You know what really drives me nuts? Lots of things, it’s true, but right up there is the myth of chocolate milk as a great post-workout recovery beverage. Those chocolate milk marketers really did great with this one. Chocolate milk is delicious so it’s not a hard-sell to convince many casual gym-goers, as well as more hardcore athletes, that it’s an ideal post-workout beverage.
Research has shown that protein consumed shortly after a workout is better absorbed and used to repair and build muscles than protein before a workout or at a more distal time from a workout. Chocolate milk contains protein. Chocolate milk also contains carbohydrate which is useful in post-workout recovery. It’s also a fluid so it can help with rehydration and is more easily consumed by those who find it difficult to eat shortly after a workout. The thing is, lots of foods contain protein and lots of foods contain carbohydrate and water is the best (and cheapest) way to hydrate.
The most widely cited article I could find about chocolate milk and exercise recovery was Chocolate Milk as a Post-Exercise Recovery Aid. Surprise, surprise, this research was sponsored by the Dairy and Nutrition Council (red flag number one). The participants used in the study were all elite endurance athletes (red flag number two – will the results really be applicable to the average gym-goer?). The number of participants in the study was nine (red flag number three – that’s a very small sample size). Ignoring these red flags for a minute, the study focussed on a comparison of three recovery beverages: chocolate milk, a fluid replacement drink (like Gatorade), and a carbohydrate replacement drink (like CeraSport – yeah, I’d never heard of it either). They found that the athletes recovered better from exercise when they consumed the chocolate milk or the fluid replacement drink than they did when they consumed the carb replacement drink. However, they actually performed slightly better on the fluid replacement drink than they did on the chocolate milk. So, even if this was a great study (which it’s not based on the aforementioned red flags) it still only shows that chocolate milk is nearly as good as Gatorade in post exercise recovery for elite endurance athletes.
I’d be interested to see how other forms of protein and carbohydrates rank in post exercise recovery. I’d also be interested to see how white milk compares to chocolate, or better yet, a nut milk; is the extra sugar in the chocolate milk really necessary? Another thing that’s important to note is that the vast majority of studies pushing the use of chocolate milk as a post workout recovery beverage examined athletes performance after having the recovery beverage shortly after an initial workout (basically two back-to-back workouts). I seriously doubt that the average person is going to the gym, having a recovery beverage, and then doing another workout. Most people, at best, are not working out again until the following day. So, what should you be consuming post workout? Plenty of water and a small snack that preferably contains both protein and carbohydrate or if it’s meal time and you can handle a full meal then just go ahead and eat that. You should be consuming a meal within about two hours of working out anyway. Chocolate milk is fine as an occasional treat, like cookies and chocolate bars. However, the people benefiting the most from you consuming chocolate milk post workout are those in the dairy industry, not you.