The Wonders of Chocolate Milk


This blog was written by Laura Neubauer ('13), and was based on an interview with Franca Alphin conducted  in the spring of 2012.

When you think of replenishment beverages after working out, what comes to mind? I tend to think of sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade, or those “mix it yourself” drinks such as Endurox. I was surprised to learn, though, that it is chocolate milk that provides your body exactly what it needs post-workout.

I recently sat down with Franca Alphin, the Director of Nutrition Services at Duke, to talk about the relationship between food and working out, so I thought I would share with all of you what I discovered! After you work out, your body needs to replenish both carbohydrates and proteins. Your blood sugar drops tremendously when you work out because your body is using carbohydrates for fuel, particularly during strenuous exercise or when lifting weights. It is important to then replace those carbs so your muscles to continue work efficiently. Your body also breaks down proteins when you work out in order to rebuild stronger muscle tissue, so you need to replace some of that protein as well. Chocolate milk does both of these things, providing you both carbohydrates, primarily in the chocolate, and protein, in the milk.

But why is chocolate milk the perfect post-workout replenishment? A lot of other foods and beverages could provide you with both carbohydrates and protein. But milk provides you something most other replenishment beverages can’t: the amino acid leucine. Leucine is found in whey, which is in milk and other dairy products. Recent research has shown that leucine is “very beneficial in terms of not only helping to replenish carbohydrate, although it’s a protein, but it also helps to build lean protein.” Lean protein is exactly what we want to be building post-workout, and leucine helps us reach that goal. That is why chocolate milk is the perfect replenishment beverage—it provides us not only what we need in terms of carbohydrates and protein, but also the specific kind of protein that helps us build strong, lean muscles. In contrast, other sports drinks and replenishment beverages tend to be nothing more than “glorified sugar water.” They may provide you with the carbohydrate content you need, but fall short in providing you with protein, particularly whey protein.

What about people who can’t drink milk? Clearly the benefits of whey protein do not outweigh the consequences of consuming dairy products for those who are lactose intolerant. For those people, “any type of protein and carbohydrate combo after a workout is helpful,” says Alphin, “but we know that the dairy—the whey piece—seems to be a little more beneficial. You don’t get leucine in soy…So for people who don’t tolerate dairy, clearly soy protein is fine. But if you can actually do a dairy product…getting some whey protein [after your workout] is helpful.” So next time you work out, try drinking chocolate milk for your replenishment beverage—if nothing else, it will send you down memory lane to your elementary school days (while helping you build strong, lean muscles)!

*Many thanks to Franca Alphin for sharing her knowledge about nutrition and exercise with me!