Chocolate Milk in Sports Nutrition; Yes Please!

Refuel-Got-Chocolate-MilkAhh, chocolate milk…cold, creamy, delicious and chocolate…a childhood staple. Chocolate milk has gotten a bad rap in the past few years and has even been blamed in part for the childhood obesity epidemic, prompting legislation to remove chocolate milks from schools. And while I have no problem with any of these statements, I do think there is a time and place for everything, even chocolate milk. So today we will discuss chocolate milk as a more natural sports nutrition “supplement.”

One of the most important aspects of sports nutrition is the “post-workout” fuel. It is crucial that young athletes replenish their bodies with the necessary nutrients immediately after exercise; especially during the 15-30 minutes following exercise, known as the “golden window.” There are a few key components to post-workout recovery:

1) Rebuild Muscles 

2) Replenish Glycogen

3) Replace Electrolytes

4) Rehydrate

The interesting thing is that more and more scientific evidence and reputable studies are coming out with support for chocolate milk as an ideal post-workout drink. It accomplishes all of the post-workout recovery goals and let’s face it, it tastes good!

Rebuilding muscles: Why is it important to carefully select what you eat or drink immediately after a workout? What is the “Golden Window”?

The “golden window” is that period 15-30 minutes after significant exercise when the body best absorbs nutrients. This is a crucial time for rebuilding muscles, and while I am not a huge fan of over doing it with the protein (check out my protein BLOG), it is essential for recovery after exercise to have the appropriate amount and quality of protein for muscle rebuilding. Low fat chocolate milk contains high quality protein to help with muscle repair and rebuild after exercise. This is because milk contains about 80% casein protein and 20% whey protein. This is an ideal combination because the whey protein is fast-acting, allowing amino acids to get right into the muscle tissue, while the casein protein is digested more slowly, providing a steady stream of amino acids over a longer period of time. OK, that’s enough science talk…did I mention it tastes good?

Replenishing Glycogen

Glycogen is key to an athlete’s success; it is stored energy, and the energy which prevents athletes from “hitting the wall” or “running out of gas,” especially later in the game, race or match. It’s important to understand that glycogen can fuel approximately 1 1/2 hours of intense exercise, so it must be constantly replenished. This is even more crucial when athletes start doing 2-a-day practices or train in some way both mornings and afternoons. During this same “golden window,” muscles act like sponges and have the ability to build glycogen 1 and a 1/2 times faster than at other times, so take advantage it! I find it amusing (not really), when I see kids on the field who have been working hard and immediately after are given pizza, cookies, cakes and juice boxes!

A lot of research has gone into this specific time during an athlete’s training, and the consensus is that recovery snacks should have a ratio of 3:1 – 4:1 carbohydrates to protein. Chocolate milk, which has been used by sports trainers for years, is convenient, easy for young athletes to drink (no convincing there!), has an almost perfect ratio of carbs:protein.

Replacing Electrolytes and Rehydrating

Of course refueling with chocolate milk helps replenish lost fluids, but also provides a good amount of calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium, all which have to be added to commercial sports drinks. In addition, milk is a natural source of B vitamins, vitamin D and vitamin A. Many studies have shown that chocolate milk is as effective if not superior to water and commercial sports drinks when it comes to rebuilding muscles and replenishing glycogen after exercise.

Not All Milk is Created Equal

As with any other food product or beverage, it is essential that you take the time to do your research and find the best options on the market. There are several highly processed chocolate milk “beverages” that can be counter productive to training. For my young athletes, I choose to buy organic, natural, low-fat milk with no extra additives, and yes, chocolate milk is pretty much kept under lock and key at our house! It is not for drinking while playing XboX or riding the scooter, just after significant exercise. I should clarify that I am NOT suggesting your 6 year old playing T-ball and standing around for most of the game should have chocolate milk after his game. Chocolate milk can, however, be beneficial after periods of INTENSE exercise.

For more information on the science behind chocolate milk and cool video clip with Zach Parise (NHL and US Team hockey player), see the links below, and don’t forget to share or ask any questions!



Zach Parise and Chocolate Milk Video

Indiana Univerisy Chocolate Milk Research

International Journal of Sports Nutrition



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