Chocolate milk conjures up memories of a childhood sweet treat, perhaps sitting at your kitchen table sipping the creamy drink through a straw. But, although we tend to think of choosing milk as a drink for kids, it’s also a go-to recovery drink for endurance athletes.
But, is chocolate milk good for you? Why do some athletes swear by drinking chocolate milk? What are the pros and cons of chocolate milk? We examine these questions and more in this guide to chocolate milk for runners.
In this article, we will look at:
- What Is Chocolate Milk?
- Is Chocolate Milk Worse for You than Regular Milk?
- Chocolate Milk Nutrition
- Health Benefits of Chocolate Milk
- Downsides of Chocolate Milk
- Is Chocolate Milk Good for You?
- Is Chocolate Milk Good for Runners?
- What Does the Research Say About Chocolate Milk and Recovery from Running and Endurance Exercise?
Let’s jump in!
What Is Chocolate Milk?
It seems like a silly question, but let’s look at what exactly chocolate milk is before we take a deep dive into whether chocolate milk is good for you or not.
Chocolate milk is a beverage made from regular cow’s milk, cocoa, and typically some sort of sweetener. That said, these days, there are also plant-based chocolate milk options like chocolate almond milk, chocolate rice milk, chocolate soy milk, and even chocolate pecan milk (check out This PKN Chocolate Pecanmilk).
We will mostly consider regular cow’s milk chocolate milk in this article.
Like unsweetened milk, chocolate milk is available in fat-free (skim), 1%, 2%, and whole milk varieties. Some people also choose to make chocolate milk by stirring concentrated chocolate syrup into a glass of plain milk.
Is Chocolate Milk Worse for You than Regular Milk?
Because chocolate milk is sweetened—typically with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup—it’s higher in sugar, carbohydrates, and calories than unsweetened plain milk, but otherwise contains the same nutrients as a glass of cow’s milk with the same fat content.
Chocolate Milk Nutrition
Before we try to answer the ever-important question—Is chocolate milk good for you?—let’s look at the nutrition facts of chocolate milk.
Depending on the type of chocolate milk you buy, a one-cup serving typically provides 140-210 calories, 8 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.
Health Benefits of Chocolate Milk
Chocolate milk is considered a complete source of protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. This is one of the reasons it is often used as an effective recovery drink for athletes.Protein helps rebuild and repair muscles; manufacture new cells, proteins, and enzymes; and carry out metabolic processes.
Chocolate milk is rich in several key vitamins and minerals, particularly those that maintain bone health.
A one-cup glass of chocolate milk typically provides 28-30% of the RDI, or recommended dietary intake, of calcium, a key mineral for healthy bones and teeth and muscle contraction. The calcium in milk is said to be highly absorbable, compared to calcium in vegetables, legumes, and many other non-dairy sources.
It also provides 25% of the RDI of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as 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 some zinc, selenium, iodine, magnesium, and vitamins A, B1, B6, B12.
So, what are your thoughts so far? Is chocolate milk good for you?
Downsides of Chocolate Milk
Most chocolate milk is sweetened, and it can contain anywhere from 1.5-2 times as much sugar as regular milk. In fact, a one-cup glass of chocolate milk may have as much as 3-4 teaspoons of added sugar.
Sugar can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, and the American Heart Association recommends that we should limit our consumption of added sugars to less than 6 teaspoons (for women and children) or 9 teaspoons (for men) per day.
There is also evidence to suggest that diets high in added sugars can increase the risk of heart disease.
Finally, depending on the type of chocolate milk you buy, it can be high in fat and saturated fat. Though there are some conflicting viewpoints, most health experts agree that saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
To offset these risks, choose low-fat chocolate milk that contains less added sugar and no high-fructose corn syrup.
Also of note, if you are sensitive to lactose or dairy, cow’s milk chocolate milk will likely cause digestive distress. In these cases, you’ll want to select plant-based chocolate milk options or lactose-free chocolate milk.
Is Chocolate Milk Good for You?
Now that we’ve covered the pros and cons of chocolate milk, we can try to weigh in on our biggest question today: Is chocolate milk good for you?
As with most things related to diet and nutrition, the answer isn’t black and white. Chocolate milk certainly offers some valuable nutrients but can also be high in sugars and processed ingredients.
Buying organic chocolate milk is also preferable to conventional milk, since conventional dairy products may contain hormones and antibiotics used in the process of dairy farming.
So, is chocolate milk good for you? Not necessarily, but it’s also not necessarily bad for you. It’s highly dependable on the type of chocolate milk you buy (skim, 1%, 2%, or whole), whether it’s organic, what sweetener is used and how much, and if there are any artificial flavors and colors.
Is Chocolate Milk Good for Runners?
The nutritional needs of runners and other athletes are somewhat different than for the general population. Running burns a lot of calories and requires a higher dietary intake of carbohydrates for vigorous workouts.
Although the higher sugar content in chocolate milk may be unhealthy for sedentary individuals, this is usually less problematic, and potentially even beneficial for endurance athletes and runners.
Much like sports drinks, energy gels, dried fruit, and energy chews provide the easily-digestible carbohydrates runners need before and during exercise, the simple sugars in chocolate milk can be helpful, rather than potentially harmful, to runners.
Nutritionists probably wouldn’t recommend drinking sports drinks over water to someone who sits at a desk all day, though sports drinks have their merit for a runner before, during, or after a long run or race.
Similarly, the sugar content in chocolate milk can actually be beneficial to runners as part of the carbohydrate fueling strategy before or after a run.
All this is to say, chocolate milk can be a healthy drink for runners, particularly because it has many health benefits and the downsides of the sugar content are minimized if not negated.
Running is a high-impact activity, so bones are placed under a tremendous amount of repetitive stress. The calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus in chocolate milk can support healthy bones and reduce the risk of stress fractures in runners.
Finally, chocolate milk provides the optimal 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein found to support recovery from exercise. For this reason, chocolate milk is a common recovery drink for runners and other athletes after workouts.
What Does the Research Say About Chocolate Milk and Recovery from Running and Endurance Exercise?
A study investigating the recovery and performance benefits of chocolate milk in climbers found that chocolate milk reduced muscle soreness when compared to water, and it also led to improved performance, with both a greater distance climbed.
Another study compared the recovery benefits of chocolate milk versus one carbohydrate-replacement drink and one fluid-replacement electrolyte drink and found that chocolate milk was superior to both of the other common commercially-available recovery drinks.
Cyclists completed a glycogen-depleting time trial, then took a four-hour recovery break, and then had to complete another exercise bout to exhaustion at an effort level equivalent to 70% of the power at their maximal oxygen uptake.
Immediately after the first time trial, as well as at 2 hours into the recovery window, the cyclists consumed one of the following recovery drinks: chocolate milk, a carbohydrate-replacement, or a fluid-replacement beverage.
Those that drank chocolate milk cycled 51% and 43% longer (32 +/- 11 min) than cyclists who drank the carbohydrate- or fluid-replacement beverage (21 +/- 8 min for the carbohydrate drink) and (23 +/- 8 min for the fluid drink).
These results indicate that chocolate milk helped cyclists bounce back quicker and more thoroughly from the first bout of exercise so that they were able to perform better (as evidenced by significantly greater endurance) in the second bout.
To build on these findings, a different study examined the recovery effects of chocolate milk on a molecular and physiological level. In other words, how exactly does chocolate milk enhance exercise recovery?
Researchers looked at cellular markers of protein turnover, muscle glycogen, and performance during recovery from endurance exercise in male runners who participated in two trials one week apart.
Runners ingested either chocolate milk or a carbohydrate-only recovery drink. Runners who drank chocolate milk had higher levels of the molecules and enzymes signaling protein turnover, which indicates greater physiological recovery activity due to ingesting chocolate milk.
Additionally, as demonstrated in other chocolate milk studies, the athletes who ingested chocolate milk for recovery demonstrated a greater time to exhaustion (improved endurance) in the second time trial compared to the carbohydrate-only recovery drink group.
Finally, a study with adolescent athletes found that chocolate milk is more effective at recovery from resistance training workouts than a carbohydrate drink and is more effective at aiding strength development.
Did you do a hard workout today? Consider ditching your usual sports drink and enjoying the childhood favorite of chocolate milk instead. Your body may thank you later.
If you are working on your nutrition, take a look at our 26 Best Snacks For Runners!