A recent study that was sponsored by the Milk Council and conducted at the University of Texas reported that chocolate milk is better than a conventional sports drink in improving post-exercise muscle recovery. Predictably, this research generated a great deal of media coverage. After all, everyone loves the taste of chocolate milk. No doubt you saw at least one of the many media stories reporting that chocolate milk can help athletes recover faster, thereby enabling them to perform better the next time they work out or compete. This proposition almost sounds too good to be true, and a closer examination of the data reveals just that.
The primary reason that chocolate milk outperformed a sports drink is because chocolate milk contains protein. It is now generally accepted that carbs and protein in combination offer significant advantages in helping muscles recover faster and better. However, chocolate milk is a long way from matching the recovery benefits of a specially designed recovery product. Here’s why:
Not all proteins are equal in their effects on muscle recovery. Chocolate milk contains a type of protein called casein, whereas most recovery beverages contain whey. Casein is 50% less effective in rebuilding and repairing muscle protein following exercise than whey. There are two reasons. First, casein is absorbed by the body much more slowly than whey. In addition, casein contains a lower content of the amino acid leucine, which is critical for activating muscle protein synthesis.
One of the findings of the Texas study was that chocolate milk increased endurance in a subsequent workout. It was, however, a modest increase of 7%. Studies conducted with a commercially available recovery drink, Endurox R4, showed a 55-65% increase in endurance in a subsequent workout.
The keys to effective recovery are repair and rebuilding of muscle protein and the replenishment of depleted energy stores. Chocolate milk is no better than a sports drink in replenishing muscle energy stores following exercise, whereas recovery products like Endurox R4 have been shown to replenish muscle energy stores almost twice as effectively as a carb-only drink. The reason is that the primary carbohydrate in milk is lactose, which is a slowly absorbed sugar. Effective recovery beverages contain a combination of carbohydrates that are rapidly absorbed and transported to muscle cells.
An important objective of recovery nutrition is to reduce muscle damage, which is caused primarily by muscle protein breakdown and oxidative stress from free radicals. Chocolate milk does not decrease post-exercise muscle damage. But specially designed recovery drinks contain antioxidants, which reduce muscle damage, resulting in less muscle soreness the next time you work out.
The bottom line? Although chocolate milk makes for great media, it does not deliver great recovery. Chocolate milk is certainly a better choice after exercise than a carb-only sports drink, but research clearly demonstrates that it is much less effective than beverages that are specifically engineered to facilitate post-exercise muscle recovery.
Dr. Robert Portman is a well-known exercise scientist and author of Nutrient Timing and The Performance Zone. His latest book is Hardwired for Fitness. To create your own personal nutrition program visit www.portmamcalculator.com