The first research that created public notoriety for chocolate milk in relation to exercise was in 2006 where a group of nine cyclists rode to exhaustion and were then supplied with either chocolate milk, Gatorade or another recovery type beverage during a four hour rest period. One of the main reasons that proponents of chocolate milk claim it is an ideal recovery drink is because it contains protein, which sports drinks such as Gatorade do not. It is has been long and widely accepted that a blend of carbohydrates and protein is essential for recovery from strenuous exercise in order to help minimize muscle breakdown and enable one to perform day after day. Gatorade is basically water, carbs (high-fructose corn syrup) and some electrolytes such as potassium and sodium. This study demonstrated that athletes who consumed chocolate milk or Gatorade performed at about the same level in the subsequent bike ride and both better than the other recovery drink (which did contain protein). Why test subjects using chocolate milk were able to ride about 50% longer than the group using the other supplement drink is a bit of mystery. It was theorized that the type of sugar in chocolate milk was more readily absorbed.
Two other follow up studies (one from the University of Connecticut and the other from the University of Texas) confirmed that chocolate milk can actually be an effective recovery drink. These studies were performed on runners and cyclists and the athletes who consumed chocolate milk performed at a higher level during a second bout of exercise. This was enough to even catch the attention of www.naturalnews.com which if you follow, questions the consumption of dairy at times.
White Milk vs Chocolate Milk vs Soy Milk
One of the authors, Dr. John Ivy discussed his findings at this site in the comments section and his explanation for why chocolate milk (in this case, low fat, organic CM) was a better bet than regular milk is because it contains more sugar than white milk. He also suggested that dairy protein was more readily absorbed than soy protein making chocolate milk a better choice than soy milk.
The Bottom Line
It appears that my scepticisms regarding chocolate milk as a recovery drink are unwarranted. The research backing it up while containing small samples and in most cases being partially funded by a dairy council seems to be well done, repeated and completed by high level researchers at sound institutions. Readers here should be reminded of several things:
- This does not mean that chocolate milk should be replacing water as your daily beverage of choice. Parents should especially be monitoring for this with kids (as with sports drinks). Chocolate milk does contain a substantial amount of sugar.
- These studies were conducted on people (assumed to be quite fit) who were exercising hard 2 times to measure recovery. It is not necessary or recommended to have chocolate milk or any sports drink if you are doing less than say 45 minutes of intense aerobic exercise.
- Many people have difficulties tolerating dairy beverages due to the lactose (sugar) or casien (protein) content.
- Beware of additives in the milk. Some are chocolate milk "beverages" which are not the same. Make sure you read the ingredients
Dr. Marc Nimchuk