Chocolate Milk Does a Body Good

June 9, 2008 at 7:10 pm 7 comments

Smiling Cow

Chocolate milk is just about the best thing an endurance athlete can drink after a hard workout.

Forget the fancy packaging and multi-syllabic scientific terms that are used to describe the nutrition benefits of expensive powders, gels, and other liquid concoctions found at General Nutrition Stores. Muscle Milk and its similar-marketed cousins of the “endurance fuel” family have nothing on moo milk and Hershey’s syrup. Seriously.

With the increasing demand and use of protein and carbohydrate drinks aimed at the hard-core athlete, the New York Times published comments from an un-scientific taste and performance test of leading post-activity sports drinks designed to optimize recovery. In “Gear Test: How About a Spin and Tonic?“, Gatorade Protein Recovery Shake, Met-Rx RTDEAS Myoplex Read-to-Drink, Powerbar Recovery, and Cytopsorts Recovery Drink were sampled.

I could not help but notice how expensive all these drinks were. And the image of chugging any of these drinks after a workout brought to mind a picture of a mechanic topping-off the fluids in a race car after a hard drive. It seems as if the marketing of these products appeal to an idea in our head of our bodies as machines that need to be re-fueled with fancy chains of lab-designed amino acids, carbs, and proteins.

Then I remembered of hearing an anecdote that Michael Phelps drinks Carnation Instant Breakfast between races. For Michael Jordan, “It’s gotta’ be the shoes!” For this Michael, maybe, “It’s gotta be the milk!”

In 2006, the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism published a study conducted at Indiana University that found:

Chocolate milk contains an optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio, which is critical for helping refuel tired muscles after strenuous exercise and can enable athletes to exercise at a high intensity during subsequent workouts. It is a strong alternative to other commercial sports drinks in helping athletes recover from strenuous, energy-depleting exercise. (Source.)

How effective? Co-author Joel Stager says, “Chocolate milk was nearly twice as effective than the synthetic products [such as those taste-tested by the NYT] as a recovery product.” (Source.)

“The researchers found that cyclists who drank chocolate milk during the rest period were able to bike nearly twice as long before reaching exhaustion than those who consumed the carbohydrate replacement drink.” (Source.)

Bonus: “And the athletes liked the taste a lot better.”

Double bonus: Chocolate milk is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the $3-4 cost of a single-serving of Muscle Milk.

What is so great about chocolate milk? And what about that sugar? That can’t be good for you, can it? Well…

Chocolate milk has the ideal ratio of carbohydrates to proteins — 3 or 4 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein — for optimal post-exercise recovery. Regular milk does not have this same ratio.

It’s not just the ratio of carbohydrates to proteins that makes a difference. There seems to be something special about milk itself that cannot be replicated in the lab. “Endurox, which has the same carb-to-protein ratio as chocolate milk, fared poorly” in the study.

What gives? One researcher supposes that “It may have to do with the different composition of the sugars in the milk. The sugars in the milk may be better absorbed in the gut than those in the Endurox.” (Source.)

Whatever the reason, Mother Nature and Hershey’s know what’s best. Pass me some milk and chocolate syrup!

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

Further reading: Swallow This by Gretchen Reynolds discusses the trends and science of post-workout recovery nutrition.


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Motivating the Best, Motivating the Rest “Gym Sins”

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Do you take in milk, post workout? - AFboard  |  October 20, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    […] as it replensihes the carbs…adds protein and helps produce insulin to use the carbs for energy. Chocolate Milk Does a Body Good playthink __________________ (status available upon […]

  • 2. nutriomics  |  November 15, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Is soy milk a good substitute for those who can not drink milk?

  • 3. J.R. Atwood  |  November 17, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Some good information about soy milk, courtesy of

    An excerpt:

    An April 2007 research article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that milk-based proteins (skim milk was actually used in this study) promoted greater muscle protein uptake than soy-based proteins when consumed after resistance exercise. The researchers concluded that while both soy milk and skim milk resulted in a positive net nitrogen balance, those who regularly consume milk proteins after resistance training would likely experience greater lean mass gains (greater muscle.)

    A 2007 Canadian Study led by Stuart Phillips at McMaster University (and funded in-part by the Dairy Council) and also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 56 men aged 18 to 30 who signed up for a rigorous five-day-a-week weightlifting program over a 12-week period. One group was given about two cups of skim milk post-workout (approximately 17 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbs), another was given a soy drink with identical ratios and a third was given a carbohydrate-only sports drink. The study was blind (and identical flavors were used) to blunt any placebo effect.

    By the end of the study, all three groups had gained lean muscle and most lost fat, but the milk drinkers lost the most fat (on average two pounds of fat each, compared with one pound for the sports drink and no pounds for the soy group.) The milk drinkers also came out ahead in the muscle department, gaining 2.5 pounds more of lean tissue than the soy group and 3.3 pounds more than the carbohydrate-sipping sports drink group.

    Finally, another study, led by Darren Willoughby at Baylor University, suggests that the combining skim milk, whey protein and a carbohydrate post-workout is more effective at building lean mass and anabolic markers than consuming carbohydrates alone.

  • 4. The Fitness Nerd  |  January 6, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    J.R., glad you found the research on skim milk useful. I always wonder if the time I spend digging up all of the clinical research for my posts actually matters to anyone. It’s nice to see that it does.

    Also, since the topic of this post was around CHOCOLATE milk, check out this article from a few months back on an organic dark sipping chocolate from Espresso Royale. This stuff is amazing — and is perfect for mixing into a post-workout shake (or just drinking on it’s own as a snack):

    Not sure if Berkeley still has an Espresso Royale (I think they did at one time), but if not, you can order it online. It’s worth the shipping and handling — just order at least two cans, because once you taste it, you’ll drink it.

    Excellent blog, by the way. Really enjoy the thoughtfulness of the posts. Hope you’ll stop by Answer Fitness again.

    Cheers and good luck with your training!

  • 5. Kim  |  April 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Seeing as this “Chocolate Milk” study was funded by the DAIRY ASSOCIATION, I can understand why it is promoting chocolate milk as an excellent feuling up source. Readers should keep that in mind that this is a biased opinion to say the least. Any Dr/scientist/dietician worth their degree will tell you that milk is the worst thing “for healthy bones”, actually it depletes the body of its stored calcium and leeches out through urine. Do your research before taking any advice from anyone with a hidden agenda. Why not promote water, fruit, nuts, grains, or wholesome fruit smoothies? Because there’s no payoff for the Dairy Association that’s why. My daughters coach sent her home with this article today, and I am concerned that he has all these kids believing that chocolate milk is an acceptable healhty feul source… Its NOT.

  • 6. q_well  |  September 1, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Good post.
    we need to realize that health is the most precious treasure. Therefore we must always guard it, by paying attention to diet and exercise regularly. With what I’ve read more I’d know how to make this body to remain healthy. Visit my page so we can exchange information about the health of the body.

  • 7. an idiot abroad  |  December 20, 2010 at 12:17 am

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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