Contributed by Dr. Steven T. Devor – Director of Performance Physiology for MIT and OhioHealth, and Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology, Department of Human Sciences, and Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, The Ohio State University
Recent research supports the notion that low fat chocolate milk is an effective carbohydrate and fluid replacement recovery drink for endurance athletes. Chocolate milk has a near perfect balance of nutrients essential for recovery in an athlete, including high quality protein, carbohydrate, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and riboflavin. Each nutrient serves a specific function in recovery for an athlete. And because chocolate milk is a real food you get away from what to many endurance athletes fall into, and that is living on carbohydrate and protein bars, drinks, and solutions. That is to say, not eating whole foods. When you consume to few actual whole food stuffs you miss out on all the other health protective and performance enhancing nutrients that come with real food.
Endurance athletes should take in a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to high quality protein within an hour after training, which is when your body is most receptive to recovery nutrients. Taken alone, carbohydrates or proteins are not as effective. If you take in just carbohydrate, it will refuel the muscles but not aid in repairing them. Protein will help to repair them but not refuel them. You want a foundation of carbohydrate (the “4” part of the 4:1 ratio), because that is what gets stored as glycogen. Then, if you have a little bit of protein (the “1” part of the 4:1 ratio), it stimulates the production of insulin, which enhances the transport of sugar into the muscle to replace depleted glycogen, and provides the necessary amino acids to repair damaged skeletal muscle.
A benefit of chocolate milk is that although carbohydrates and proteins are most prominent, additional benefits come from the “lower profile” nutrients. For example, vitamin D and calcium in chocolate milk help build strong and healthy bones. Additionally, the calcium also helps muscles contract properly, aids in blood pressure management, and may be helpful in losing body fat. Some research has shown that when dieters consume calcium, more fat is burned and less muscle is lost in the metabolic process. Riboflavin, which is a B vitamin found in milk, releases energy from protein, fats, and carbohydrates during metabolism. Essential to muscle contraction, potassium aids in fluid and electrolyte balance.
All of these nutrients, which are depleted through sweating and vigorous training, can be easily and inexpensively replenished. I am comfortable recommending drinking 16 ounces of low fat chocolate milk within an hour after working out. This will provide approximately 320 calories, 52 grams of carbohydrate, 16 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat.