Heffron, Alexandra

Chocolate Milk or Protein Supplement Drinks for Exercise Recovery

By: Alex Heffron

Exercise Recovery Scenario:

In many cases we limit the scope of an athlete to only individuals who participate in highly competitive games. However, an athlete can be anyone who habitually walks, runs, swims, plays disk golf, or numerous other activities. When participating in these activities our body undergoes various levels of exertion that require the use of energy in our muscles. An athlete’s success does not necessarily have to be measured on how much weight they lift or how far they run, but rather on the way their body feels before, during, and after physical activity. One of the most important aspects of preparing for a workout is the post-exercise recovery food. By consuming nutrient dense food after a workout, your body is preparing for the next activity it will perform.

Goals of Recovery Drinks:

During a high intensity workout, a body uses energy to produce movement from the necessary muscles. As energy stores in our body become depleted with continued exercise, the muscles become damaged and require adequate nutrients to recover. In order to replenish the energy lost during a workout our bodies must breakdown carbohydrates from the food we intake and convert that into usable energy called glucose (1). The consumption of protein after exercise aids in our muscles ability to recover a more lean muscle tissue (2). This is made possible by consuming protein that is rich in essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein that can only be consumed into our bodies. These amino acids are consumed after exercise and get into the necessary areas of our muscle, which are then able to use these building blocks to repair our damaged muscles. There are a wide variety of recovery drinks available for consumers that supply the necessary nutrients for post exercise recovery. However, slight differences in nutrient ratio and quality can make all the difference to our muscle recovery.

Recovery Drink options:

There are numerous options when it comes to post workout recovery supplements. There are a wide variety of food options, but in many cases an athlete is not hungry for a meal after they exercise. In this case the most convenient options are typically in liquid form. The two most common recovery subgroups are protein supplement drinks and chocolate milk. We will dive deeper into both of these subgroups to determine which is more beneficial for exercise recovery.

Importance of nutrient ratio:

According to Dr. Michael Lange, the ratio of carbohydrates to protein is one of the most important factors of muscle recovery. A post workout drink that supplies either too many carbohydrates or too much protein is not beneficial for our bodies to restore the damaged muscles. The most advantageous ratio of carbohydrates to protein is somewhere between 2:1 to 4:1 (3). In many cases, protein supplement drinks do not fulfill these requirements because they focus more on the implementation of protein in their drinks rather than carbohydrates (4). On the other hand, chocolate milk provides the ideal ratio for recovery. The chocolate provides additional carbohydrates in the form of sugar that allow spikes in the insulin levels within our body. This is important because insulin is the indicator that our body can produce more energy for our muscles. In other words, spikes in insulin levels allow glucose (energy) to enter our muscles and replenish, that which was lost during exercise (5). A common misconception is that the excess sugar in chocolate milk is bad for our bodies. However, after a workout our bodies require an intake of more sugar on top of the natural sugar (Lactose) found in regular white milk (2). This added sugar is what allows chocolate milk to have a leg up on muscle recovery compared to that of regular white milk. Also, white milk can be hard to stomach after a high intensity workout. The chocolate flavoring in chocolate milk makes the consumption of this natural protein more enjoyable for our bodies and, therefore, more enjoyable to assist in the recovery of our damaged muscles (6).

Quality of Protein Matters:

There are two major types of protein that aid in the recovery of our muscles. Casein Protein is digested slower, which allows for a longer supply of amino acids into our muscles. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, therefore, a steady supply of building blocks allows for a longer, more sustainable production of protein to help our muscles rebuild and recover (5). Whey protein is a faster acting protein because it is more easily digestible. This allows for our muscles to receive an almost instant supply of amino acids and therefore a quicker production of protein in our muscles (5). Protein supplement drinks typically contain only whey protein formulas or chemically altered forms of protein (3). This is not as beneficial because our body can only produce a maximum amount of protein in a short period of time. The longer lasting affects of casein protein allow our muscles to continue to recover for an extended period of time. Conversely, chocolate milk contains 80% casein and 20% whey protein. This ratio of protein is due to the presence of the cow’s natural milk (7). This is the perfect ratio for our muscles because it allows both an instantaneous and longer lasting muscle rebuilder. The makeup of protein in chocolate milk also provides our body with essential amino acids. These are the building blocks of protein that our body does not make itself, but rather have to be consumed. Protein supplement drinks do not usually provide these essential amino acids and therefore can cause deficiencies in protein production in our muscles.


Additional Nutrients:

In addition to the precise carbohydrate to protein ratio found in chocolate milk, there are also numerous other vitamins and minerals found in this natural recovery drink. One of the most crucial components is calcium (8). Since infancy we have known that calcium is important in bone strength, but as an athlete calcium is a key piece of our energy restoration puzzle (7). When we exercise our muscles contract for extended periods of time. The mineral calcium initiates this muscular contraction. After a workout our body requires us to replace the calcium stored in muscle cells so that those muscles are able to contract again during a workout (5). In simpler terms, the restoration of calcium is what allows our bodies to not only recover quicker, but also be more energized and effective shortly after exercise. Many protein supplement drinks do not contain these types of natural vitamins and minerals because their formula is generally fortified with synthetic dyes, nutrients, and sweeteners. They are also produced under high heat, which denatures proteins. This denaturization makes the protein less biologically active in our bodies and, therefore, less effective in restoring our damaged muscles (3).

Take home message:

Although there are many options when it comes to post exercise recovery drinks, Chocolate milk proves to be an athlete’s best advocate. This all-inclusive drink allows for optimal lean muscle repair and growth, while aiding in the restoration of muscle energy stores. The majority of protein supplement drinks do not have this affective of a formula to provide for efficient post exercise recovery.


1. Denny, S. Food For Strength: How to Fuel Your Workout. Eat Right Web site. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442471759&terms=chocolate%20milk%20for%20recovery. Published April 2013. Accessed June 9, 2014.

2. Chocolate Milk Gives Athletes Leg-up After Exercise, Says University of Texas at Austin Study. University of Texas at Austin Web site. http://www.utexas.edu/news/2011/06/22/milk_studies/. Published June 22, 2011. Accessed June 10, 2014.

3. Lange, M. The Ultimate Post Recovery Protein Drink. Strength Training and Conditioning Web site. http://strengthtrainingandconditioning.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/the-ultimate-post-recovery-protein-drink-by-dr-michael-lange/. Published January 7, 2013. Accessed June 10, 2014.

4. Doheny, K. Drinking Chocolate Milk May Help Your Workout. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20110701/drinking-chocolate-milk-may-help-your-workout. Published July 1, 2011. Accessed June 10, 2014.

5. Bayer, J. Benefits of Chocolate Milk After Your Workout. Fox News Web site. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/10/30/benefits-chocolate-milk-after-your-workout/. Published December 23, 2012. Accessed June 9, 2014.

6. Sine, R. Chocolate Milk: The New Sports Drink? WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20060224/chocolate-milk-new-sports-drink. Published February 24, 2006. Accessed June 9, 2014.

7. Nutritional Information. U.S. Dairy Export Council Web site. http://www.usdec.org/Products/content.cfm?ItemNumber=82658. Accessed June 10, 2014.

8. Chocolate milk- A Little Flavor and a Whole Lot of Nutrients. Healthy Eating Web site. Available from: http://www.healthyeating.org/Milk-Dairy/Dairy-Facts/Chocolate-Milk.aspx. Accessed June 10, 2014.

9. Mangine, G. Protein. The PT Companion Web site. http://www.theptcompanion.com/protein.html. Accessed June 17, 2014. -Images