Is Chocolate Milk Secretly the Best Sports Drink?

There's scientific evidence that it's great post-workout fuel, but it's not for everyone

Rows of chocolate milk in cardboard cartons. Is this really the best sports drink you can buy?
If you're training for 30 minutes or less, you probably haven't "earned" your choco milk.
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After three sets of jogging, running and sprinting intervals at Barry’s, I grabbed the lightest weights I could find and hobbled over to my designated bench for the strength training portion of the high-intensity interval training session. The instructor clocked my confusion and I immediately regretted telling the receptionist that it was my first time.

“Everyone give it up for Lauren, who is new to the family,” she said enthusiastically through her pop star headset. The fatigued group clapped, as if my struggle to make it through the first half of class didn’t tip everyone off that I was a newb. But I knew it would all be worth it, because afterwards I had an excuse to drink chocolate milk.

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Got Chocolate Milk?

I recently came across several studies that found that drinking chocolate milk immediately after exercise and again two hours later “appears to be optimal for exercise recovery and may attenuate indices of muscle damage.”

This raised the important question of why I can’t eat chocolate ice cream instead. But as for chocolate milk, it contains an ideal mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fat, as well as water and electrolytes, according to a meta-analysis on the topic.

“Chocolate milk has a unique content,” confirmed Amin Salehi-Abargouei, co-author of the paper, adding that the research did not look at other dairy products like ice cream. “We expect to see the same effects for foods with the same content.” (To my dismay, the ingredients in chocolate Haagen-Dazs are not the same as a cup of cocoa-infused two percent.) 

However, they did engage in a different comparison and found chocolate milk was just as effective, if not more effective, at promoting recovery as traditional sports drinks. Much like Klay Thompson, the NBA player who attempted to rebrand this sugary drink into a recovery beverage back in 2017, I decided I’d love to be “built with chocolate milk.”

When to Recovery With Dairy

The challenge is that I normally coast through 30-minute workouts, and you need to exercise twice as long (or twice as hard) to necessitate drinking chocolate milk. “I would recommend chocolate milk to a client who is taking on a very long workout for over an hour, or a high-intensity workout,” Marley Bigos, a Barry’s instructor and National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified nutrition coach, told me. Bigos also pointed out that chocolate milk has more carbs than regular milk, which is why it’s better for recovery.

This is what brought me to Barry’s on “arms and abs” day. The workout was successful in the sense that I did not stop, or run into anyone I know. But when I showed up at the grocery store covered in sweat, on the hunt for Oberweis chocolate milk, I was still filled with anxiety — like an eight-year-old who’d stolen her parents’ credit card. (Purchasing toilet paper did not help my shame, but I was running low on it and took the chance.) In the end, rushing out the door carrying the half-gallon felt like a second, albeit shorter workout. 

When I made it to the car and ripped the plastic cap off my post-workout fuel, the little boost of sugar gave me just enough energy to perk up on my ride home. After a shower, lunch and a whole lot of water, two hours had passed and I was craving my second round of chocolate milk. 

Not for All Fitness Routines

The next day, I was a little sore and tired, but no more than if I’d gone to hot yoga after taking a week off. This was surprising mostly because I was expecting to be wrecked, but what was more shocking was how eager I was to work out again. After all, I didn’t want all that chocolate milk to go to waste. 

In the end, the point of drinking chocolate milk in the name of fitness is really for people who want to rest less and exercise more. “The drink was tested for its effect on recovery from exercise for trained athletes who want to recover fast for starting physical activity again or increasing the physical activity time,” Salehi-Abargouei noted. “It is not for those who do exercise for weight reduction.”  

Given that most people exercise just enough to fit in their pants, and not so they can exert themselves more, it makes some sense why chocolate milk has not caught on as a mainstream post-workout drink. It isn’t a wellness beverage for everyone, but for distance runners, triathlon competitors and endurance athletes alike, chocolate milk can be a sweet secret weapon. That said, until I make Barry’s a regular habit, I have no need to keep my fridge stocked with the stuff. But I will fondly remember the week I drank chocolate milk in the name of fitness. 

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