Can chocolate milk honestly be good for you after a race or heavy training session? It seems so!

In our last blog we looked at some of the truths and myths surrounding the relationship of certain factors (electrolytes, age, heat, fatigue) on muscular cramping.

In this issue we look at an aspect of athletic recovery – the post exercise fluid/food intake.

Following intense bouts of physical exercise, there are a multitude of fluid/drink options on the market that supposedly promote better and quicker recovery – Gatorade, Powerade, Endura, water and the list goes on and on.

One drink that is not commonly seen on the list for recovery drinks however is our old favourite from our childhood days – chocolate milk! Studies are showing that low fat chocolate milk may actually double as an optimal post-exercise recovery aid.

To realise the benefits of chocolate milk, you need to know the ingredients that make up this drink. Compared to plain milk, water, or most sports drinks, it has double the carbohydrate and protein content, perfect for replenishing our tired muscles that are often depleted of many of the essential nutrients that help them function. The high water content of milk replaces fluids lost as sweat, preventing dehydration. Plus it packs a nutritional bonus of calcium, and includes just a little sodium and sugar — additives that help recovering athletes retain water and regain energy.

Chocolate milk also has the perfect ratio of carbohydrate to protein (between 3:1 to 4:1) which is recommended to hasten recover after intense exercise.

Whereas drinking plain water after exercise replaces sweat losses, that’s about all it does. Chocolate milk provides the additional benefit of carbohydrate replenishment to your muscles.

What Fuels Do We Need To Replenish?

The main components of the ideal post recovery beverage seem to be:

Ø  An ideal recovery beverage will have between a 3:1 and 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.

Ø  The carbohydrate should be an adequate amount to refill glycogen stores and should enter the bloodstream quickly for optimal storage.

Ø  The protein should contain many, if not all, of the essential amino acids necessary to stop muscle breakdown and begin muscle repair.

Ø  Finally, the beverage should adequately replace the fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise while being acceptable in taste and digestion.

One of the main purposes of post-workout recovery is to replenish glycogen (sugar) stores in the muscle and start the process of muscle rebuilding (which relies on protein) so that our body is ready for the next workout.

Let’s look at a basic comparison of chocolate milk vs Endurox R4 (a popular recovery drink):

Chocolate Milk

(340g serving)

Endurox R4 Chocolate

(2 scoops in 340g serving)





4 g

1.5 g


42 g






345 mg

210 mg


570 mg

190 mg


45% DV

20% DV

Vitamin D

38% DV

0% DV

Avg. Cost per 340 serving



DV = Daily Value

Looking at this comparison it becomes apparent that chocolate milk:

Ø  Statistically performs as well, or better than, specially engineered products that have a similar nutrition profile.

Ø  Has the ideal ratio of carbohydrate to protein.

Ø  Is rich in key nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, which play an important role in bone health and are often lacking in a runner’s diet.

Ø  Has greater electrolyte values.

Ø  Weighs in at a 1/3 of the cost of most sports products.

To further support these findings, one particular study tested chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid, comparing the chocolate milk to a fluid replacement drink (Gatorade) and a carbohydrate replacement drink (Endurox R4) to measure each drink’s effect on recovery and subsequent endurance performance. Nine cyclists completed a glycogen-depleting bout of exercise, followed 2 hours later by the consumption of equal amounts of Gatorade, Endurox, or chocolate milk (each participant was tested using each product on three separate days). The cyclists recovered for 4 hours and then exercised to exhaustion again. Researchers measured each cyclists’ time to exhaustion, average heart rate, perceived exertion, and total work and found that chocolate milk was just as effective, if not more effective, as a recovery drink than specialty sports beverages.

Now don’t go throwing your bottled water and sports drinks down the drain yet however! Using chocolate milk, whilst obviously having great potential benefit, should be weighed up against the level and type of exercise you do. Due to the high carbohydrate and protein content, chocolate milk is most useful to endurance athletes in sports that involve high endurance levels and constant, sustained movement.

Taking chocolate milk without the activity to burn off the calories may involve weight gain and reduction in performance!

Other possible drawbacks to chocolate milk include:

Ø  Its short shelf life (it is prone to spoiling and needs to be kept cold)

Ø  It isn’t as portable as powders are for storage and later use

Ø  A large percentage of athletes report difficulties in digesting milk and milk products.

When to Fuel Up

Choosing the right post-workout drink is obviously important, but when you actually do that refuelling is also important!  Research indicates that the most critical time to refuel is within 30 to 60 minutes of working out, as that is when the muscle glycogen (energy) stores are at their lowest level, and are carving replenishment. . In general, the recommendation is to eat or drink something in the first 20 minutes after a workout.

The timing of your fuelling up is even more critical if your training is intense from a “number of sessions” point of view. Some athletes may only have six to seven hours at most between workouts therefore optimal recovery and replenishment of glycogen becomes essential. Triathletes and distance runners for example will often have multiple intense exercise sessions per day.

Taste Is Important

As funny as it sounds, taste is a factor that needs to be considered. With the amount of hydration often required after intensive exercise, it can be difficult to drink enough of the bland water required, and likewise, drinking a few bottles of Gatorade may also not sit well in your gut. Most of us don’t have an issue drinking chocolate milk! The flavoured drinks also tend to stimulate your appetite and allow you to drink more. It makes sense – you consume more if you actually like what you’re drinking,

The Verdict?

In summary, chocolate milk seems to tick all the following boxes:

ü  contains the perfect ratio of carbohydrate to protein (between 3:1 to 4:1)

ü  helps replace fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise,

ü  contains key nutrients for health such as calcium and vitamin D,

ü  is relatively inexpensive when compared to the engineered sports beverages on the market today.

Whilst we are not necessarily suggesting that you all go out there and start drinking chocolate milk, it does make a point that sometimes simple is best, and an optimal sports nutrition diet can be achieved without the use of supplements or specially engineered foods.

The most important things to ensure are that the drink is doing what you actually require it to, is safe, well tolerated by your body, and is something that you enjoy!

Happy drinking!