Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

The chocolate milk and exercise myth


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 AidSurprise, 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.

Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

29 thoughts on “The chocolate milk and exercise myth

  1. Your motivating argument is that the dairy industry is working to promote chocolate milk as a post-workout drink. The benefits of chocolate milk is qualified with real numbers, like every cup of chocolate milk contains between eight and 11 grams of protein. That’s a lot of protein. In addition, you calcium, vitamin D, sodium and sugar. All this in a simple way to consume. Milk is proven to help build and maintain muscle. You don’t really offer alternatives to support your argue. You write: 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? How about doing some research then reporting your findings, instead of asking questions that don’t help your argument. I found your post curious but in the end, nothing conclusive.


    • Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Jack.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the funding or resources to conduct a sound research study comparing other beverages to chocolate milk. Fortunately, others are currently working on this.

      The point I was trying to make about chocolate milk is that the benefits post-exercise are overblown. I don’t dispute the fact that chocolate milk has lots of protein. It also has lots of added sugar and people are being duped into believing that it’s a health drink when it’s more of a liquid chocolate bar, fortified with vitamin D. It should be
      treated as an occasional treat, not as a
      nutritious, regularly consumed beverage.


      • I have to agree with Jack. I am a cyclist, hence my name, and in about 15 minutes I have been able to read quite a few reputable articles regarding this issue, and I did it all from my PC. Not that I had to, as I have already studied this and use Choc. Milk frequently after endurance rides. And as far a natural form of sustenance, how are people being “duped” into believing its healthy? It’s Milk for goodness sake. Not like they are saying “Hey, drink 10oz of Mountain Dew after a workout, its now a health drink cuz its green!”

        You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Just my 2c.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for adding your two cents. I say that people are being “duped” because clever marketing campaigns are telling them that chocolate milk is the best “post-workout” beverage. Credible research indicates that chocolate milk is not superior to other beverages in aiding recovery. Most gym-goers and recreational athletes don’t need anything more than water post-workout. Perhaps a small snack if they work exceptionally hard. It’s not just milk as you say, it’s milk with the addition of other ingredients. A glass of chocolate milk actually contains more sugar than a glass of cola.


      • Scientific Journal Article:
        Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance.

        Published: Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 2012, Vol.44(4), pp.682-91
        Alternate title: Medicine and science in sports and exercise
        Notes: MEDLINE (NLM)
        U.S. National Library of Medicine


      • Done by:

        Lunn, William R ; Pasiakos, Stefan M ; Colletto, Megan R ; Karfonta, Kirstin E ; Carbone, John W ; Anderson, Jeffrey M ; Rodriguez, Nancy R

        Theres over 15 published articles.


  2. Is everybody so gullible for god’s sake, yes it’s milk but with added sugar, is sugar good for us? what’s the matter with people is it just cause they want to drink it guilt free? It’s not soda pop no but it’s milk with chocolate and sugar and other shit, read the label stop listening to adds do some research on your own you bunch of monkeys!


    • Well said Julie…..the Dairy Farmers of Canada have done a phenomenal job of packing up re-pasteurized expired milk into a magic pill performance booster. I don’t even tell my students anymore that they should/should not drink it…..i post a nutrient comparison with regular skim milk and hope they’ve stayed awake long enough to learn to read a nutrient label. By the way, one cup of chocolate milk does not deliver 11 g of protein, but 8 grams, which isn’t a lot…..given that IF all that protein was absorbed not all of it gets incorporated into skeletal muscle. This is the problem…..people who think they know what they’re talking about really don’t!


  3. ‘a small snack containing protein and carbohydrates’… Chocolate milk it is!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. chocolate milk is not bad for you after an intense workout! i am a bodybuilder and i occasionally drink it after a hard training session. what people dont understand is that your body needs these carbs and protein. people are getting too anal about the sugar content in it. you actually need this sugar after your workout to simply spike your insulin levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve had CeraSport. It is the most disgusting thing you will ever drink. Imagine if you took colored chalk (different colors of course to represent the different “flavors”), shaved them into packets and drank with water, that’s CeraSport. They gave that to us in Airborne School at Fort Benning, GA because it was an average temperature of about 97 degrees during the training days. We had to train in full uniform all day because of the nature of parachuting; you definitely don’t want your shoulders exposed. It is definitely geared toward re-hydration only. I doubt it does much else.


  6. I’m with Corey on this one… I have studied alot of body building articles and all say you need to spike your insulin levels after a workout. Even eating gummy bear’s after workout is good for you. Bottom line chocolate milk is simple, and gives you the carb/protein ratio you need and the sugar you need after an intense workout. Instead of saying chocolate milk is a hoax shouldn’t you study if sugar benefits the body after workouts and how much you need since Sugar is what your really worried about.


  7. A more reputable source – imho. Making disingenuous claims to debunk disingenuous claims would fall on my “not helpful” list.



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  10. Another article written by a non-scientist… I guess I should believe this.


    • Believe what you want. Just because I’m not a scientist doesn’t mean I can’t interpret scientific research. That’s one of the many things that dietitians do.


  11. It worked for me after working out…slowed me down (heart rate) less longer to recover , so you are wrong on this one!


  12. Diana,
    Just a note to point out that you are:
    1. Totally and completely right.
    2. The objections that people offer in response are really really really odd and vary from misguided to totally irrelevant.
    3. I cannot help but think that it has to do a bit with gender…because it seems like dudes are really just…well…really really reacting way too vehemently and (sort of rudely) to your argument…and doing so without any sort of rational justification.
    4. Ample research has been done since you wrote this which absolutely supports your thesis. Is chocolate milk better than nothing? Sure. But ANYTHING with a carb to protein ratio of 2:1-4:1 will work just as well (hell a pb&j with a handful of raisins will do the trick…personally I prefer equal parts pineapple juice, coconut water and water with a scoop of protein powder) AND plenty of options other than chocolate milk will work better for certain people than chocolate milk because alternatives will have less fat, more digestible sugars etc. That is the end of the argument. We know pretty well the mechanisms for repair and recovery, we know how amino acids are used and we know how carbohydrate helps facilitate that use…None of this is up for debate. All of it supports your argument.
    5. So, you are mostly right (and you might be totally right, new research is showing that the sugar might not be as important as once thought). All the dude’s making absurd objections? I think they got pissed when someone pointed out that they had been fooled by the advertising rhetoric…and subconsciously? They got even more pissed because it was a girl who pointed it out (but that sort of internet sexism is a totally separate topic).


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  14. It’s milk!!!! Milk is super delicious and nutritious! They just ran a marathon – 3 tsp of added sugar per cup of chocolate milk isn’t a health risk for endurance athletes! And there’s reduced sugar chocolate milk. There are so many other sources of sugar in our diet, the last one I’d be trying to reduce is fluid milk. I’m a Registered Dietitian, and I approved this message. (PS. there isn’t a lot of added crap in chocolate milk. That’s just fear mongering and orthorexia-inducing)


    • We’re not just talking about marathon runners though, are we? We’re talking about the message that everyone can benefit from chocolate milk post-workout (no matter the effort and duration) and that there’s something magical and superior about milk with added sugar that makes it a better choice than other foods and beverages. As a dietitian and a marathon runner I think that there are many healthy ways to rehydrate and refuel after a race and there is nothing special about chocolate milk.

      I’m also not sure where you saw me say that there’s “a lot of added crap in chocolate milk”. This is an old post so I reread it and I’m not seeing that in there.


  15. I think what complicates the issue here is that really there are 2 questions.

    1. Does dining chocolate milk post (intense/long duration) exercise aid recovery and performance?

    2. Should your average person be drinking chocolate milk after going to the gym?

    The research does indicate that there may be some benefit to taking in liquid calories/protein/carbs post workout for those that train very hard, struggle to consume enough calories from solid food to meet their energy needs, and/or have little down time between workouts. Chocolate milk has been shown to be equally or more effective than many much more expensive “specially formulated” recovery/protein shakes.

    The average gym goer, however, hardly fits this profile. A normal gym routine is neither intense enough nor frequent enough that it requires any supplemental cals/carbs/protein than the average diet provides. The number one goal of most casual exercisers is weight loss. Chances are they will probably replace all, if not more than the calories they burned in their workout with the chocolate milk, thus thwarting their goals.


  16. I was searching about a negative article about chocolate milk to my my mind about this matter.

    Milk is good, chocolate is good I think even the full fat milk is good but I have a problem with any added sugar! I trying to minimize the prossesed sugar in my diet as possible. I love chocolate milk if it wasn’t that sweet…


  17. When I first started bodybuilding, I drank chocolate milk and two boiled eggs. It did almost nothing for me. I plateaued at 8 body weight chin-ups. I am not kidding. My diet wasn’t that great either, at the time. When I switched to whey protein, I instantly and effortlessly began to make progress, adding reps and additional weight. I recently switched to a casein/egg protein shake which contains digestive enymes. It is helping me break through another plateau. Chocolate milk just didn’t do anything for me. Any commercially-prepared chocolate milk will be pasteurized and homogenized. Pasteurized milk has been denatured and is difficult for the body to digest. Homogenized milk has been linked to heart disease and the development of allergies. Maybe raw milk or raw milk kefir would work better?


  18. A great read: “The Cheese Trap” by Dr. Neal Barnard for refreshing look at the significant health problems from dairy cheese.
    Milk “does not” build strong bones. In fact, milk drinking, chocolate or regular, during teenage years was associated with more – not fewer – bone breaks in later life! (Feskanich et al, JAMA Pediatric. 2014; 268(1):54-60)

    A chocolate milk study (funded by the Dairy Industry) showed not any statistical significance but this did not stop the the Dairy Marketing machine to tout chocolate milk as benefitical for mental sharpness. It turns out the chocolate milk product was useless or any benefits on one test or another could have been due to random chance.
    The dairy industry also erroneously claimed milk and cheese caused weight loss! The reality is milk and cheese can easily do the opposite–you pack on the pounds!
    (Landon/Barnard,Nutr Rev. 2008;66(5):272-79).
    Recovery drinks like Gatorade, or to a lesser extent, chocolate milk, are largely unnecessary for activities of less than two hours.


  19. Not so good if you are lactose intolerant … 😛


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