Take Home Points on Is Chocolate Milk a Good Recovery Aide for Swimmers?
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[Editors Note: A recent research article [which is available for free] was just released about milk compared to Casein].
What is up with chocolate milk? Is it a good recovery aide? If so, how much does a 120
Short Answer: Yes.
Extended Answer: Chocolate Milk has been touted as a performance enhancer/ recovery aid largely throughout the sports community since at least the new millennium. The basis in this comes from the idea that chocolate milk has an ideal ratio of carbs to protein, which helps deliver protein to damaged muscle tissue. This thought is based around the fact that the sugary additives in the chocolate milk create a higher insulin response (which is the body’s nutrient ‘carrier’). In theory this is great, higher carb levels lead to higher protein/nutrient content being shuttled to skeletal muscle to promote healing—so far so good.
One area that is overlooked in this debate, however, is the breakdown of types of protein in milk. The two major types of protein are casein, commonly found in supplements which advertise ‘time-released formulas’ or ‘overnight recovery aide’, as well as the more known whey protein. Whey is the type of protein which receives the majority of the media hype, as well comprises most protein supplements. You may be able to tell a whey protein product from the phrases on its package saying things similar to ‘rapidly digesting’ or things of this nature.
One idea recent scientific evidence is pointing to, is that types of protein, and release patterns may not relate to recovery as significantly as we previously thought. But one other benefits of whey protein is that is highly insulinogenic; this means that the whey protein in itself releases a large surge of this insulin that we’ve been talking so much about (whey protein causes about a 1:1 spike in insulin when compared to simple sugars). So what does this mean? The current idea in nutrition is that insulin caused by the sugary additives in the chocolate milk creates releases a surge in insulin, which can then shuttle the protein to skeletal muscle which has been damaged by vigorous activity (in this case a swimming practice or meet), but this new research suggests that whey releases enough insulin itself to do the job of the sugar, making the sugary additives obsolete.
So as of this point in the article, it seems like I’m making the case for regular milk, over chocolate—but both of which, have their place. While the caloric reduction, as well as the insulinogenic benefits from the whey may seem to do the job in white milk, the extra calories of the sugar might be more beneficial for athletes (in this recovery setting). Because the body uses primarily muscle glycogen (sugar stored in the muscle) during intense swimming bouts, restoring this as soon as possible after exercise is important, and chocolate milk just happens to be a convenient way to do so.
For amount of chocolate milk, a 12-16 oz. container, which you may find at the store is perfect. You don’t really need to worry about specific volumes, or calorie counting, until your diet is already extremely regimented. Of course there is the issue of lactose intolerance, which is extremely common, and grows more prevalent as we age. Under this circumstance, obviously it varies by the individual. Many can get away with a single serving of milk, but others cannot. If you experience gastrointestinal upset from milk, it should be avoided; however, if you are capable of digesting this with no adverse effects, it can be very beneficial.
One thing I find very commonly with athletes is that, when they pick a chocolate milk product, they go for the low fat. This is also not what you want, as I said before, this post workout period is a great time to consume more calories to recover. Fat is no exception to this rule. For years fat has been vilified as a main cause of heart disease, inflammation, and a laundry list of other problems, but fat appears to just be a scapegoat. Fats, including some saturated fats (like the kinds in milk), are extremely beneficial for hormone regulation, and therefore recovery.
So when it comes to choosing between milk for recovery, I suggest full-fat chocolate milk. If you are however, looking to watch your calorie intake, I first suggest eliminating the extra calories in the form of artificial sweeteners in the chocolate milk—so go with white, whole milk, in this situation. And although you may be gaining some extra calories from this fat initially, you will be recovering better, and feel more satiated from the fat content for longer, making it easier to decline other foods later on.
As far as other supplements are concerned, none work as well as whole, minimally processed foods. As I do understand your diet may not always be ideal, I do suggest a complete multivitamin taken daily. I know in this specific case we’re talking about a 120 lb. high school female, so I would just suggest maintaining a high level of protein intake (making sure to get a full serving of protein-rich food per meal), which can be a large problem with the young, female demographic.
As far as other nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and the fiber you need will come naturally with a healthy diet. And as I stated earlier, we can’t really vilify anything, a good balance of healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates will be a huge key in injury prevention, recovery, well-being, and your athletic success.
Written by John Matulevich a powerlifting world record holder in multiple lifts and weight classes, as well as a Head D-2 Strength Coach, and previously a nationally ranked college athlete. His concentrations are in sports performance, powerlifting, and weight training for swimming. To learn more about how John trains his athletes, check his Twitter page: @John_Matulevich. He can also be reached at MuscleEmporium@gmail.com with inquiries.