As a registered dietitian and nutrition editor at EatingWell Magazine, I'm someone who always tries to avoid bad foods, and instead, 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, you'd come home, feeling revitalized and spent. To refuel you might mix up a sugary sports drink. But that might not be the best fuel for your body after your run. Research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine conference 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, but as a full disclaimer, all the studies were partially funded by the dairy industry.

Nonfat Chocolate Milk Preserves 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.

It Repairs Muscle

Drinking nonfat chocolate milk may help to repair muscles better than a carbohydrate-only drink. Researchers from the University of Connecticut, the 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 carbohydrates 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.

Optimizes 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.

The Bottom Line

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.