Chocolate Milk: Why it’s the Ultimate Recovery Drink
QUIZ: You’ve just finished a cycling workout of over 90 minutes, including some high-intensity intervals, which drink do you reach for during your recovery?
A. Carbohydrate Sports Drink
B. Calorie-free Beverage
C. Low-fat Chocolate Milk
If you chose chocolate milk, you may be on to something. A recent study from University of Texas at Austin is just the latest to show that chocolate milk is a great recovery drink.
The study, conducted on 32 healthy, amateur male and female cyclists who worked out an average of 1 1/2 hours, 5 days a week for four and a half weeks showed that over time the cyclists gained more power and rode faster when they drank chocolate milk rather than the other drinks during their recovery period following the cycling workouts. They also showed twice the improvement in maximal oxygen uptake. Maximal oxygen uptake is one indicator of an athlete’s aerobic endurance and ability to perform sustained exercise.
The study showed something else: the low-fat chocolate milk drinkers built more muscle and shaved off more fat during training, ending up with a three-pound lean muscle advantage after four and a half weeks of training as compared to study participants who consumed a carbohydrate drink. Yes, you heard that right: the chocolate milk drinkers lost more body fat!
“We don’t yet understand exactly what mechanism is causing low-fat chocolate milk to give athletes these advantages — that will take more research,” said John Ivy, lead researcher on the studies, “but there’s something in the naturally occurring protein and carbohydrate mix that offers significant benefits.”
One of the questions I had was why chocolate milk rather than unflavored, unsweetened milk? Chocolate milk has one advantage over plain in its glycogen replacement abilities. It has high carbs like the sports performance drinks such as Gatorade. In previous studies, it was pointed out that the carbs in the sports performance drinks were equivalent to the carbohydrate count of the chocolate milk in the amounts given to the cyclists in the study. However, another study which was done a few years earlier showed plain 2% milk with the addition of some sodium, was a great recovery aid. It also was compared as a recovery aid to plain water, a sports performance drink and 2% milk without the addition of salt, and the sodium-enhanced milk came out on top. I am not sure slightly salty milk will catch on though! I’d rather have a few pretzels, (i.e. carbs with salt) on the side.
What’s so great about milk?
Milk contains proteins such as casein and whey which can help muscles rebuild after physical activity. (Some recovery drinks have whey protein, which is an alternative for the lactose-intolerant.) Milk also contains minerals which can prevent muscle cramping. Finally, an 8 oz. serving of milk has 300 mg. of calcium. Calcium helps athletes by regulating muscle contraction, helping with hormone and enzyme metabolism, as well as cell function. Going in a slightly different direction, a study from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that diets rich in calcium cut physical and emotional symptoms of PMS in half. (The study had subjects consume 1200 mg. of calcium, a little more than the RDA for women 19-50, which is 1000mg.)
How should sports drinks be used?
Most recommend that sports drinks such as Gatorade should be used during long bouts of high intensity exercise (when you’re going longer than 90 minutes) For more tips on staying hydrated during your rides, check out a previous article.
In the winter, you can serve it hot: homemade cocoa makes a wonderful recovery drink, and studies showed the flavonoids found in cocoa had additional health benefits.