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What’s the best after-workout drink?

By Brierley Wright, June 4, 2010 - 11:36am

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What’s the best after-workout drink?

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.

Related: 5 “bad” foods you should be eating.

After going for a long run, I’d come home, feeling revitalized and spent, and mix up a sugary sports drink.

Related: What should you eat before you work out to burn more fat? Find out and get 10 breakfast recipes that fight fat.

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.

Related: Get 20 Creamy, Nutritious Milk Recipes

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.)

Related: Will drinking coffee before you work out give you an energy boost? Learn what the science says about it and 3 more natural “fuel foods”.

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 muscle breakdown. 

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.

Related: Think your energy bar is healthy? Don’t be fooled by these 6 healthy-sounding foods that really aren’t.

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 carb-only drink. 

Related: Are you working out to lose weight? Discover 7 foods that do the weight-loss work for you.

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.

What helps you recover from a work out? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Brierley Wright, Health Blog, Fitness, Nutrition

Brierley Wright
Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.

Brierley asks: What helps you recover from a work out?

Tell us what you think:

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