Here's Why Chocolate Milk Really Is Great for Recovery

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I finished my first half marathon on a spring Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee. After crossing the finish line, I worked my way through a corral where I received a medal, a bottle of water, a banana, a bagel . . . and a glorious container of chocolate milk.

I kid you not, this chocolate milk was one of the most satisfying things I have consumed in my entire life. It rivaled the lamb chop served over lemon risotto I had at a fancy island restaurant on my honeymoon. But this wasn’t fancy chocolate milk. It was regular chocolate milk, in one of those waxed paper cartons they used to use to serve milk in elementary school.

What made it taste so great? And why was it being served after an intense race?

I’d just run for the longest time and over the greatest distance I’d ever run. I was ready to celebrate, but I was also ready to eat! I’d taken sips of water and Gatorade throughout the race, and I was feeling that good kind of tired. It was hotter in Nashville than it had been where I was training in New Jersey! I was on a mental and spiritual high from achieving my goal, and my body had worked hard. I was craving some means of recovering.

Research explains this feeling: studies suggest it’s ideal to eat or drink within 30 to 60 minutes of working out, when your muscles are most ready to absorb the calories, etc. Water is great to rehydrate you, but it doesn’t offer more nutrients for your body to process.  Chocolate milk, on the other hand, has many post-workout virtues.

Studies have shown that chocolate milk is an excellent recovery drink for runners, as it contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, flavonoids, electrolytes, and vitamins in a well-balanced combination. More specifically, chocolate milk has the ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio (3:1). It contains whey protein, which can help with muscle repair, and casein, which can reduce muscle breakdown. Its high water content helps to rehydrate, while its sodium and sugar content can help you retain water and energy, respectively. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to make at home, if you don’t have a team of volunteers on hand to pass you a serving. 

That said, consuming a full glass of chocolate milk after every workout in the name of recovery isn’t necessarily the best choice. Consider the duration and intensity of your workout, as well as your fitness goals, and adjust your recovery to suit. An easy run or a short distance will leave you less depleted, so you’ll need to consume less afterward.

If you can’t do dairy, the simple sugars in commercial sports drinks and the protein in powders made from whey, egg whites, or soy can offer many of the same benefits. Some even taste like chocolate!

Personally, I’ve found a glass of chocolate milk at home can also be a motivating factor for me to finish a long run well. There isn’t a study to prove that, but I know my tastes and my triumphs. I ran another half marathon this past fall, and while I PR’d, I was disappointed that there wasn’t chocolate milk at the finish line. Still, I know that drinking it during training helped me to reach my goal.

Thank God for running. And thank God for chocolate milk!

Lindsay Schlegel wrote her college entrance essay about her lack of athletic ability. In the decade since, God's proven her wrong--and taught her a great deal about Himself in the process. Now a wife and mother, Lindsay has completed a half marathon, a full marathon (while pregnant), and a Spartan Sprint. She's the author of Don't Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God. You can find out more about her at LindsaySchlegel.com.