Is Chocolate Milk a Good Recovery Drink?

Mike's Mix Sports Nutrition 32 Comments

By Michael Lohre MS, HFI

Recently, chocolate milk has received a substantial amount of publicity as a recovery drink. As a scientist and endurance athlete who has religiously used recovery formulas for 10+ years, I chose to take a closer look at chocolate milk for meeting an athlete’s post-workout needs.

Chocolate milk is familiar, affordable and delicious. No wonder it has become popular with endurance athletes looking for a tasty and convenient recovery drink. But the question we want to answer is whether or not chocolate milk is indeed a superior recovery formula. We are not disputing its price, taste, or its nutritional value. So let’s compare an athlete’s nutritional recovery needs after a workout to what chocolate milk actually provides.

The main goal of a post-exercise recovery drink is to promote muscle glycogen synthesis and fluid recovery. After a workout, your body needs three things quickly:

1.  Rehydration with fluids to replace those lost during exercise.
2.  Replenishment of carbohydrate calories to replace used energy
stores (glycogen).
3.  Quality protein to repair and prevent muscle breakdown.

Does chocolate milk optimally satisfy these three post-workout needs?

First, let’s consider rehydration

Dehydration is an unavoidable result of prolonged physical exercise. Recovery begins with replenishment of lost fluids to quickly reverse the negative effects of dehydration. Rehydration reduces acidity of the stomach, cools core temperature, increases blood flow to muscles and skin, and removes cellular waste while delivering cellular metabolites. These metabolic activities are the foundation of your recovery. Muscle cramps and post-event injuries are often the result of an athlete failing to rehydrate in a timely fashion. Research has shown that the most quickly absorbed fluid in the gut is cool water (1).  The addition of carbohydrates, protein and especially fats, will slow the absorption rate of any liquid.  Therefore, the challenge to recovery nutrition is to provide calories while maintaining a high absorption rate for the liquid. 

I was only able to find one study investigating low-fat milk as a rehydration beverage (no additional studies seem to exist using chocolate milk) (2). Interestingly enough, almost all articles written about the benefits of chocolate milk as a recovery drink refer back to this one study!

This study compared the effectiveness of low-fat milk, a sports drink, and water at restoring fluid lost after exercise in a hot environment. The author of this study concluded that milk was superior to the sports drink and water in promoting rehydration due to lower total urinary output in a 1 to 2 hour time period post-workout. Relative to the amount of liquid consumed, those subjects that drank milk produced the least urine, which means milk proved to be superior in fluid retention 1-2 hours post-workout. Although this fluid retention may suggest recovery potential, fluid retention does little for hydration if the fluid remains in the gut and doesn’t reach the circulation. The author of the study did infer that milk’s slower rate of absorption probably accounted for the reduced urinary output but failed to discuss how this slower absorption rate may be detrimental to rehydration and recovery.

Unfortunately, science can be leveraged for an agenda and I speculate that the dairy industry provided funding for this research. Why would an educated researcher choose to include a slow absorbing liquid like milk in a rehydration study? If Exon/Mobile were to have funded this research using the same experimental design they may have shown that motor oil was the superior rehydration beverage because after consuming motor oil, no fluid would leave the gut and urinary output would be greatly reduced. Obviously, motor oil is toxic and is not a recovery beverage, and of course, milk provides nutrition and fluids whereas motor oil does not. But to my point, decreased urinary output itself does not tell us if the fluid is being shuttled to recovery processes within the body. Touting retained fluid or decreased urinary output as “better rehydration” is a guess at best, since the fluid could easily be gridlocked in the gut due to slow absorption.

Numerous other studies have examined rehydration (3).

The consensus of these findings indicates that fluid absorption through the intestine must be maximized to support optimal rehydration. The fluid in milk, instead of being available within the circulation, is delayed in the gut. Milk has a high fluid concentration and, like any palatable liquid, will contribute to hydration. However, a proper recovery drink should maximize absorption rate through the gut wall to quickly restore fluid balance to dehydrated muscles. For rehydration, milk is better than not consuming any fluid at all, but milk can’t compete with water or properly designed sports drinks.

Second, let’s discuss glycogen replenishment.

Glycogen is the carbohydrate stored in human muscle and liver tissue and is the premier fuel for athletic activity. Muscle glycogen storage levels present before a bout of exercise are the best predictor of athletic performance. In restoring lost glycogen post-workout, time is of the essence. The enzyme responsible for synthesizing glycogen (glycogen synthase) is relatively inactive except for a short time window immediately after exercise. To maximize glycogen synthesis you must begin your recovery nutrition immediately after the cessation of exercise. Two hours post-workout, your ability to store glycogen is reduced by 50% (4). If you fail to provide glycogen synthase with sufficient carbohydrate in a timely fashion, you will not recover effectively and subsequent workouts will suffer (5).

Controlled studies that measure milk’s effect on muscle glycogen recovery following prolonged endurance exercise do not exist. However, a few decades of research have examined the most effective nutrients for promoting glycogen replenishment. A mixture of high-glycemic carbohydrates and protein in a 4:1 ratio has proven to be most effective (6). Many commercial recovery formulas approximate this ratio of carbohydrates and protein as does chocolate milk. Glycemic index is a measure for how quickly a carbohydrate enters the blood as glucose. High glycemic index carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed and create a strong insulin response. A strong insulin response is favorable post-workout because it facilitates glycogen formation, increases muscle blood flow and increases amino acid uptake into muscle cells (7). Foods are assigned a glycemic index value between 0 and 100. Foods with higher values enter the blood as glucose quicker than foods with a lower value. Remember, glucose is the substrate for glycogen synthesis so high glycemic carbohydrates are ideal for time-sensitive glycogen replenishment after exercise.

Lactose is the predominant carbohydrate in milk. Lactose has a very low glycemic index (digests slowly) as does low-fat skim milk with a glycemic index value of 32. Commercial chocolate milk also contains high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which contributes to total carbohydrate content. Unfortunately, HFCS also has a low-glycemic index and consequently chocolate milk’s glycemic index is only 24. This is one of the lowest values of any carbohydrate containing food that has been tested! For comparison, most commercial recovery products contain maltodextrin or dextrose, both having a glycemic index of 100. For more information about glycemic index and a chart of glycemic index for common foods visit: (8)

Chocolate milk’s low glycemic index makes it a poor choice for replacing glycogen stores after training. However, except for that brief window of time immediately after training when one is most interested in restoring glycogen and promoting insulin secretion, an athlete should normally consume low glycemic index carbohydrate foods such as milk. Eating low glycemic meals between workouts results in lower blood sugar spikes and more sustained levels of blood glucose. The health benefits of eating a diet rich in complex, low glycemic index carbohydrates is well documented. Milk also has a desirable ratio of carbohydrates to protein and may be a quality source of additional calories for meals other than your immediate post-workout nutrition.

Third, let’s discuss quality protein.

Stimulation of protein synthesis is essential to all athletes for rebuilding and repairing muscle tissue. Protein synthesis is activated by an elevated blood amino acid level, which is accomplished with protein consumption. Your ability to synthesize protein after exercise is three times greater than at rest if you sufficiently raise your blood amino acids levels (9).

Milk is composed of both whey and casein proteins. Both proteins are high quality and provide the muscles with the ideal combinations of amino acids. However, milk’s slow absorption rate from the gut delays these amino acids from entering the blood stream. In addition to this delay, casein makes up a significant percentage of the protein in milk and has a very slow digestion rate. If your goal is to supply amino acids to repair the muscles as quickly as possible, then milk is a poor choice for delivery. Delivery of protein in a whey concentrate, hyrdolysate, or isolate form, not milk, will best support your recovery.

In addition to slow absorption rates and providing low glycemic index carbohydrates, milk has two other deficiencies that make it less than ideal as a recovery drink. First, a large proportion of the population is lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance differs between races with those of Caucasian heritage less likely to be lactose intolerant than those of Asian or African descent. However, the incidence of lactose intolerance among adults is significant and one source suggests that as high as 90% of the world’s adult population may be intolerant (10). If you are lactose intolerant and have trouble digesting milk, you should not use milk as a recovery formula. Secondly, milk is prone to spoil, has a short shelf life, and must be kept cold. If you need a recovery drink immediately after a workout, you may have trouble keeping milk readily available and usable.

In conclusion, although low-fat milk is a nutritious beverage and better than nothing if consumed post-workout, it is far from an ideal recovery drink.

The optimal recovery formula should “dump” water, glucose, and amino acids into the circulation, taking advantage of the unique biochemical conditions that exist post-workout to synthesize glycogen and muscle protein. Although milk does contain both high-quality proteins and carbohydrates, these nutrients are difficult to digest and absorb. They “trickle” into the blood stream and are circulated too slowly to provide the nutrition in a timely fashion to optimize recovery. The same properties that preclude milk from being a superior recovery drink may make it an ideal addition to the diet for meals other than your recovery nutrition. Slowly released carbohydrates and proteins are ideal any time other than post-workout, as they provide cells with a steady supply of macronutrients.

If milk isn’t the answer, then what is a good recovery formula?

There are a handful of quality recovery drinks on the market and many sports supplement companies manufacture their own recovery blend. Look at the ingredients when selecting a product. The first ingredient should be a high glycemic index carbohydrate, most often taking the form of maltodextrin or dextrose. Whey protein should accompany these ingredients and make up around 20% of total calories. Do not purchase a product whose first ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose (table sugar). These sugars, although sweet and inexpensive, have low glycemic indexes, delivering glucose too slowly for efficient glycogen synthesis after exercise.

One downfall of commercial mixes, especially in comparison to milk, is their relative cost per serving. Commercial formulas are usually two to three times as expensive as the equivalent caloric amount of chocolate milk. I started producing  Mike’s Mix Recovery Drink as an alternative to the more expensive commercial formulas. Mike’s Mix if formulated in accordance with the research on recovery nutrition. It’s made from all-natural ingredients and is offered at a price to fit every athlete’s budget. You won’t find a more effective product at a better price. Mike’s Mix is still a bit more expensive than chocolate milk ($1.10 compared to $.80 for equal caloric servings), but for an extra 30 cents you are getting a superior recovery product. Mike’s Mix is quickly absorbed and easy on the stomach. It maximizes glycogen synthesis by providing the optimal ratio of high-glycemic carbohydrate and offers 20 grams of quickly digesting whey protein. Also, it mixes instantly and tastes great. You work hard when you train, make sure that your nutrition is also working hard for you.

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32 Responses to Is Chocolate Milk a Good Recovery Drink?

  1. medical assistant

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

  2. Bike Geek

    Thanks for an informative article. It annoys me to no end to see all the other articles out there from “reputable” fitness sites that don’t even look at chocolate milk from a research based point of view. They’ve definitely hopped on the fad band wagon for c. milk. I’m sure in a couple of years they will be posting articles about how “new info” shows it’s not as good as once thought.

  3. Mirrored Furniture 

    whey protein is great for supporting those muscles that are workout heavily”~~

  4. Far Infrared Saunas

    Chocolate Milk has been great for post work out recovery drinks for the past 100 years, and has remained strong. New studies that the future will bring won’t change my opinion towards the facts. I don’t care what sort of studies they do and what sort of findings they find… chocolate milk is an age old goodie that will never die!

  5. LASER and Optics Forum

    .`; I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information ;*,

  6. Eric

    Mike states that the studies are biased due to who is doing the research. Of course he is going to say thai his formula is better. If you buy it, he will make money.

    • Mike

      Paul you may be suprised to know that not everyone is motivated solely by making money. If I felt that chocolate milk was a qaulity recovery formula I never would have found the need to start formulating my own recovery drink. I start making Mike’s Mix for myself and my athletes long before I began selling it to the public.

  7. Jon

    I’m new to learning about recovery drinks, and I have a question. In general, why CHOCOLATE milk? Why not regular milk?

    • Mike

      Good question. Current research suggests a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Chocolate milk which is sweetned (most often with high-fructose corn-syrup) approximates this ratio more closely than regular milk. As addressed in the article, one of my concerns with chocolate milk is the inferior carbohydrate sources of HFCS and lactose (from milk) for optimizing recovery.

  8. Igor Kovic

    Thanks for the article. I was wondering if when you mention chocolate milk, is that any kind of or must it be Low fat/non fat chocolate milk?
    I live in Taiwan and here we only have normal chocolate milk no low fat/non fat ones. Thanks.

    • Mike

      The higher the fat content the lower the absorption rate. Also, fat calories do little to promote recovery after exercise. Your calories should predominatley come from carbohydrate followed by protein. Avoid fat in you post-workout nutrition.

  9. A. Nonymous

    “Unfortunately, science can be leveraged for an agenda…”

    Truer words were never spoken, and the fact that you are promoting your own product is not lost on me.

    • Mike

      Mr or Mrs anonymous: of course I am promoting my product, I sell a healthy, simple, effective, affordable and delicious recovery drink that I am proud of. I have no qualms with milk or the dairy industry, my argument is that a recovery drink like Mike’s Mix, designed specifically for post-workout nutrition is superior to chocolate milk for promoting glycogen replacement and absorption. I am an athlete and a coach who fell into manufacturing a recovery drink Consequently, my motivation originated not from making money, but helping improve performance.

  10. Taylor

    Further research is finding a combination of slow and fast digesting proteins post workout may be superior to fast only. Whether fat post workout is bad or not is up for debate too. Please show me research that confirms this. Yes, the dairy council has an agenda. So do supplement producers…hmmm.

  11. Chris

    It is important to note that choosing a drink for recovery depends upon the type of exercise your doing…If you are lifting/working out in a gym, for example, your needs are going to be different that those of an endurance athlete, such as a runner. Chocolate milk is ideal for cyclists, swimmers, runners, and endurance athletes…Their carbohydrate/protein needs sku different than athletes that perform other types of activity…For this reason, chocolate milk is a favorite primarily among cyclists, runners, swimmers, and triathletes…It is also worthy to note that the term “recovery drink” is used mainly for muscle recovery, although is often confused with or combined with hydration recovery. Drinks intended for muscle recovery assist in hydration, but should not be relied upon to replenish lost fluids…8oz of (muscle/nutrition)recovery drink alone does not have enough fluids to rehydrate anyone…My regimen after intense cycling/racing, begins with a muscle/nutrition recovery drink, and is then followed up with lots of water to ensure proper hydration…also find out what works for YOU…use what you read as a guideline, and try different things to find out what your body responds to best.

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    great article

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  14. Pingback: Chocolate Milk Recovery Drink Test « SavageMuscle: Fitness & Nutrition

  15. Abel Thielges

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment on but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say superb blog!

  16. flavored coffee

    This was a great post, thanks for the info.

  17. Issac Martsolf

    i told you, i agree with this article

  18. Noah Cutwright

    i told you, i agree with this article

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  20. r

    Is English a second language for most of those commenting? Or is the public school system really failing us THAT badly?

  21. Alvin

    This is Awesome! Many thanks.

  22. Tim

    That would be great research and counterpoint to the chocolate milk theory. However, Mike, since you have you have something to gain from the switch in thought process from chocolate milk to your blend. What does your blend have that the milk does not have? What is the recommended mix material for your blend?

    I was buying into it until the ad…. 🙁

  23. Kirt Palmer

    This was such great information. My son’s wrestling coach has recommended that they drink Chocolate milk after within 20 minutes after a match. Has told them to stay away from protein shakes and meal replacement shakes. I was searching for some science to back this up as it just didn’t seem like correct information to me. Funny how much information is out there toughting the benefits of chocolate milk as a recovery drink. Thanks, this gives me exactly what I needed,

    • Mike

      Hey Kirt, glad you enjoyed the information. I must point out that there are many things out there that are worse than chocolate milk for recovery after strenous exercise. Many commercial protein and meal replacement shakes fall into this category. In less you have a trained eye and know what you are looking for, and which companies you can trust in the supplement market, I recommend staying away from it. My vision when creating Mike’s Mix was to strongly contrast with the rest of the industry in offering a simple, healthy and safe product. The point of this article wasn’t to bash chocolate milk, it was simpley to state that scientifically there is a superior blend of nutrients to have after exercise and I have formulated a product to fit those specifications. So in the long run I would suggest following the coaches advice and staying away from protein shakes and meal replacements. Please share with him the Mike’s Mix website, but if he isn’t interested in switching up, chocolate milk still isn’t a bad choice.

  24. Bobi

    I found your article interesting… then I started digging into the glycemic index of chocolate milk and found that chocolate milk powders and chocolate syrup have high and very high glycemic index. Are you only speaking of pre-mixed chocolate milk?

    • Mike

      I was speaking of pre-mixed chocolate milk. The carbohydrate source of milk is lactose (low glycemic), the sugar(chocolate syrup) source is usually high-fructose corn-syrup (glycemic index of 55 to 60).


  25. Johnnie Davies

    Hmmm… interesting article and you make alot of good points, unfortunately the whole article and therefore many of your arguments are tainted by your big push for YOUR OWN RECOVERY DRINK at the end!!!!!! And this is after slamming previous (scientific) studies because they may have been biased and influenced by funding. Shame on you…

    There have been plenty of more studies in numerous countries since you wrote this article – not all funded by the American Dairy industry… I’ll stick with Chocolate milk thanks

    • Mike

      Hello John, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are absolutely correct in that there has been additional research on milk since I wrote this post nearly three years ago. Additionally, I have considered editing this article to reduce the critical tone and remove the promotion of my product as I realize it is hypocritical. Perhaps your post will spur me to action.

      My background is in science and for many years I put my faith in research to obtain knowledge and as a tool to test ideas. When I first saw this research on milk, I was greatly offended, as I viewed it as an attack on a system that I put much faith in. I’m intimately familiar with the struggles in obtaining funding and the subsequent publishing of research and any research with an agenda I viewed as an attack on the institution of the scientific method. After spending a few years promoting a business, I am more familiar with the art of marketing and promotion and have much more sympathy for an industry trying to promote their product. In the last few years I have seen much worse in the promotion of sports nutrition and am less offended by an industry funding research for their own products. In a perfect world, the dairy industry (and other sports nutrition manufacturers) would dump money into the field of post-workout sports nutrition which would allow researchers to follow their own ideas and research. Alas, I’ve grown up and realize that we are far from such a utopia and many research programs only exist because of the funding from industry with deep pockets who occasionally need a favor.


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