Most of us have heard it before, but is chocolate milk really the key to our exercise recovery strategy? 


Its delicious, it’s easy to drink and it is cheap – but what is it about chocolate milk that makes it a widely advocated recovery aid?

 

When evaluating the merit that chocolate milk has on recovery from exercise, we first need to look at the objectives in our recovery plan. After we have identified these objectives, we need to evaluate the effectiveness of chocolate milk in helping us achieve our recovery goals. Finally, we will be able to conclude whether or not chocolate milk is a worthwhile investment to help refuel our bodies following exercise.

 

Whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, it is important to give some thought into how you are going to help your body recover following spurts of exercise. During exercise, we put a lot of physiological stress on the body. Three key areas that are affected during exercise are:

  1. Glycogen Stores
  2. Hydration and Electrolyte Balance
  3. Muscle Damage

During exercise, we deplete our body’s glycogen stores in order to power the movements we require whilst we workout. Glycogen is our body’s stored form of the high-energy carbohydrate glucose. We store glycogen in our liver and muscles, and break it down to use as fuel during exercise.

  The body breaks down carbohydrates from food into glucose and stores the glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue.

The body breaks down carbohydrates from food into glucose and stores the glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue.

So, our recovery plan needs to refuel or “top up” our glycogen stores, which we have diminished during exercise. Incomplete or slow restoration of glycogen stores can lead to a reduced ability to train well and can often produce a general feeling of fatigue.

 

Second on the list of our recovery goals is to replace the fluid and electrolytes that we have lost during physical activity. Failure to replace the fluids lost during exercise will likely lead to dehydration. Dehydration severely impedes both physical performance as well as the recovery process. We must plan to rehydrate ourselves as soon as possible following exercise.

 

Lastly, we need to consider how best to rebuild the muscle that we damage when we exercise. Rebuilding and repairing the muscle fibers that have been damaged through the stress of exercise is needed both to avoid injury as well as make the muscle stronger.

 

Great! Now we have our three objectives, lets examine chocolate milks ability to meet each of our recovery goals.

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Objective One: Restoring Glycogen

We said earlier that glycogen is a stored form of glucose – which we derive from carbohydrates. What makes chocolate milk so special is not only the amount of carbohydrates it has, but also the ratio of carbohydrate-protein.

 

The general recommendation for carbohydrate intake post exercise is to consume 1.2g of carbohydrate per a kg of body weight within the first hour of finishing exercise. To provide some context here, a 70kg athlete is recommended to consume 85g of carbohydrate.

 

However, it is often not practical to consume large amounts of carbohydrate immediately following exercise. The last thing that you want to think about as you finish your training session is the thought of having to eat a chicken salad baguette. The good news is that new research has shown that the co-ingestion of protein with a smaller amount of carbohydrate yields the same recovery results! Further studies have identified a precise ratio of carbohydrate to protein that achieves optimal recovery of glycogen stores as well as begins to rebuild and repair stressed muscles (objective 3!). That magic ratio of carbohydrate-protein is said to be 4:1 – that means, 4 carbohydrates to each protein. 

What do you think the carbohydrate – protein ratio for chocolate milk is…

4:1

Chocolate milk has the ideal ratio of carbohydrate to protein, meaning that a standard bottle of low-fat chocolate milk is a fantastic way to promote glycogen resynthesize and refuel our body’s immediate energy stores.


Objective Two: Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

During exercise, we loose a lot of fluid and it is important that we replace it as quickly as possible. Dehydration severely impedes the recovery process, so we must choose  the types of fluids we use to hydrate wisely.

 

Focusing in on chocolate milk- Chocolate milk has been shown to be an excellent fluid to kick start rehydration. The sodium concentration of milk is very similar to conventional sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade. In addition, milk carries a wide array of other nutrients, which help with fluid retention. As well these nutrients important for fluid retention, milk contains minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium that are all essential to the recovery process.

Objective Three: Muscle Damage

We touched on this part earlier, but as a refresher, we need to include proteins in our recovery plan to help speed up our muscle adaptation and recovery following exercise.

 

Following exercise, our bodies are most receptive to using amino acids to repair muscle tissue. It is recommended that a person should consume between 15-25g of protein following exercise. This equates to about 600ml of low-fat chocolate milk.

 

The reason that chocolate milk is a good choice of protein is because cows milk contains both casein protein (80%) as well as whey protein (20%). This is advantageous because whey protein is fast acting, allowing amino acids to make their way immediately into the muscle tissue, while the casein protein is a slowly digested protein, providing a steady stream of amino acids over a lengthier period of time.   


It is clear from the above that chocolate-milk can reach our three key recovery objectives. In addition to its ability to help us recover, chocolate-milk is an ideal recovery choice as it is:

  • Cheap
  • Tasty
  • Easily Accessible

I have spoken at length in this blog highlighting the positives of chocolate milk as a recovery aid. It must be noted that there do exist potential negatives of consuming chocolate milk such as the potential to upset lactose intolerant stomachs. I have provided some research reports to back up my analysis above. They can be found here.

 

Thank you, and I hope that I have inspired some new thinking and use of our favorite childhood treat- Chocolate milk!

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