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Healthy Recipe Doctor

with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Elaine Magee's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chocolate Milk vs. Recovery Drinks: Which One Comes Out on Top?

Chocolate Milk (and milk in general) has had a great year! Multiple studies have come out over the past couple of years, showing why chocolate milk is such an effective recovery beverage after muscle-intensive workouts.

So while chocolate milk and milk clearly have post workout benefits, sports beverage companies are in the business of selling beverage products…so now Gatorade has a new line of “post-game protein recovery” beverages with electrolytes and carbs. The 16-ounce bottles cost about a dollar apiece. What’s in it, what’s not in it, and is it worth the price compared to chocolate milk?

What’s so special about chocolate milk anyway?

Chocolate milk’s recovery benefits seem to be due to three nutritional attributes:

#1.  Its ideal 3 to 1 ratio of carbohydrate grams to protein grams, which appears to enhance glycogen replenishment into the muscles post workout. Regular milk has a carb to protein ratio of about 2 to 1.

#2. It contains whey protein, which is digested and absorbed quickly, getting essential amino acids circulating in the blood stream soon after consumption. Whey protein is thought to enhance the building and repair of muscle. Twenty percent of the protein in milk is whey protein.

#3. It also contains the protein casein, which is digested and absorbed more slowly than whey protein and sustains amino acids in the circulation many hours after consumption. Casein is thought to reduce the amount of muscle breakdown.

Cost Comparison

According to Shannon Turley, Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Stanford Football, the only significant difference between chocolate milk and most recovery drinks on the market is the price.

An 8-ounce serving of Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk costs about 44 cents per serving (a half-gallon sells for $3.50), while a 16-ounce bottle of Gatorade Recover sells for about $1. So even the organic chocolate milk is less than half the price of this recovery beverage product. This cost savings adds up over a month. If you opt for a serving of chocolate milk each day instead of a bottle of Gatorade Recover, you would save about 20 dollars each month.

Let’s Compare Nutrition

Horizon Organic 1% Chocolate Milk
With 32 mg DHA Omega-3
(8 ounce serving)
Gatorade Recover 03
Mixed Berry
(16.9 ounce bottle)
Calories 190 130
Protein 11 16
Carbohydrate 30 14
Sodium 180 250
Potassium 530 95
Calcium 35% Daily Value 10% Daily Value
Vitamin D 25% Daily Value 0
Omega-3s 32 mg 0
Artificial sweeteners No Yes
Dye/color additives No Yes

 
 
The Bottom Line

Chocolate milk has the “ideal” post workout carbs to protein ratio of 3 to 1, while Gatorade Recover has a ratio of 1 to 1. Chocolate milk has a lot more potassium (an important electrolyte) while Gatorade has a little more sodium (another electrolyte). Gatorade has more protein but chocolate milk has a natural balance of fast-absorbing and slowly-digested proteins. Chocolate milk has other desirable nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and Omega-3s while Gatorade contributes some artificial sweeteners (sucralose and acesulfame potassium) and colors (i.e. Red 40 in Mixed Berry).

The Director of Sports Performance at Stanford University, Brandon Marcello, PhD, had this to say about recovery beverages: “I don’t know that chocolate milk is superior than other post exercise supplementation such as Muscle Milk, Mix-1, or some of the Gatorade shakes, but it is better than Gatorade Recover.”

Which tastes better? That depends on your personal taste of course, but the athletes and dancers I spoke to all preferred chocolate milk. The Gatorade Recover sometimes caused stomach upset, so they were only able to get half a bottle down at a time, while eight ounces of chocolate milk was easily and comfortably consumed.

Posted by: Elaine Magee, RD at 1:40 pm

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