Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout?

chocolate milk post workout“Beverage of champions: Chocolate milk gets an Olympic-style makeover,” reported the Washington Post in 2014 after ads featuring U.S. Olympic athletes began popping up during the Sochi winter games. Olympic athletes have access to the best in exercise regimens and health and nutrition advice. So, if they drink chocolate milk post workout, should you?

When it comes to recovering from intense exercise, this classic childhood beverage has taken the spotlight. But if you’re not engaged in strenuous, prolonged regular exercise, chocolate milk may not provide any extra benefits.

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Why chocolate milk after a workout?

In some studies, drinking chocolate milk immediately after a strenuous workout is one of the best ways to recover quickly—better than sugary sports drinks like Gatorade.

However, nearly all  the research on chocolate milk and exercise has looked at serious athletes, like mountain climbers, college soccer players, triathletes, and trained cyclists. No studies have found a benefit of chocolate milk for those who jog daily or who work out at their gym a few times a week lifting weights or running on a treadmill.

What’s in chocolate milk that might help after a workout of intense physical activity? Chocolate milk’s naturally occurring sugar (lactose) is half glucose, its protein speeds up glycogen synthesis in the body, and its electrolytes (like potassium and, to a lesser extent, sodium) help you rehydrate.

“The extra sugar provides more carbohydrates for energy storage,” explains Beth Glace, a sports nutritionist at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. A typical low-fat chocolate milk has roughly four times more carbs than protein, which may be a good ratio to rapidly replenish glycogen stores in muscles.

When you’re inactive or moving slowly, your body gets energy mostly from burning fat (assuming you haven’t just eaten). But for more intense activity (brisk walking, running, cycling, etc.), you can’t burn fat fast enough to get all the energy you need. So if you’re, say, running for several hours, your body is going to rely more on the carbs in glycogen for the extra energy it needs.

“You’re generally trying to restore muscle glycogen when we’re talking about recovery from endurance exercise,” explains Glace.

Glycogen is essentially a long chain of glucose (blood sugar). The body converts glucose to glycogen in order to store the glucose in muscles and in the liver. But we don’t have much glycogen, especially compared to our vast stores of fat.

So during an intense, prolonged activity, you can run out of glycogen. That’s what marathoners are talking about when they say they “hit the wall.”

“In more seriously trained athletes, let’s say a triathlete, they might do a run in the morning and a swim or bike workout later in the afternoon,” says Glace. “So it really becomes crucial for them to restore their glycogen reserves quickly. This is where chocolate milk comes in.”

Can you get the carbs and protein from something else in your next meal? Probably, if you eat soon. You restore glycogen more quickly if you eat the carbs and protein within an hour.

I’m not an Olympic athlete. Should I drink chocolate milk post workout?

Most of us aren’t running marathons or cycling competitively for two hours and then doing another intense activity within 24 hours. Do we need a recovery beverage like chocolate milk? Not likely.

“A recovery food or drink becomes important if you’re doing another hard workout that day,” says Glace. “If you’re just going for a walk, it probably doesn’t matter because you’re not burning that much glycogen.”

And if you’re taking that brisk walk to lose weight, you don’t want the 170 or so calories in a cup of chocolate milk…or any extra calories, for that matter.

Bottom Line: Unless you’re doing prolonged, intense exercise on successive days, or more than one strenuous workout on the same day, you don’t need to drink chocolate milk post workout to recover.

Do you drink chocolate milk post workout, or something else? Let us know in the comments.

Sources: Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 61: 968S, 1995; Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 44: 682, 2012; Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 16: 78, 2006; Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 13: 382, 2003.

This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly. 

21 Replies to “Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout?”

  1. Thank you for clearing this up for me! I’ve heard this “fact” and was never sure how clinically based it was.

  2. Thank you for this great article. I will share it with my clients who believe after 30 minutes of low to moderate intensity workout, they must replenish with gatorade or some protein drink.
    Could you do an article on how the body adapts from aerobic to anaerobic phases of exercise? I am really keen to have a lay person breakdown of this process to share with my clients.
    Love the work you do!
    Phyllis

  3. I do like to drink 1% lowfat chocolate milk after a long (40+ mile) bike ride. It does seem to give me a quick energy boost and quicker recovery than anything else I have tried. I try to stay well hydrated before and during a ride but like yesterday’s ride in 93° temp and high humidity, it is nearly impossible to keep ahead of dehydration. I live in central Florida and training in the heat is just a fact of life for us. I find that a pint of chocolate milk, a banana (it is the only time I ever eat them), and some watermelon helps the most. And water, lots of water.

  4. While the premise of article is technically true, the author totally misses the point. Most people drink a protein shake (or chocolate milk as a good substitute) after a RESISTANCE training workout, and for PROTEIN synthesis, not glycogen synthesis.

    1. David Sprouse has it absolutely right, the benefit of drinking milk is for the protein content to build muscles.
      Plus if you choose Skim Milk, then you get the protein without the fat. The cocoa makes it taste better and if you mix your own, then you have control over the amount of sugar too.

  5. Would Chocolate Almond Milk (or Chocolate Soy Milk) have the same benefits as Chocolate Cow’s Milk? (trying to avoid caseine in cow’s milk…)

    1. According to one of the articles in Nutrition Action about Exercise, the research which compared soy milk vs cow milk, failed to find the same muscle building benefit. As for almond milk, my speculation, in the absence of data would be that it too may not be as beneficial.

      1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: In 2011, we quoted Elena Volpi saying that plant proteins are good for building muscle, although they have lesser amounts of leucine which might be important for stimulating muscle synthesis. The best of the plant proteins seems to be soy, she added. Volpi is the Daisy Emery Allen Distinguished Chair in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

  6. I teach 3 or more spinning classes a week but I would like to lose 5 to 10 pounds. Is chocolate milk something I should consider using after a spinning class? I currently eat peanut butter on whole wheat bread and a few dried figs-half before and half after my workout. This is my breakfast on workout days.

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: We can’t give individual dietetic advice. In general, your choices of what to eat depend in part on your total diet, what’s satisfying, convenient, economical. If you’re looking to moderate your consumption of added sugars, many chocolate milks have a lot of added sugar.

  7. This article only addresses the glycogen issue. The other half of the issue is muscle protein rebuilding, which you don’t address at all. Can you please address this?

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: Subscribers to our newsletter read about the value of supplemental protein on muscle building in the November 2014 issue.

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