Chocolate Milk – The Perfect Sports Drink

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Way back in the early days of 2008 when I started this blog I did a brief post on some guidelines on how much protein you should be having and when you should be ingesting it.  Since that post I’ve come across more research that backs up the assertion about drinking chocolate milk for a recovery drink. I’m not saying that this is anything new or groundbreaking, I just needed something to write about today.

Milk contains an optimal mix of carbohydrate and protein to help refuel your body after a race or big ride. Being about 90% water, it is ideal for re-hydration after a ride. It also contains the bone-building nutrients of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.  Intense endurance exercise reduces the muscles’ supply of stored glucose, or glycogen, a key fuel source for exercise. The protein in milk helps repair damaged muscles after training. To maximize glycogen replacement, studies show that taking in a serving of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes after a long and vigorous workout is optimal.  Below I’ll copy an article from WebMD written by Melissa McNamara that sums it up quite nicely.

Milk vs. Sports Drinks

Common sports drinks such as Gatorade supply those carbs, as well as fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat. However, more recent research suggests that adding protein to the mix may further hasten recovery. Hence the new wave of drinks such as Endurox R4 that include protein as well as higher doses of carbs.

In the study, nine male cyclists rode until their muscles were depleted of energy, then rested four hours and biked again until exhaustion. During the rest period, the cyclists drank low-fat chocolate milk, Gatorade, or Endurox R4. During a second round of exercise, the cyclists who drank the chocolate milk were able to bike about 50% longer than those who drank Endurox, and about as long as those who drank the Gatorade.

The findings suggest that chocolate milk has an optimal ratio of carbohydrates to protein to help refuel tired muscles, researcher Joel M. Stager, PhD, Indiana University kinesiology professor, tells WebMD.

But the most puzzling result of the study, experts say, was why Endurox — which has the same carb-to-protein ratio as the chocolate milk — fared so poorly. Researcher Jeanne D. Johnston, MA, tells WebMD it may have to do with the different composition of the sugars in the milk. Another theory is that the sugars in the milk may be better absorbed in the gut than those in the Endurox.

Edward F. Coyle, PhD, a researcher on exercise and hydration at the University of Texas, tells WebMD the trial would have been stronger if the researchers had also tested the effect of flavored water or another dummy (placebo) drink.

The study was partly funded by the Dairy and Nutrition Council, an industry group. Coyle says that the study’s reliance on industry funding is not unusual in the world of sports research, as federal funding for such research is hard to come by.

A Cheaper Alternative?

While rapid nutrient replacement may not be important for casual exercisers, it can make a big difference in performance for competitive athletes who work out vigorously once or twice a day, says Roberta Anding, a sports dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Anding has long recommended chocolate milk for young athletes who come to her practice at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. For children and teenagers from lower-income families, it doesn’t make sense to spend serious money on sports drinks when they can get milk as part of a subsidized lunch program, she tells WebMD. The only advantage of sports drinks, she notes, is that they never spoil.

Ayoob estimates that more than two-thirds of teenagers should be drinking more milk anyway because they don’t get enough calcium in their diets. He also recommends milk for its vitamin D and potassium content. “For me, this is a no-brainer,” he says.

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