Chocolate Milk as Recovery?

First, it’s no secret that these studies were partially funded by the milk industry.  What does this mean to me? Simply that there is a conflict of interest.  However, it is not uncommon for food industries to provide funds for research that they think will benefit them – simply put, research costs money and there aren’t many funding sources from the government or other entities available.  While I still think the results are likely trustworthy, they are not complete.  Chocolate milk was not compared to drinks that are competitors with it, such as soy milk.  Also, other carbohydrate sources such as fresh fruits (as in a smoothie) or honey were not used.  Alternative energy sources, such as medium chain triglycerides from organic coconut oil have not been compared.  So, while chocolate milk has fared well, we don’t know if it is truly the best option available.

Also, the studies were small in scale.  They were performed on one type of athlete, cyclists, with only 9 and 32 participants in each.

My recommendations:

Considering the study conclusions in support of chocolate milk, I think we can take their data and do better.

1.  Organic – I recommend organic milk to avoid any hormones or antibiotics that may have been given to cows in conventional dairies.

2.  Syrups & Honey – Avoid cheap, commercial chocolate syrups that contain high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings – these are not exactly what you want to feed your muscles.  If you’re willing to make your own syrup with cocoa and sugar, it’s a big step up from the squeeze bottles at the store – you’ll get pure ingredients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.  Or better yet, choose raw honey or a homemade cocoa/honey syrup as a great option to get even more antioxidants and natural enzymes.

3.  Yogurt – If you want to boost the absorption of antioxidants, choose plain organic yogurt with honey over organic milk – the healthy bacteria will promote increased antioxidant absorption and better digestion just in time for all the free radicals that abound after exercise.

4.  Dairy Alternatives – If you’re not a fan of milk, there are alternatives.  Again, soy milk was not studied in these instances and may offer a comparable alternative.  Or, a smoothie with whey protein powder (lactose free and casein free), fruit, and coconut oil.  Or, a peanut butter and honey sandwich or Clif Bar.  The best recovery is one gives you the nutrients you need and that you’ll eat consistently despite any fatigue.

Bottom Line: 

If you like milk, these preliminary studies offer some evidence that milk plus simple carbohydrates work well to improve performance and stamina while promoting more lean muscle and less fat storage.  To improve on chocolate milk, try honey milk or honey yogurt.  If you don’t want to include dairy products in your recovery plan, make sure to consume an alternative snack with carbohydrates, protein, and fluids.  Instead of waiting until you’re tired after a hard ride, prepare your recovery snack ahead of time so that you can consume it within 30 minutes of exhausting your muscles.

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  • Maroonloverb

    I have been using organic chocolate milk for recovery for over a year now and it has been great! Not just with cycling, but weight lifting as well. I have health issues that necessitate maintaining muscle mass (for me, that is already very hard). Horizon chocolate milk does it for aerobic exercise and I take that and mix some hemp protein for after weight lifting.. amazing stuff but damn does it taste like a**!

  • Malachi Doane

    Just tried the Roctane Recovery Brew and it’s dairy based. Tastes awful, but on the up side I rode from 1300 to  1600, had dinner at 1700 and was up the rest of the night through 0300 (this is normal, I work nights) so even with the addition of a long ride work out into my scheduled I manage to not feel that crushing fatigue that has accompanied rides like that in the past.
     I’m for dairy in the diet, I start every day with plain yogurt and low fat granola. The yogurt (and bacteria) work better with the digestive track than plain milk does anymore for me. I’d like to try goats milk, it’s supposed to be easier to digest owing to the homogenous nature of the protein lipids in suspension verses the irregular and large nature of the same in cow’s milk but it’s harder to find here.
     I used to bootleg different yogurt cultures to try them out, (sort of dorky fun I guess!) have a yogurt maker here and I can turn a cup of any plain commercial yogurt into a quart of it overnight.    

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Glad to hear that you received the Roctane and thanks for your honest opinion.  I saw what you had to say on G+ and I appreciate you taking the time to offer your feedback.

      Thanks also for your comments on dairy.

    • Kelli Myers Jennings

      Thanks Malachi – I’m a huge fan of making my own yogurt, too.  For any readers who’ve never tried it, it’s super easy, better than commerical, and cost-effective.  Check out: for our recipe and more information. 

  • George B

    I do like chocolate milk, but I don’t drink it very often.  It’s nice to see that it is one of the alternatives for recovery but I think I’ll stick to my other methods for now.  I would like to know what recovery drink you consider the best on the market.

    • Kelli Myers Jennings

      Hi George, I don’t actually have a favorite or best commercial recovery drink…but I do think many are good.  Endurox R4, Recoverite, and Ultragen by 1st Endurance are 3 good ones.  Or, you can use a bar like Clif Builder bar with fliuds on the side.  When working with clients, the most important factors are taste preferences and convenience. Since athletes are often a little nauseous after a hard ride, the best recovery is something that they’ll look forward to and really enjoy – otherwise, it may not happen.  For me, whole foods always sound and taste better than another sports food, especially if I’ve used drinks/gels during the ride.  So, my best drink (not commerical) is a homemade smoothie:  4-8 oz. plain yogurt, 1 scoop undenatured whey, 1 cup berries, 1 Tbsp honey, 1 Tbsp almond butter, 1 Tbsp organic coconut oil, and ice.  It provides the protein, carbs, medium chain triglycerides, antioxidants, probiotics (increases antioxidant absorption), and many electrolytes needed for a good recovery.  Or, use soy yogurt for more variety in proteins.  I am bias, and I do think it’s better than chocolate milk or commercial drinks:).  If convenience is a big factor, I recommend making it ahead of time and freezing individual portions.  Maybe someday I’ll have research to back it up. (Sorry if this was more info than you asked for!)

  • Clbaker

    You know I have seen information about this but have been wondering for quite a while now about if it really does help with recovery.  I have been wanting a non biased perspective and it was nice to read what you had to say on the subject.  Thank you.  This is good information and now I know the full story on it.

    • Kelli Myers Jennings

      You’re very welcome!  Thanks for reading!

  • Lance@toileffect

    I love chocolate milk.I make my own. I am lucky enough to have raw milk available. Mix that w/ unsweetened dark cocoa powder and honey. Tastes awesome

    • Kelli Myers Jennings

      That’s an awesome recovery!

  • gene @Boutdrz

    This is the BEST article I have read on
    the subject. I wonder what non-dairy industry dependant countries would report?
    Well done!

    • Kelli Myers Jennings

      Thanks, Gene! I wonder that, too.  It’s so hard to get around all the bias and politics in the food industry…