In recent years chocolate milk has emerged as a popular recovery beverage for athletes. Last year, USA Swimming partnered with milk in a marketing campaign with many elites making a pitch to the swimming community. Popular science publications have also made the public aware of milk’s benefits, or at least its comparability (and perhaps superiority) to expensively engineered supplements and recovery drinks.
In this post, we’ll summarize the evidence behind chocolate milk as recovery nutrition
and examine whether it is indeed superior to engineered drinks and recovery supplements.
Other studies have addressed the potential mechanisms affected by different recovery nutrition strategies, specifically creatine kinase levels post-exercise. Pritchett (2011) studied competitive cyclists and triathletes in a cycling experiment comparing chocolate milk with a commercial carbohydrate beverage during recovery between two high-intensity exercise bouts. Exercise was separated by 15-18 hours. In comparing creatine kinase levels post-exercise, authors found “no difference between chocolate milk and this commercial beverage as potential recovery aids for cyclists between intense workouts.”
Overall, the evidence shows that chocolate milk is at least comparable, if not superior to high-carbohydrate recovery options. However, more research is needed to compare chocolate milk with other products containing a similar nutrient balance. There's reason to believe a combination of whey protein with dextrose may proven superior to chocolate milk, but the head-to-head research comparison is lacking. The only recently published head-to-head comparison between chocolate milk and a protein supplement was from an undergraduate study in which authors failed to match the doses provided to subjects. Most of the existing research compares chocolate milk to high carbohydrate drinks and foods. It is still possible that future research will find more definitive answers, though critical thinking can help fill those gaps (See The Benefits of PeriWorkout Nutrition).
One thing we do learn from chocolate milk research is the importance of including carbohydrates, protein, and fat in recovery nutrition. Certainly each commercial manufacturer will proclaim their engineered product is different and superior, which might or might not be true. Yet remember in the “real world,” compliance is a major issue. Accessibility means that chocolate milk increases the odds that swimmers will ingest recovery nutrition post-workout.
- Spaccarotella KJ, Andzel WD. The effects of low fat chocolate milk on postexercise recovery in collegiate athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3456-60. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182163071.
- Pritchett K, Bishop P, Pritchett R, Green M, Katica C. Acute effects of chocolate milk and a commercial recovery beverage on postexercise recovery indices and endurance cycling performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Dec;34(6):1017-22. doi: 10.1139/H09-104.
- Gilson SF, Saunders MJ, Moran CW, Moore RW, Womack CJ, Todd MK. Effects of chocolate milk consumption on markers of muscle recovery following soccer training: a randomized cross-over study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 18;7:19. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-19.
- Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Feb;16(1):78-91.
- Thomas K, Morris P, Stevenson E. Improved endurance capacity following chocolate milk consumption compared with 2 commercially available sport drinks. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Feb;34(1):78-82. doi: 10.1139/H08-137.
By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.