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Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After A Workout For Fast Recovery?

Is chocolate milk good after a workout? Our nutritionist and run coach weighs in.

Most runners and endurance athletes are well aware that post-workout recovery nutrition is critical to replenish glycogen stores and support muscle protein synthesis, the process by which muscle damage is repaired.

Moreover, having a post-workout drink is also vital for hydration so that you replace fluids lost by sweat and restore electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade have traditionally been the go-to post-workout drink because sports drinks contain electrolytes and carbohydrates.

While sports drinks may help with rehydration and can replenish glycogen stores to some degree because they contain simple carbs, you still have to have a post-workout snack that contains protein to provide the amino acids necessary to aid muscle recovery.1Nosaka, K., Sacco, P. ▀, & Mawatari, K. ▀. (2006). Effects of Amino Acid Supplementation on Muscle Soreness and Damage. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism16(6), 620–635. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.16.6.620

‌Drinking chocolate milk after a workout can potentially be a more effective post-workout recovery drink because it contains carbs, electrolytes, and protein—the optimal trifecta for a recovery beverage to refuel and rehydrate the body.

That said, there are certain considerations for choosing the best chocolate milk as a post-workout drink to optimize muscle recovery, refueling, and replenishing glycogen stores after running or other endurance sports.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of drinking chocolate milk after a workout, the nutrition facts of chocolate milk, and answer your question, is chocolate milk good for you after a workout?

A glass of chocolate milk and a chocolate bar.

What Are The Components Of Chocolate Milk?

To really understand whether drinking chocolate milk after exercise is beneficial, we have to understand the ingredients in chocolate milk to assess whether it contains the nutrients the body needs after endurance sports to refuel and rehydrate.

Chocolate milk is a beverage traditionally made from regular cow’s milk and cocoa, and typically some sort of sweetener. 

Like regular milk, chocolate milk is available in different levels of fat content, including:

  • fat-free chocolate milk (skim chocolate milk)
  • low-fat chocolate milk (1% milk fat)
  • reduced-fat chocolate milk (2% milk fat)
  • whole milk chocolate milk (3-4% milk fat)

Commercially available chocolate milk can be sold prepared, or some runners make their own chocolate milk by stirring in chocolate syrup or chocolate milk powder into plain cow’s milk.

Two glasses of chocolate milk

Is Chocolate Milk Healthy for Runners?

Depending on the type of chocolate milk you buy, a one-cup serving of low-fat chocolate milk2FoodData Central. (n.d.). Fdc.nal.usda.gov. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2340850/nutrients typically provides 150-210 calories, 8-9 grams of protein, 26-32 grams of carbohydrates (11-17 grams of sugar, some of which are natural sugars from the lactose in milk), and 0-9 grams of fat.

Because chocolate milk is sweetened—typically with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup—it’s higher in sugar, carbohydrates, and calories than regular cow’s milk,3CDC. (2018, December 3). Fortified Cow’s Milk and Milk Alternatives . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/cows-milk-and-milk-alternatives.html but otherwise chocolate milk provides similar protein content.

Although the higher sugar content in chocolate milk may be unhealthy for sedentary individuals, this is less problematic and potentially beneficial for endurance athletes such as half marathon and marathon runners.

Essentially, while the added sugars should be limited in the diet4American Heart Association . (2021, November 2). Added Sugars. Www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars to support overall health, in a post-workout recovery beverage, sugar is helpful to start replenishing glycogen stores rapidly5Ivy, J. L. (2004). Regulation of muscle glycogen repletion, muscle protein synthesis and repair following exercise. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine3(3), 131–138. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905295/ and to help provide energy to the body to repair muscle damage. 

Plus, chocolate milk is rich in several key nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.

A one-cup glass of chocolate milk typically provides 28-30 of the RDI of calcium, a key mineral for healthy bones and teeth and muscle contraction. 

The calcium in cow’s milk is6Calcium and Bioavailability | Dairy Nutrition. (n.d.). Dairynutrition.ca. https://dairynutrition.ca/en/nutrients-milk-products/calcium/calcium-and-bioavailability highly absorbable compared to calcium in vegetables, legumes, and other non-dairy sources.

Calcium is especially important for long-distance runners to help maintain optimal bone density and reduce the risk of stress fractures.

Chocolate milk also provides 25% of the RDI of vitamin D,7National Institutes of Health. (2023, September 18). Vitamin D. Nih.gov. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/ a fat-soluble vitamin that acts like a steroid hormone in the body and is crucial in bone health.

Chocolate milk also provides 25% of the RDI of phosphorus and 24% of the RDI of riboflavin, along with about 10% of the DV of potassium, and some sodium, zinc, selenium, iodine, magnesium, and vitamins A, B1, B6, B12.

Chocolate milk.

Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After A Workout?

Low-fat chocolate milk provides essential nutrients and the ideal 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio8Pritchett, K., & Pritchett, R. (2012). Chocolate Milk: A Post-Exercise Recovery Beverage for Endurance Sports. Acute Topics in Sport Nutrition59, 127–134. https://doi.org/10.1159/000341954 to support muscle recovery after exercise.

Chocolate milk is considered a complete source of protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids, which is one of the reasons it is often used as an effective post-workout recovery drink for endurance athletes. 

Protein provides amino acids, critical for numerous physiological processes including muscle protein synthesis,9Weinert, D. J. (2009). Nutrition and muscle protein synthesis: a descriptive review. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association53(3), 186–193. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732256/ and protein can facilitate glycogen resynthesis.10Cintineo, H. P., Arent, M. A., Antonio, J., & Arent, S. M. (2018). Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Frontiers in Nutrition5(83). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00083

Muscle protein synthesis is the process by which muscle fibers damaged during exercise are repaired and rebuilt to be stronger, leading to muscle recovery, muscle growth, and strength gains.

Plus, chocolate milk provides key electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, making it a great recovery drink—and perhaps even better than sports drinks—for distance runners and endurance athletes.

You can also make a protein shake with chocolate milk as the base and add protein powder or BCAA supplements, bananas, etc.

A gallon of chocolate milk in the fridge.

How Does Chocolate Milk Compare To Other Post-Workout Recovery Drinks?

Chocolate milk provides the optimal 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio that sports nutritionists suggest to support post-run recovery.

Several recent studies have found that chocolate milk may be a helpful recovery aid.

For example, a study11Potter, J., & Fuller, B. (2015). The effectiveness of chocolate milk as a post-climbing recovery aid. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness55(12), 1438–1444. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25286886/ found recovery benefits and performance benefits of drinking chocolate for endurance athletes (climbers).

In this study, drinking chocolate milk reduced muscle soreness and improved performance by increasing the distance climbed or time to exhaustion relative to drinking water.

This study doesn’t provide compelling evidence because water only helps rehydrate you but does not offer other nutrients the body needs after exercise to refuel,12Jeukendrup, A., Brouns, F., Wagenmakers, A. J., & Saris, W. H. (1997). Carbohydrate-electrolyte feedings improve 1 h time trial cycling performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine18(2), 125–129. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-972607 such as carbohydrates and proteins for amino acids, or any electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, or calcium.

However, one study13Thomas, K., Morris, P., & Stevenson, E. (2009). Improved endurance capacity following chocolate milk consumption compared with 2 commercially available sport drinks. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism34(1), 78–82. https://doi.org/10.1139/h08-137 that compared the recovery benefits of drinking chocolate milk vs either a carbohydrate-replacement recovery beverage or a sports drink with only electrolytes found chocolate milk was a better post-workout recovery drink.

Cyclists completed a time trial to deplete glycogen stores and then took a four-hour recovery break. Then, they did another “time to exhaustion test” at an effort level equivalent to 70% of the power at their VO2 max

The endurance athletes drank chocolate milk or sports drinks immediately after the first time trial as well as at 2 hours into the post-workout recovery window.

Cyclists who drank chocolate milk cycled 51% longer than cyclists who drank the carbohydrate sports drink and 43% longer than those with post-workout electrolyte sports beverages (32 minutes vs 21 and 23 minutes, respectively). 

Chocolate milk and a broken up chocolate bar.

These results indicate that post-workout chocolate milk helped the athletes recover quicker and more thoroughly from the first glycogen-depleting workout so that they could perform better (as evidenced by significantly greater endurance) in the second bout.

To build on these findings, a different study looked at the effect of chocolate milk as a post-workout drink vs. regular sports drinks that provide only carbohydrates on cellular markers of protein turnover, muscle glycogen, and performance during recovery from endurance exercise.

Runners completed two time trials in two weeks to compare time to exhaustion and markers of muscle damage, muscle recovery, and muscle repair between each post-workout recovery drink.

Results revealed that when runners drank chocolate milk after the endurance time trial, they displayed higher levels of the molecules and enzymes signaling protein turnover (muscle protein synthesis) than the recovery beverage that provided only carbs but had no protein content.

Plus, the runners who drank chocolate milk as a recovery drink demonstrated a greater time to exhaustion (improved endurance) in the second time trial compared to the group that drank only the carbohydrate sports drink.

Overall, chocolate milk can be a great post-run recovery beverage for runners and other endurance athletes.

However, the best chocolate milk post workout will be the least processed option with a short ingredient list. 

For post-exercise recovery, choose low-fat chocolate milk (organic chocolate milk, if possible) that contains less added sugar and no high-fructose corn syrup.

Note that if you are sensitive to whey or casein protein or follow a vegan diet, there are now also plant-based chocolate milk drinks such as chocolate almond milk, chocolate rice milk, chocolate soy milk, and chocolate oat milk (my absolute favorite vegan chocolate milk is MALK Chocolate Oat Milk!).

For more information about what to eat after a run in addition to chocolate milk post workout, check out this next guide:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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