According to the researchers at Kean University in New Jersey, the “ideal recovery beverage would provide both the carbohydrate with proteins needed for muscle glycogen synthesis and the fluid needed for re-hydration, be easily obtained, palatable and well tolerated.” A surprising beverage that meets all the criteria is the old-time favorite, chocolate milk. Chocolate milk, in particular low-fat chocolate milk, contains carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients that may aid in recovery. Low-fat chocolate milk's carbohydrate content is actually similar to that of many common commercial sports drinks.
The protein inside milk is a mix of whey and casein. Whey is popular among bodybuilders and athletes because it is quickly absorbed by the body and used primarily after the workout. Casein is another form of protein that differs slightly from whey. It is digested slower by the body and is popular as a nighttime protein as the release of amino acids into the bloodstream is slower and spread out over time. Milk supplies the fast acting whey that is beneficial immediately after the workout and casein allows and amino acid concentrations to remain elevated longer after the workout. Since low fat chocolate milk is relatively inexpensive, readily available and contains the relatively inexpensive recovery nutrients, it has generated much interest in the sports science community.
In a recent study titled “The effects of low fat chocolate milk on post exercise recovery in collegiate athletes,” low-fat chocolate milk was pitted against the popular sports drink Gatorade. Fifteen men and 11 women soccer athletes participated in the study that had either group consume low fat chocolate milk or equal amounts of Gatorade after soccer practice. The participants were then asked to perform 20-meter shuttle runs to fatigue. The researchers concluded that “no significant differences in run time were reported” and “for the men only, there was a trend of increase time to fatigue with the chocolate milk.” The chocolate milk may even be better than Gatorade for delaying fatigue, although much more researcher is needed.
In another study, seven runners were given a cocoa-based protein and carbohydrate drink after a 30-minute, downhill run. The group that drank the cocoa-based drink had a significant decrease in perceived soreness 24 to 48 hours after the exercise bout compared to the group that drank only water. This led the author to suggest that, “the antioxidants in the cocoa itself or the combination of the cocoa with carbohydrate and protein may aid in recovery.” The price of many after workout products can be staggering, and considering the science they may not be worth it. In my opinion, I would still consume a whey protein product with low-fat milk after a workout with low-fat milk. However, low-fat chocolate milk not only tastes good it may still get the job done.