As a registered dietitian and nutrition editor at EatingWell Magazine, I’m someone who always tries to eat foods that are
good for me. Until recently though, I didn’t extend this scrutiny to what I consume after I exercise.
After going for a long run, I’d come home, feeling revitalized and spent, and mix up a sugary sports drink.
But new research—presented at the American College of Sports Medicine conference this week—suggests that drinking nonfat
chocolate milk is better for recovery after a workout than carbohydrate-only sports drinks.
Chocolate milk can help your body preserve, repair and replenish muscle—and improve your performance the next time you work
out. Here’s a summary of the science:
(Full disclaimer here: all the studies were partially funded by the dairy industry.)
Preserve muscle: Using nonfat (“skim”) chocolate milk as a recovery drink may help to preserve
muscle more than a carbohydrate-only sports drink with the same amount of calories, researchers from the University of
Connecticut found. Runners who drank 16 ounces of nonfat chocolate milk after a moderately intense run had lower markers of
Repair muscle: Drinking nonfat chocolate milk may help to repair muscles better than a
carbohydrate-only drink. Researchers from the University of Connecticut, University of Arkansas and the U.S. Army Research
Institute of Environmental Medicine took muscle biopsies of runners after they exercised. The results showed that their
muscles were better able to repair and rebuild themselves when they drank 16 ounces of nonfat chocolate milk than when they
drank a carbohydrate-only sports drink.
Replenish muscle “fuel”: You’ve probably heard that it’s important to consume carbohydrates
after a workout to replenish your muscle glycogen stores. But new research suggests that the mix of carbohydrate and protein
in chocolate milk may be superior to just a carbohydrate-only drink. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that
when runners refueled with 16 ounces of nonfat chocolate milk—compared to when they had a carbohydrate-only drink with the
same amount of calories—they had greater muscle glycogen concentrations shortly after exercising.
Exercise performance: To optimize your performance the next time you work out it’s important
to replenish your muscle glycogen stores. And as it turns out, not only does drinking chocolate milk refuel your muscle
glycogen better than a carbohydrate-only sports drink after a workout, but it also leads to better performance the next time
you exercise, according to research out of the University of Texas. Cyclists who drank chocolate milk during their rest
period between bouts of exercise cycled faster in their final ride (a timed trial) than their counterparts who got a
The upshot of all this research: You don’t need a “sports drink” to refuel after a workout. Low- or nonfat chocolate milk may
work just as well as they contain the right mix of carbohydrate and protein the body needs to recover after a workout. Plus,
1 cup of milk provides 16 percent of the daily value for protein, which builds and repairs muscles.
Use whatever is convenient for you, but my favorite way to drink chocolate milk is to mix low- or nonfat milk with either
unsweetened cocoa powder and just a little sweetener to taste, or a little melted dark chocolate.