Runner’s Plate: Chocolate Milk – Nature’s Recovery Drink? Plus Other Refueling Recipes!
Chocolate milk has gotten a lot of attention recently for its benefits as a recovery drink after endurance exercise. You see it at expos. The “got chocolate milk?” campaign has heavily advertised to athletes. The National Dairy Council has named milk “natures sports drink.” Why all the hype?
Experts recommend a mix of carbohydrates and protein after moderate to intense endurance exercise of greater than 60 minutes. Replacing lost fluids and electrolytes is also important after a long training run. Carbohydrates will restore muscle and liver glycogen that was used up during exercise and protein can help to rebuild and repair the muscle. While research has shown that both are beneficial to athletes post exercise, the ‘perfect’ ratio of carbs to protein depends on whom you talk to. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a ratio of 3:1, while others recommend 4:1 carbs to protein.
It turns out that chocolate milk contains between a 4:1 and 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein (about 25g of carbohydrates and 8g protein per 8oz depending on the brand). Additionally, chocolate milk provides fluids and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. In terms of refueling, the carbohydrates in chocolate milk (lactose & sucrose) are easily digested, which is important for quickly restoring glycogen. The research on chocolate milk as a recovery fluid is still somewhat inconclusive. While some research indicates that chocolate milk could be a good recovery drink, other research has shown that is no better than a basic carbohydrate drink.
While chocolate milk may be a good option and many people find it easy to drink after a run since it’s quick, portable, and fairly light, it is by no means the only good recovery food choice. Chocolate milk is certainly not a good option for those who are lactose intolerant, follow a vegan diet, or just don’t like milk. All food, including those used for fueling and refueling should be enjoyed and if you’re not a fan of milk – don’t make yourself drink it! Remember that chocolate milk contains a lot of added sugar so if you do enjoy it after a long run, stick to one 8oz glass within 30 minutes post-long run and then follow it up with a meal in the next 2 hours.
If chocolate milk doesn’t really do it for you, here are some suggestions of other options with a good mix of carbohydrate to protein that are easy to make and take with you to work or wherever you are off to after your run!
Smoothies: any mix of fruit, vegetables, and a source of protein such milk, yogurt, or nut butter are good options – here are a few recipes.
Banana Berry: ½ banana, 1 cup mixed berries of choice, ½ cup plain low-fat or non-fat yogurt*, ¼ cup orange juice, ½ tsp vanilla, and ice (I usually use frozen fruit and then skip the ice).
Green machine (I promise you won’t taste the spinach!): ½ banana, 1 cup honeydew melon, 2 cups spinach, ½ cup low-fat plain yogurt* , ¼ cup low fat milk**, ice (or use frozen fruit).
PB & banana: 1 frozen banana, 1 tbsp peanut butter (or other nut butter), ½ cup almond milk, ¼ cup plain yogurt*, 1 tsp vanilla, and ice. For a chocolate treat toss in 1 tsp cocoa powder or use chocolate peanut butter!
*Use any type of yogurt you prefer – soy, Greek, or regular cows milk yogurt!
** Use any type of milk – soy, almond, hemp, or cow’s; however, almond and hemp have less protein and more fat than soy and cow’s milk so I recommend adding a scoop of whey protein powder if you go this route.
Easy on-the-go snacks
Trail Mix: 1-cup cheerios (or other cereal); ½ oz almonds (about 12-14 nuts) or other nuts like cashews or peanuts; 2 tbsp dried cranberries; 2 tbsp chopped dried dates; 2 tbsp chocolate chips (optional).
Toasted pita (or pita chips) with hummus
Graham crackers with nut butter & jam
Granola bars – look for ones with about 25-30g carbohydrates and 5-6g protein (see this post for recommendations)
Nut butter, banana, and honey sandwich
Turkey sandwich with veggies of choice
Egg sandwich (1 egg, 1 slice of cheese & 2 pieces of bread, add veggies of choice) with 1 cup fruit
Veggie Quesadilla: 1 whole wheat tortilla, ½ cup beans of your choice, 2 tbsp shredded cheese, ½ -1 cup sliced sauteed veggies of choice (such as mushrooms, peppers, onion, tomato, and corn). Place ingredients inside tortilla, fold in half and cook on the stove or in the microwave until cheese is melted. Top with 2 tbsp salsa and 2 tbsp guacamole (or ¼ of an avocado sliced).
The options are endless! Don’t get too hung up on getting an exact ratio of carbohydrates to protein. There are also a lot of “recovery” sports drinks available, but remember that the biggest advantage to engineered sports foods is convenience – it is no better than real food! (I would argue that real food is better actually). Also watch out for high protein recovery drinks. Carbohydrates are the most important nutrient in the refueling process.
What is your favorite post-long run meal or snack? What do you think about chocolate milk as a recovery drink?
(Sarah is a 2nd year grad student pursuing her MS in Nutrition Communication at Tufts University Friedman School in Boston. She is also completing the requirements to become a registered dietitian and will begin her dietetic internship at The Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston this fall. Sarah is a certified spin instructor and an avid runner and regularly participates in road races from 5k to a 1/2 marathons. Follow her on Twitter @SpinnerSarah and at her personal blog Food and Fitness Friend.)