There is nothing magical about chocolate milk

A few weeks ago I posted this on twitter: "If I see another chocolate milk add, etc I'm going to scream. Chocolate milk is not a good recovery strategy. Sorry to burst your bubble" I got a few athletes reply, asking for quick recovery snack suggestions. I also got a few replies saying chocolate milk is the economical/budget choice. To each their own, right? I would rather spend a bit more $ on real food, because I believe it is better for my overall health and performance, but I do understand that not everyone is in a position to do so. Then, I was challenged to come up with options that have similar carbohydrate and protein quantities to 250ml of chocolate milk, but are much better for you. In other words, options that are real food! I like challenges, so here we go!

Before I get into my real food on a budget suggestions, lets start with a bit of history, shall we? This means that I will break things into two separate posts. This one will go through some data and thoughts and the second one will provide my real food suggestions.

How did the chocolate milk thing start to begin with?!

Research into chocolate milk as a recovery drink started around 2004/2005 to see if it is an affordable recovery drink, taking the place of more expensive commercially available recovery drinks. It was found that it has approx a 4:1 carbohydrate:protein ratio, which is similar to many commercial recovery drinks. Athletes have been shown research like this 2009 paper and the next thing we know, chocolate milk is promoted as a recovery drink everywhere.

But there are some holes in the research.

This 2012 paper suggests that chocolate milk might not be as superior as we are made to believe. As usual, there are also a lot of limitations to some of the research papers. Lets take this 2012 study for example, which compared chocolate milk with a carbohydrate only beverage by measuring whole body protein turnover and muscle glycogen for 3 hours after a 45 minute exercise bout, and then did a time to exhaustion test. As expected, muscle glycogen was the same given both drinks had similar amounts of carbohydrate and whole body protein turnover was lower in the carbohydrate only test. Time to exhaustion was longer in the chocolate milk test, although this doesn't really tell us anything. When is the last time you have seen a race/competition that goes until you can't go anymore?! There is always a set timeline or distance. The study concluded that chocolate milk is more effective than a carbohydrate drink alone. The results are hardly a surprise, given the protein content chocolate milk and lack of protein in the carbohydrate only drink. Here is another 2009 study with similar limitations. You should read this 2009 paper, as it shows the importance of combining protein and carbohydrate post exercise. So really, there is nothing magical about chocolate milk.

It is worth mentioning that while many studies looked into chocolate milk, this 2007 paper has looked into regular milk, which is a much more sensible and appropriate choice but also less common one among athletes post training. Part of the problem is that chocolate milk and regular milk are the same price (at least in Canadian grocery stores)! Why is something with so much added stuff (sugar, in some cases high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors etc) cost the same or less as something much less processes?! 500ml  of chocolate milk has around 8 teaspoons of added (not naturally occurring) sugar.

The fact that added sugar has been linked to obesity and there have been recommendations to remove sweetened beverages from schools, etc adds fuel to the fire. What are we teaching young people when on the one hand we tell them that drinks with added sugar are bad for their health, but then tell them that chocolate milk, with its added sugar is good after exercise, for recovery? Perhaps it is just me, but it seems like a double standard. I believe we should be teaching athletes, especially young one, how to fuel themselves properly by giving them real, whole food as often as possible. As a different argument, should kids even think about recovery too much? maybe after training, kids should go home and have a snack... Or dinner, depending on the time of the day. They will recovery just fine.

There is also the issue that chocolate milk has become too mainstream as a recovery beverage. If you just finished an hour long moderate intensity workout, you likely don't need chocolate milk to recover. Especially if you don't plan on training again within the next 8 hours, which most people do not. As a general rule, if you do not have another workout planned within the next 6-8 hours, do not worry too much about the recovery 'window' and eat a real, balanced meal as soon as you can. In the case of elite athletes, chocolate milk every now and then after hard training sessions is fine. But I have seen athletes drink it after almost every single training session. I am not convinced that is a good thing and think they are likely not getting enough nutrient dense foods for proper recovery.

As somewhat of a side note, here is an interesting paper on milk in general, including the benefits, some of the issues involved with the quality of the cows diet, the problems associated with the processing of milk, etc. Of course, raw milk is not freely available for sale in Canada, which some say is a shame.

Next post? Real food, under $1.00 (CAD), with approx 8g protein and 29g carbohydrates, plus why those particular quantities might not even be the appropriate amounts for proper recovery...