Chocolate milk has long been touted as the go-to recovery drink. That’s because, post workout, you want a snack (or in this case, a drink) that gives you a dose of both carbs and protein. Carbs help replenish the glucose—the fuel your muscles need for energy—and protein helps rebuild and repair muscle breakdown.
Science likely started the hype around chocolate milk as a top provider for a carb-protein post-workout combo. One study found that the 4:1 protein-to-carb ratio helps with workout recovery and helps reduce muscle damage. Another study shows that drinking chocolate milk between workouts can increase your time to exhaustion, aka how long you last while breaking a sweat without feeling super tired.
But, while researchers back up the idea of sipping chocolate milk after exercise, they’re not positive about dosage or timing. Plus, it might not work for everyone. So, we asked a dietitian to weigh in on whether it should be your go-to treat after a sweat.
Should I drink chocolate milk post-workout?
“It depends on how long the workout is, what your goals are, and if you can tolerate the contents of chocolate milk,” say Angela Lemond, RDN, co-owner of Lemond Nutrition and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If a person just ran five miles and they drank an eight-ounce chocolate milk, then that might be a decent recovery beverage to replenish electrolytes and help with recovery. Your body will use it in a proper way. If your workout is a 15-minute walk, then I’d say that you should just drink water.”
A good rule to keep in mind: Any workout you do for an hour or longer should have a follow-up recovery beverage or snack.
What are the pros and cons of chocolate milk?
“The benefit of chocolate milk is that it’s an economical and easy package of carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes,” Lemond says. “Water doesn’t contain anything other than fluid. The other popular recovery beverages typically have electrolytes, but no protein.”
You get everything you need to help your body recover after a sweat session with chocolate milk. However, not everyone can tolerate it, Lemond says. If you have any problems with the milk sugar (lactose), then this drink obviously shouldn’t be your top choice. And, choosing a milk alternative won’t provide the same benefits, as they don’t have as much protein. (They likely have very little).
Lemond suggests asking yourself three questions to determine if chocolate milk should be your drink of choice after exercise: How long and intense was my workout? What is my goal? Can I tolerate it?
Are there alternatives to chocolate milk?
Short answer: yes. While there are tons of meal options to choose post-workout, another beverage that would do the trick is a smoothie with regular milk and one cup of mixed berries. Lemond says that this offers similar payoffs—providing carbs, protein, and electrolytes—but without the added sugars—and you even get a little fiber with it.