Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout? It Depends
New research opens up this long-debated topic for those in the health industry once more.
Nearly everyone can agree that eating or drinking something following a tough workout is essential—but exactly what you should be eating and drinking is often debated, and there are countless options on offer, from traditional sports drinks to alternatives like coconut water.
One drink which has been bandied about by fitness buffs for a while is chocolate milk. Why? Besides being tasty, it has a good combination of water, protein, and simple carbohydrates that all help replenish your body after particularly grueling physical exercise.
A new review of research on chocolate milks' efficacy was recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The analysis weighed chocolate milk against other beverages in post-workout recovery, concluding that the high-fat milk was just as effective as sports drinks and water in helping you come down from an exercise session.
The review considered how these drinks played into exertion rates, heart rate, lactate levels (which are a benchmark of how much lactic acid is in the body, a sign of how sore you'll be), and creatine kinase levels, which is an enzyme that illustrates the extent of damage done to your muscles following a workout.
While water and sports drinks are tried-and-true recovery drinks, there's one way in which chocolate milk actually has a bit of an edge—carbohydrate ratios.
A 2012 study published in Acute Topics in Sports Nutrition found that low-fat chocolate milk naturally contains a very desirable 4-to-1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, making it ideal for helping your body rebuild muscle after exercise. It also contains a slightly higher sodium content which helps with hydration.
But it's important to note that many health professionals recommend carb and protein rich drinks like chocolate milk only after a hard, or intense workout.
What does that kind of exercise look like, exactly? Nancy Clark, R.D., tells Health that the easiest way to decide if you should be reaching for chocolate milk has to do with how long you spend working out in the first place.
Water is fine for any workout under two to three hours, Clark says—if you're spending a good chunk of your day on a bike, running a marathon, or lifting in the gym, then chocolate milk could be the better choice.
"[Chocolate milk] has sodium and calcium, which we lose when we sweat," Clark told Health. "It’s also got carbs to refuel and give energy, and the protein also helps to repair any damage.”
A glass of chocolate milk within the 20-to-30 minute period after your workout, which Health calls the "metabolic window," can help your body maintain energy as the carbs and protein within chocolate milk aids muscles in recovery, says Leah Kaufman, R.D.
Unfortunately, a dairy-free, plant-based milk won't achieve the same result—these beverages have a drastically different nutritional makeup, including lower protein and carb counts, as well as a lower calorie count.
If you're looking for a substitute to chocolate milk, look for beverages (or foods!) that have at least a 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein, which can easily be attained with carb-heavy staples like bananas and high-protein additions like peanut butter or greek yogurt. You can add additions like these to our smoothie recipes that capitalize on this ratio for the best results.