Chocolate Milk for Recovery? – I Like That Idea!


There has been a lot written about the importance of recovery nutrition in athletes young and old. Historically, it was all about taking in high glycemic index food or fluids within 30 minutes of finishing training or racing. Then sport science found that adding protein in a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio enhanced recovery and muscle repair. Big business jumped in and developed new products to make it easier for athletes to enhance their recovery and make it easier to back up for training or racing the next day or even the same day. Now some recent recent research is suggesting commercially-available flavoured milk might just do the trick.

The Research

After determing their cycling VO2max and 40 k cycling time trial performance, ten (5 male, 5 female) trained cyclists and triathletes aged 18-39 years visited the lab on three separate occasions  after an overnight fast. On each of the three visist they cycled at 70% of their VO2max for 90 minutes (hard work) then 10  minutes of alternating one-minute  intervals at 40% of VO2max then 90% of VO2max. This protocol was designed to deplete their muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. They then recovered in the lab for 4 hrs and received one of three treatments immediately after the glycogen-depleting bike ride and then again 2 hrs into the 4 hr recovery.  Muscle biopsies were taken immediately after the glycogen depleting ride and at 45 and 240 minutes into recovery. The three types of recovery drinks (see table below) were a commercially-available chocolate milk, a carbohydrate drink matched for energy content, and a placebo drink made up of some artifical sweetener and flavouring.

Table 1: Energy and composition of recovery drinks (per 100 mL)

Ingredient Chocolate Milk Carbohydrate Drink Placebo
Carbohydrate (grams) 11.5 15.2 0
Protein (grams) 3.7 0 0
Fat (grams) 2.1 2.1 0
Energy (Calories) 79.1 79.1 0
Ratio Carb : Protein 3.12 : 1

They then did a 40k time trial on the bike to see which recovery drink improved 40k time trial performance the best.

The Results

The 40 k time trial was faster after using the chocolate milk recovery drink (79.4±2.1 min) than the carbohydrate (85.7±3.4 min) or placebo (86.9±3.3 min) drinks. Muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) resynthesis after the four hour recovery was higher in both the chocolate milk and carbohydrate compared to the placebo condition but not different between the two carbohydrate drinks. Crucially, the cholcolate milk containing the protein and carbohydrate increased protein synthesis markers (suggesting muscle recovery) to higher levels than both the carbohydrate and placebo drinks at 45 minutes into recovery.

So What?

The results of this study strongly suggest that taking a carbohydrate-protein drink after hard training or racing can improve subsequent performance and provide a greater stimulus for muscle repair and adaptation compared to carbohydrate drinks alone or plain water. This is why I use products such as Accelerade or PureSport after hard training or racing. They work, particularly when combined with all the other recovery strategies discussed in detail in Chapter 15 of  my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Ferguson-Stegall, L. and others (2011). Postexercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signaling for protein synthesis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(5): 1210-1224.