Many of my clients who are competitive runners have inquired whether they should consume sports drink or chocolate milk for recovery after a workout. The first question I pose is are they lactate intolerant and if yes, then the answer is easy. However, based on the barrage of media hype and public influence over the benefit of recovery sports drinks, many have questioned if what they drank as a kid could be as good as what many pros propose us to drink.
Several studies have found that if a combination of carbohydrate and protein in the form of chocolate milk is ingested within one hour and consumption continued for 1-2 hours after a submaximal workout, initial and subsequent endurance performance improves. The prevailing thought why the combination of both are good for recovery and subsequent performance is that carbohydrate helps replenish muscle glycogen used for muscle contraction and protein slows the synthesis or breakdown of the glycogen, preserving more of it for the next workout. Therefore, several versions of carbohydrate replacement drinks have emerged on the commercial market that contain either additional carbohydrates or electrolytes to stave off depletion of glycogen.
All types and versions of electrolyte and recovery drinks can be found in the cooler at any local quick mart, as well as chocolate milk, which contains rich balanced sources of carbohydrate and protein. However, chocolate milk has been shown to be more effective than either carbohydrate only and electrolyte replacement drinks for improving recovery and subsequent performance.
In 2006, Karp and his colleagues published a report in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Metabolism that demonstrated significant improvements among endurance trained cyclists in the time it took them to reach exhaustion and an enhanced ability to perform more work over those who ingested either a carbohydrate or electrolyte replacement drink of equal carbohydrate composition. In a 2012 report published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Lunn and his colleagues also found when male runners ingested fat-free chocolate milk as a recovery aid versus a carbohydrate only replacement drink or placebo, they exhibited significantly higher rates of skeletal muscle protein production and decreased breakdown of whole-body protein. The findings from these studies and others on chocolate milk consumption are important for the endurance athlete because protein is needed for tissue repair and carbohydrate is an essential ‘fuel’ that both enables repair to occur as well as to serve as a building block for muscle contraction over sustained periods of effort.
Beyond the benefits of providing the body a rich source of carbohydrate for energy production and sparing protein for repair after a workout, chocolate milk also contains many beneficial nutrients for health such as potassium, magnesium and calcium. To boot, chocolate milk tastes good and is far less expensive than many commercial recovery products on the market. So the next time you reach for a drink out of the cooler after an intense workout, think and drink like a kid in order to perform like a pro.
By Tim Speicher, PhD, ATC, LAT, CSCS
Dr. Speicher is a Licensed Athletic Trainer, Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Positional Release Therapist. Dr. Speicher provides therapy and strength and conditioning services for competitive and recreational athletes of all ages as well as the general public. He can be reached at www.prt-i.com.