Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout?
The internet is once again buzzing about a post-workout hack pulled straight from Mom’s playbook: Could it be that chocolate milk, the post-recess pick-me-up of yesteryear, is also good for post-workout recovery?
Read on to learn more about whether you should be downing chocolate milk after a tough sweat sesh — and what you want to look out for.
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Is Chocolate Milk Good After a Workout?
Milk is a complete protein and a good source of calcium, and contains electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sodium. Chocolate brings additional magnesium and potassium.
Sounds like a great combo, right?
One study found that chocolate milk outperforms water alone when consumed after a workout, which isn’t surprising — water provides hydration but no beneficial nutrients like protein. Another study of endurance athletes supports the idea that chocolate milk does offer some recovery benefits. But a 2019 review of a dozen studies shows only that chocolate milk performs similarly or better than placebos — stating that data is limited and more research is needed.
There are reasons to be cautious, especially when considering your personal dietary needs. Milk can be high in saturated fat, and the added sugar in most chocolate milks presents the most obvious potential downside.
And many experts question whether dairy milk is even necessarily part of a healthy human diet.
So, what’s the takeaway? That depends on your individual dietary needs and predilections, including whether you choose to consume dairy.
Refueling after a workout is important. But chocolate milk is just one way to get the protein and carbs your body needs.
“If you’re not going to eat due to time constants or fatigue, drinking chocolate milk would be better for recovery than not eating,” says Barbie Tucker, R.D., L.D., M.Ed., an Atlanta-area dietitian.
How Much Chocolate Milk Should I Drink After a Workout?
Our post-recovery nutritional needs depend heavily upon the type of training we do, the intensity, and how often we train in addition to our regular diets and our personal dietary needs.
“Whether you choose chocolate milk, a protein shake, or any other dietary supplement,” says Tucker, “always read all of the ingredients and nutrition information carefully [to make sure it complements your diet and supports your goals].”
And Tucker reminds us that diet “is an ongoing process. To optimize recovery, continue to eat well-balanced meals and snacks throughout the rest of the day, and in the days following intense training sessions.”
What Kind of Chocolate Milk Should I Drink?
“Store-bought chocolate milk differs greatly from what you can make by combining whole ingredients at home,” says Zeithun Abas, M.S., R.D., L.D., C.D.E., another Atlanta-area dietitian.
If you do choose to consume chocolate milk after a workout, there are a few things you’ll want to consider.
1. Conventional Milk vs. Grass-Fed
“If you have the choice and cost is not a factor, buying milk from grass-fed cows is a better choice,” Tucker says.
“Grass-fed cows produce milk that’s higher in alpha-linolenic acid, which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid,” she continues, adding that such milk can contain nearly double the omega-3 fat content as conventional milk.
2. Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate
When making chocolate milk at home, Abas suggests enhancing the nutritional value of your post-workout snack by choosing dark chocolate over milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate contains higher concentrations of cocoa solids than milk chocolate — percentages range from 70% to 100%, with increased bitterness as the percentage climbs. Why is that important? Because cocoa solids contain polyphenols — plant-based chemicals with a host of potential health benefits, including antioxidant-like properties. Abas recommends we look to dark chocolate that’s 72% or higher, and choose cacao over cocoa for an added boost of nutrients.
3. Chocolate Syrup vs. Raw Cacao Powder
Chocolate syrup is often made of milk chocolate and can contain tons of processed sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which can have adverse effects on your health.
“By choosing raw cacao powder, you’ll preserve nutrients like potassium and magnesium,” says Abas. “Plus raw cacao is naturally sugar-free.”
To make your drink more palatable, you could add a small amount of a natural sweetener like pure maple syrup or honey.