s made by a sports supplement company, it’s likely to be more expensive than a store-bought drink.
Short Shelf Life
Powdered drink sachets can last for a few months as long as they’re stored correctly. Chocolate milk may last for a few weeks in the refrigerator before it goes bad.
Not Easy to Carry with You
It’s easy to slip a sachet into your running belt or pocket if you’re going to need to replenish while you’re still out and about.
It’s not very easy to carry a bottle of chocolate milk with you unless you’re willing to sacrifice water.
Not Suitable for Those Who Are Lactose Intolerant
Chocolate milk is obviously not suitable for runners who are lactose intolerant.
In this case, the potential recovery benefits are outweighed by the digestive issues that are likely to be caused by drinking chocolate milk.
What Are Some Good Alternatives for Post-Run Drinks?
Sports drinks aim to replace fluid and electrolytes, and some also contain carbohydrates and caffeine to boost energy. They are great for replenishing electrolytes after exercise, but many of them don’t contain protein which can be a disadvantage as you won’t get the muscle-repair benefits.
But it’s easy to get around this simply by pairing your sports drink with an edible protein, for example, a protein bar or a boiled egg. They usually contain around 100 calories per serving.
Recovery drinks usually contain carbohydrates, electrolytes, and proteins, which makes them a more nutrition-filled option than sports drinks.
They usually contain around double the amount of calories as sports drinks, thanks to the elevated carbohydrate and protein counts.
You can also find recovery drinks in vegan and kosher varieties, which regular chocolate milk may not offer.
Homemade Chocolate Milk
If you like the idea of drinking delicious chocolate milk as a post-run recovery drink but you aren’t sure about store-bought drinks, you can make your own at home. This allows you to know exactly what goes into your drink.
Cow’s milk is a complete protein, which means it contains all the vitamins and minerals that the human body needs. All you will need is a chocolate additive. You can use something like a healthy powdered chocolate mix. Or plain old Hershey’s syrup!
A great alternative is to melt dark chocolate into cow’s milk and add a healthy, low-calorie sweetener or brown sugar if you don’t mind the extra calories. Dark chocolate contains high levels of antioxidants and has many benefits, which could make this an even healthier choice.
Chocolate Soy Milk
Runners who are lactose intolerant can make their own chocolate soy milk. It’s important to note that soy milk is a complete protein just like cow’s milk, but almond milk and coconut milk are not.
Research has indicated that non-dairy chocolate milk has similar effects to that with dairy.
A smoothie can be a tasty and filling way of getting your post-run nutrition. Your smoothie should contain both carbohydrates and protein.
Both Greek yogurt and cow’s milk offer a good dose of protein. Soy milk is a suitable alternative for vegans or lactose intolerant runners. You can add protein powder for an extra protein boost if necessary.
Any fruit is a good carbohydrate choice, but berries are particularly effective for recovery purposes. They offer healthy carbohydrates packed with antioxidants, as well as a pleasant taste. Bananas are another good fruit option that provides electrolytes and fiber.
Fruits naturally provide healthy sugars. If you need more sweetness, honey is a healthy option that has antibiotic, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.