Check out this article at a fantastic blog I just found, Evidence-Based Fitness, written by Bryan Chung. It’s about chocolate milk as an after workout drink.
I think we would all like to believe the pre, intra and post-workout nutrition are very important. We’ve seen one example of how pre-workout protein probably doesn’t really make any difference large enough to warrant the extra cost of consuming it. While there have been studies supporting the idea that post-workout nutrition is important and results in better recovery (a fairly vaguely defined term) and better results (an even more vaguely defined term), the debate around WHAT to consume after a workout takes most of us down a path of debate that I believe counts as pure, unadulterated intellectual masturbatory minutiae.
But, don’t let my opinion count for much of anything.
Let us assume for the purposes of this review, that post-workout nutrition DOES matter. And furthermore, let us assume that post-workout nutrition matters for the non-elite typical gym go-fer.
What do we know about chocolate milk? We know it contains both protein and carbohydrate. We know that in head-to-head comparisons, it tends to do just as well, or better than carbohydrate drinks alone. However, we’re not sure whether the fact that in previous comparisons, the drinks weren’t calorie controlled might explain why it did so well or whether it actually does affect recovery insofar as we can measure it.
Since most of my readers are not the typical “non-elite typical gym go-fer” and are (I’m sure) training the way I advice on this blog – that is, like an athlete – then post workout nutrition DOES apply to you. If you’re training up to 6 times a week, and hard, then anything you can do to up your recovery is mandatory, even if it isn’t great (though, I’m still of the mind that post workout recovery makes a large difference, not a small one, and that that difference grows (at least linearly) as your workout intensity and volume grow).
He goes on:
The average age of the players in this study was 19 years (SD 0.3 years)
Overall, there weren’t any notable differences between the carb-only drink and chocolate milk. Creatine kinase levels rose (predictably) with both drinks, although it did not tend to rise as much when the players had chocolate milk instead. The players tended to perform just as well whether they had a carb-only drink or chocolate milk.
What I find important here is that chocolate milk performed AS WELL as the carb drink. Why this matters is that so many athletes will spend a fortune on stupid supplements for post-workout nutrition when they might do just as well by drinking cheap-as-dirt chocolate milk.
So what can we take away from all of this?
I think there are a few points that most readers of this blog can take away:
1) Unless you’re a 19 year old Division I soccer player, this study shouldn’t be the reason why you choose to drink anything after your workouts.
2) Any study that excludes subjects after having already analyzed the data should be under high suspicion of biased information. In this case, it probably didn’t matter, but we’ll never _really_ know.
3) I suspect that it doesn’t really matter what you drink after your workouts, if anything at all. If there are any applicable links between this study and you, the numbers suggest that you can pretty much do what you want and you’ll still play and test about the same.
So in the end, there isn’t anything magical about chocolate milk. If you’re drinking it anyways, good for you. If you’re not, there’s no reason for you to rush out and get any. Just do what you’re doing. Simplfy what you can, and rest assured that you’re not missing out.
His approach to the article was from the standpoint that chocolate milk is getting too much positive press, and that it isn’t a big deal – it only did as well as a carb drink of similar calories, and probably won’t do much of anything for the casual person in the gym.
I’m coming at it from a different angle. As I mentioned above, athletes are suckers for supplement advertising and I regularly have to convince them that chocolate milk is just as good as the $75/bottle BS they’re buying.
Second, I don’t train the average joe in the gym who only does average workouts. I train athletes who are tearing it up and need anything and everything they can get their hands on to recover well. My people DO train as hard as division 1 soccer players, yet many don’t have luxury of youth to mask bad eating habits.
As an aside: while I love chocolate milk as a recovery drink, I think it is better as a base for a more substantial recovery drink. I think the most important factor is simply getting in enough calories after your workout. Since most of my lifters pack more into a 1-1/2 to 2 hour workout than most people put into a week, they need a LOT of calories. Just 20 oz of Choco ain’t gonna cut it.
Here’s a suggestion if you train like I want you to:
Chocolate Milk – 16 oz
Protein powder – 50g worth (I don’t care what kind, go cheap – don’t believe the hype!)
Ice Cream – 1/2 to 1 cup
1 frozen banana
Blend it up, and there you go. Calories, carbs, protein – mmm …
(Please, if you DON’T train like a maniac in the gym, then don’t do this! That’ll likely be your entire days worth of calories. This is only for athletes who NEED those calories badly).