Is Low Tech Best? – The Advantages of Chocolate Milk as a Recovery Drink

By Rick Morris

This is the high tech running age. We have high tech running shoes and running clothing. Our watches and heart rate monitors are high tech. Our sun glasses are high tech. Even our hydration products are high tech. In the old days we would hydrate with plain water and flat cola. Today there are hundreds of choices in running hydration products that replenish used up carbohydrates, provide muscle sparing or building protein for recovery, replace lost electrolytes and still provide that essential service of keep us hydrated. Do we really need the latest high tech hydration formulation to keep us running well and help us recover from a hard training run? Yes, we do. We need the carbohydrates, electrolytes, protein and fluids. But guess what. There is a low cost, low tech product out there that does the same thing; and we’ve been drinking it for many years – chocolate milk! Yep, chocolate milk as a recovery drink. I think I’ve made it to Nirvana!

It may sound silly that something as simple as chocolate milk can match or even exceed the benefits of high tech sports drinks but before you dismiss the benefits of chocolate milk as a recovery drink take a quick look at the ingredients. The table below shows a comparison of the nutritional facts of 2% fat chocolate milk, a popular carbohydrate replacement sports drink and a popular sports drink containing protein.

Nutritional Facts2% Chocolate MilkCarbohydrate Replacement DrinkCarbohydrate Replacement Drink Plus Protein
Serving Size8 Fluid Ounces8 Fluid Ounces8 Fluid Ounces
Total Fat5g01g

It looks like no contest. After a hard workout you need to replace burned calories, lost sodium, used up carbohydrates and you need protein to assist with muscle recovery and in muscle mass maintenance. The chocolate milk has superior numbers in all those areas. How about fat content? The chocolate milk has significantly more fat content than the two sports drinks. Is that a good thing or a bad thing. If you’re consuming this beverage before your run it could cause you problems. High fat foods or drinks can cause a delay in your absorption of carbohydrates as well as possibly causing gastric upsets. No one needs an upset stomach when you’re trying to run long distances at high speeds! For that reason, chocolate milk may not be the ideal pre run beverage, but were talking about recovery here.  While there’s very little data that shows any benefits for post run fat consumption, the addition of fat to your recovery drink should have no adverse effects on your recovery.

Just looking at this data suggests that chocolate milk is a great recovery drink, but does science agree. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the benefits of chocolate milk as a recovery drink. I did find two recent studies and both of them agreed that chocolate milk is a very effective recovery drink for running or any other sport. The first from 2006 by researchers at Indiana University concluded that “…chocolate milk is an effective recover aid.” Another study performed at Northumbria University studied the effects of chocolate milk as recovery drink on 9 cyclists. The cyclists performed a routine of a glycogen depleting trial, a 4 hour recovery period and a cycle to exhaustion at 70% of power at maximal oxygen uptake. At 0 and 2 hours into the recovery period the subject drank either chocolate milk, a fluid recovery drink or a carbohydrate recovery drink. The researchers found that the subjects cycled 51% and 43% longer after drinking the chocolate milk than after drinking the carbohydrate replacement drink or the fluid replacement drink respectively. They concluded that “Chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid after prolonged endurance exercise for subsequent exercise at low-moderate intensities.”

I find it hard to believe but there are some misguided individuals out there that don’t like chocolate. If you’re a chocolate hater can you use plain milk as a sports drink? Yes you can. There have been several studies that looked at the benefits of plain milk as  fluid replacement and recovery drink. A scientist at Brock University researched all the available data on using milk as a sports drink and found that ” …there is some evidence to suggest that milk may be an effective post-exercise beverage for endurance activities. Low fat milk has been shown to be as effective, if not more effective, than commercially available sports drinks as a rehydration beverage.”

We’ve seen athletes from nearly every sport in those milk mustache commercials. Isn’t it about time us runners take our place in the milk mustache posters. So drink your milk – chocolate or plain. It just might make you a better runner.



Improved endurance capacity following chocolate milk consumption compared with 2 commercially available sports drinks, Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Feb;34(1):78-82

Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid, Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Feb 16(1):78-91

Milk: the new sports drink? A Review, J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Oct 2;5:15