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Science says chocolate milk has major exercise recovery cred—but is it *actually* the best option?


Thumbnail for Science says chocolate milk has major exercise recovery cred—but is it *actually* the best option?
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Photo: Stocksy/Eleonora Grasso

“What the heck should I eat?” is the question on every workout warrior’s mind after handing in her spin shoes or rolling up her mat post-asana. You know that you should try to consume something within 30 minutes after your cool-down, but should it be a smoothie, a scoop of collagen powder, or…chocolate milk? A recent systematic review—published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutritionreopened the debate on everyone’s fave childhood bev, but according to a handful of health pros, you shouldn’t stock up on Yoo-hoo just yet.

The meta-analysis, which looked at the efficacy of chocolate milk as a post-workout recovery option based on 12 studies on the topic, concluded that the beverage was just as effective as water and other sports drinks. The factors that it judged were perceived exertion, time to exhaustion, heart rate, serum lactate levels (used to judge the amount of lactic acid in the body, which causes sore muscles post-workout), and serum creatine kinase levels, an enzyme used to measure the severity of muscle damage after a workout.

The results showed that sipping chocolate milk has one advantage over sports drinks: time to exhaustion (AKA how long you can maintain a given intensity of workout without falling output). But although the researchers deemed the mean difference (.78) a “significant increase,” food coach Dana James, CDN, CNS, disagrees; she says that number is too minuscule to constitute a huge leg up for chocolate milk, so you can’t scientifically argue that it’s better than other sports drinks.

“Sure, an organic chocolate milk might be a little bit better, but the carbohydrates are coming from sugar, essentially.” —Liz Barnet, fitness and food coach

Plus, as fitness and food coach Liz Barnet argues, there are better refueling options with the same macronutrient contents but far less sugar. “The quality is probably not ideal. Sure, an organic chocolate milk might be a little bit better, but the carbohydrates are coming from sugar, essentially,” she says.

Sorry in advance for this next bit of intel, oat-milk loversKeri Glassman, RD, CDN, sadly reports that even a low-sugar glass of dairy-free milk won’t do the nutritional trick. “Alternative milk beverages wouldn’t work the same way because they have pretty different nutrition profile, a lot less and a different type of protein and carbs, as well as fewer calories,” she says.

To make an alternative that will work, just follow this magic, post-workout ratio: “The general recommendation is a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein, meaning twice as much carbohydrates in terms of grams,” says Barnet.

To make an alternative that will work, just follow this magic, post-workout ratio: “The general recommendation is a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein, meaning twice as much carbohydrates in terms of grams,” says Barnet. For her workout recovery, the health pro combines one scoop of Equip Clean Carbs Protein Powder with 25 grams of grass-fed whey protein, but if you’re looking for a dairy-free option, Glassman says any combination of milk, banana, and protein powder will do. 

As for your undeniable chocolate milk cravings, this gut-healthy, low-sugar chocolate avocado smoothie might just do the trick (and help you recover #likeaboss).

When it comes to post-workout meals, this kale pesto flatbread can’t be beat. But if you’re short on time, whip up one of these instead.

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