Have you ever wondered why coaches tell young athletes to drink chocolate milk after a hard practice? It may sound a bit strange, but chocolate low-fat milk has been shown to help young athletes recover needed nutrition. We caught up with Amanda McCarthy, a registered dietitian in our Sports Medicine Center at the Orthopedics Institute, to get her take on chocolate milk.
What is recovery nutrition?
Recovery is the window of time when your athlete can most rapidly replenish their stores of energy after a vigorous workout or activity. The recovery window is most crucial for athletes with more than one competition or practice in 24 hours. If your child is participating in daily vigorous workouts — say, two or more hours of high school sports or for a highly competitive club team — they can benefit from drinking low-fat chocolate milk after practice.
10 benefits of chocolate low-fat milk for recovery
- Fluid and electrolytes for hydration
- Protein source for muscle repair
- Carbohydrate source to replenish energy stores for the next practice and brain fuel for homework
- Replenishes necessary vitamins
- Helps cool the body
- Low-cost replenishing option
- Often available in the school cafeteria
- Quick and portable
- Some athletes tolerate a beverage over food shortly after a workout
- It tastes great, and kids typically love to drink chocolate milk
Using milk as a recovery fuel will also boost your athlete’s calcium and vitamin D intake. You might be surprised to know that vitamin D deficiency among our children is becoming increasingly more common. Vitamin D deficiency can have a serious effect on growing bones and bone strength later in life.
Why protein matters
The type of proteins found in milk, casein and whey, specifically benefit muscle recovery by providing an amino acid called leucine. Leucine is a building block for protein and is necessary to speed up our recovery. It’s found in highest concentrations in dairy, eggs, meat and soy.
Are fancy recovery powders and beverages better than milk?
Not necessarily. While they are almost always more expensive than milk, several research studies have shown that most supplements on the market are labeled incorrectly: Some have more of an ingredient than is listed on the label, some have none of it at all and others may even be contaminated with banned ingredients.
For example, in a recent study of supplements containing botanical ingredients, only six of 57 products tested contained the botanical within 10% of the amount listed on the label, while 23 of the 57 contained no detectable amount of the ingredient at all. If you find that your athlete prefers supplement beverages, be sure to read the label and choose wisely.
Alternatives to cow's milk
If your child is milk allergic or intolerant other milks are available, like fortified soy or pea protein milk.
Nut and oak milks
If you do choose a nut or oat-based milk, note that additional protein is needed to match that of cow’s milk. This can be supplied by a small handful of nuts, for example.
Don't stress over sugar
Also keep in mind that unsweetened nut milk does not have enough carbohydrates for a young athlete’s recovery either. Your child would also need to eat a food high in carbohydrates, like a banana or granola bar, to meet recovery needs.
And if your child is not a fan of chocolate, try a different flavor! Strawberry- or banana-flavored milks are comparable in nutrition to chocolate milk with added carbohydrates, plenty of protein and lots of vitamins and minerals.
So, the next time you pick up your athlete after a long practice and dinner is still over an hour away, think about bringing them 8 to 12 ounces of cold chocolate low-fat milk for the ride home. Their muscles will appreciate it.
Learn more about sports nutrition.