Worried about the effect on your child’s teeth from all that sugar in sports drinks? (You should be) The following research was cited at this summer’s national soccer coaching meetings on the east coast. Prepare to be a hero to your young athlete ("what mom, you want me to drink chocolate milk!??").
When it’s time to choose a liquid chug after a long, tough workout, there’s a slew of options out there. Water? Gatorade, POWERade, or All Sport? Endurox R4? Physiologist Joel Stager, director of the Human Performance laboratory at Indiana University, has even one more potential workout recovery drink to add to the list: chocolate milk. His latest study, published in this month’s International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, names this kids’ favorite an optimal post-exercise recovery aid.
Before your stomach recoils, take a look at chocolate milk’s ingredient list. For a high-endurance athlete, Stager’s team sees it as a catch-all workout recovery drink. Compared to plain milk, water, or most sports drinks, it has double the carbohydrate and protein content, perfect for replenishing tired muscles. Its high water content 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.
Drinking plain water after exercise replaces sweat losses -- and that’s it. "Chocolate milk provides carbohydrate replenishment to your muscles -- something they can metabolize," said Jason Karp, MS, another researcher for this study. "There’s nothing to metabolize in water."
Stager’s assessment of chocolate milk is even simpler. "It’s water plus a whole lot more," he said.
The Case for Carbs
Ready to switch your bottled water for chocolate milk? Assess your workout level first. Downing a post-workout beverage chock-full of carbohydrates isn’t just for the weekend tennis player, said Stager -- and that’s key. A drink like chocolate milk is most useful to a cyclist, swimmer, or long-distance runner. These sports stress high endurance levels and constant, sustained movement. Competing athletes need high levels of calories, carbs, and protein to sustain that level of performance.
Stager tested out chocolate milk’s performance as a workout recovery drink on nine cyclists. In his lab, each athlete biked until exhaustion, and then rested for four hours. During this break, each consumed low-fat chocolate milk, Gatorade, or the high-carbohydrate sports drink Endurox R4. Afterward, they cycled to exhaustion again.
The results were positive. His research team concluded that the athletes who consumed chocolate milk performed just as well or better as those who drank the other beverages. The high carb and protein content in milk make it an incredibly effective recovery drink, Stager said -- even though it’s never been marketed as one.