Jan 29, 2015Back on Track With Chocolate Milk
A little bit of chocolate never hurt, right? Actually, it turns out that when mixed with milk, chocolate might help athletes a great deal. Four new studies published this spring on the effects of consuming chocolate milk post-exercise added to the mounting body of evidence that it can be a great recovery beverage option for athletes–including endurance athletes.
“The earlier studies on chocolate milk were specific to its effects post-resistance exercise,” says Nancy Rodriguez, co-author of three of the research projects and Professor of Nutritional Sciences and Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Connecticut. “This new work parallels much of the earlier research, but with its effects after endurance training. It showed there can be benefits specific to muscle repair and recovery in endurance athletes.”
There were several key advantages found in the studies, which were published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in May. When compared to a sports drink, consuming 16 ounces of low- or fat-free chocolate milk after long bouts of running or cycling resulted in enhanced skeletal muscle protein synthesis, increased replenishment of muscle glycogen, and fewer markers of muscle breakdown, all of which leads to repairing and rebuilding muscle.
One of the four studies even found the positive effects to be immediate. Cyclists who drank low-fat chocolate milk after a 100-minute ride, then rested for four hours before riding 40 kilometers, finished the second ride faster than those who drank a carbohydrate sports drink.
Because exercise reduces stored glycogen (carbohydrates) and breaks down muscle, it’s been recommended in recent years that athletes ingest a drink, bar, gel, or other food with a three-to-one ratio of carbohydrates to protein to maximize glycogen replacement. (For a closer look at recovery nutrition, check out the April 2010 issue of Training & Conditioning for this article by Michelle Rockwell called The Recovery Window.
Rodriguez says chocolate milk has a seemingly perfect combination of carbohydrates and protein, not to mention great nutrients not found in other recovery products. She also notes that it’s important to drink the chocolate milk within a specific timeframe.
“To get the real recovery benefit in terms of muscle protein synthesis and replenishing glycogen, the 30- to 40-minute window after exercise is the time to drink it,” Rodriguez says. “Coaches and athletes need to be very conscious of the timing aspect.”
So how can you get your athletes to give chocolate milk a try? “Sometimes athletes are worried about managing their weight and think that milk is fattening, so our biggest selling point is that it’s a fat-free product,” Rodriguez says. “For the 110 or 120 calories per serving, the athlete is getting good quality protein from the whey and casein in milk. They are also increasing their calcium intake, which for female athletes is especially important.
“Chocolate milk is also inexpensive,” she continues. “For the coach or team with a limited budget, it’s a great option because it’s cheaper than a lot of the other recovery drinks out there. Another good selling point is that it tastes good and is extremely palatable when very cold.”
At UConn, the track and field and cross country team locker rooms have small refrigerators stocked with chocolate milk, and other teams like crew that practice off-campus bring a cooler with them. The campus dining halls and training table also always have chocolate milk available.
“I still think that recovery nutrition is somewhat of a contemporary idea to coaches–it’s not as common as it should be,” Rodriguez says. “Both coaches and their athletes need to buy into the fact that the benefits of recovery nutrition can eventually translate into improved performance.”
To read each of the four studies in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, check out these links:
Chocolate Milk Consumption Following Endurance Exercise Affects Skeletal Muscle Protein Fractional Synthetic Rate and Intracellular Signaling
Chocolate Milk And Glycogen Replenishment After Endurance Exercise In Moderately Trained Males
Effects Of Chocolate Milk Consumption On Leucine Kinetics During Recovery From Endurance Exercise
Effects of Chocolate Milk Supplementation on Recovery from Cycling Exercise and Subsequent Time Trial Performance
Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.