By Dana Monsees
Chocolate milk is touted by swimmers, coaches, sports nutritionists, and even Olympians alike as the perfect post-workout recovery food. But why is this? And is it really true?
Let’s break it down. As we talked about last week in the article about Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates, when we exercise, we are breaking down muscle tissue. This muscle can only repair with the help of rest and good nutrition, which is especially important in the meals eaten directly before and after training, to fuel and re-fuel those muscles. The two key types of recovery foods are proteins, which help repair and rebuild muscle, and carbohydrates, which provide the quickest way to refuel after training or racing by sending glycogen (energy) straight to those muscles. The combination of protein and carbohydrates in a snack or meal eaten immediately after you finish practice or racing for the day helps you recover from one training session and prepares your body for the next one.
The sooner you eat after training, the sooner the muscles can begin to repair and your energy (glycogen) stores can be replenished. This becomes increasingly important with a shorter duration to the next event or training session, or for athletes who are trying to put on mass and strength. Eat a snack within 30 minutes to an hour after training to immediately refill energy in the muscles, then eat your next meal about two hours you finish the workout. The primary focus should be carbohydrate with a small amount of protein (a ratio of about 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrates to protein) to help muscle recovery, repair, and promote muscle growth.
So, what’s the deal with chocolate milk, and why is it the “perfect” recovery food? Chocolate milk is made up of mostly carbohydrates (the main molecule in milk is lactose, milk sugar, and all sugars are digested in the body as carbohydrates), and some protein. This makes chocolate milk an ideal post-training snack because of its ratio of carbohydrate to protein, about 3 or 4:1, which is exactly the ratio you want in the post-workout training snack window to maximize recovery. Plus, since chocolate milk is a liquid, it is much easier digested than solid food. You should make sure to eat a full meal (with more protein and carbohydrates!) within two hours of finishing your workout to make sure your body is fully recovered for the next practice.
What kind of chocolate milk should I get? Low-fat chocolate milk is a good choice for a recovery food, because we want the protein and carbohydrate to get to the muscles as fast as possible to speed up the recovery process. Fat (and the fat in whole milk) slows down digestion, and will slow down this process. But at other times, whole milk is the best choice to make sure you’re getting the beneficial fat-soluble vitamins from this least processed form of milk. Make sure to read your ingredient labels. If there are ingredients you can’t pronounce, or don’t know what they are, this usually means they’re chemicals (and not something you want to be putting in your body!). Watch out for ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, emulsifiers, and artificial flavors. Instead, choose brands that have minimal ingredients you can recognize (like milk and chocolate!)
What are some other good options to chocolate milk after practice? Look for foods that are easy to digest, and have a good amount of carbohydrates to protein. One of my favorites after a morning workout is this Mocha Banana Protein Smoothie, but any fruit smoothie would do. If you like, you can add some protein powder in there. Again, look for brands that don’t have a ton of weird, hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Other good options are a fruit and nut trail mix, bars like LUNA or CLIF, or a banana with peanut butter (or another kind of nut or seed butter if you’re allergic.) If you’re lactose intolerant, you can try chocolate almond milk!
Hungry for more? Check out these articles for more information on chocolate milk and recovery!
- Marco…what? A Swimmer’s Cheat Sheet to Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates
- 50 Awesome Pre and Post-Workout Snacks, Greatist
- Nutrition for Recovery, USA Swimming
- Chocolate Milk Designated Official Recovery Beverage of USA Swimming
- Refueling and Rehydrating After A Workout, USA Swimming
- Mocha Banana Protein Smoothie, Real Food with Dana
Reach for the Wall is going be doing a bi-weekly nutrition column called “Hey, Coach?” where our in-house nutrition experts and swim coaches will answer your questions about healthy eating and fueling up our swimmers’ bodies for training and competing.
So, tell us…what do you want to know? We’re putting out a call for questions and hot topics you want to know about, so please comment on this and subsequent posts as you get your ideas!