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A millennial woman sitting on a yoga mat at home and drinking a glass of chocolate milk after a workout.

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Can Chocolate Milk Really Help You Recover After a Workout?

Its stellar carb-to-protein ratio can help you refuel and recover.

By Jihan MyersFebruary 23, 2024

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Whether you just hopped off your bike, finished a shadowboxing class, or rolled up your mat after a yoga flow, one of the first things on your mind might be what to eat or drink to recover. While there are plenty of great post-exercise meals and snacks to choose from, a glass of chocolate milk after a workout might be just what your body needs.  

This childhood staple can be a simple and delicious way to refuel after an endurance workout. “Whether it's cardiovascular exercise or resistance training, when you have that output of energy, you need to replenish the glucose and the protein that you’ve been using during your workout,” says Samantha Heller, RD,  a registered dietitian and senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health. “Chocolate milk has become popular because it’s easy, it tastes good, and it has a nice ratio of protein to carbohydrates.”

Read on to learn more about why chocolate milk can be a smart post-exercise recovery drink, plus what to keep in mind so you reap the best benefits for your body.

Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout?

In short, chocolate milk after a workout can be an easy-meets-effective recovery aid after a lengthy endurance workout. “Chocolate milk can be one of the best options when it comes to post-workout recovery,” says Kimberley Wiemann, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Long Island, New York. “Not only does it provide a combination of protein, carbohydrates, hydration, and electrolytes, but it’s usually more affordable than many supplements on the market.”

There’s some research to back this up. In a 2019 meta-analysis of 12 studies, researchers found that chocolate milk provides either similar or superior post-workout recovery effects when compared to other sports recovery drinks or a placebo, although the study notes that more research is needed.

That said, while chocolate milk can be great after a grueling workout (such as a long run, ride, or strength training class), it isn’t a magical recovery aid—and it isn’t always necessary. (More on when to opt for chocolate milk vs. when it might not be necessary below.)

Benefits of Drinking Chocolate Milk After a Workout

So, what exactly makes chocolate milk after a workout such a solid choice? It’s that well-balanced ratio of carbohydrates to protein that gets a gold star from dietitians. 

“A typical glass of chocolate milk contains about 25 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein,” Wiemann says. “Carbohydrates are needed to replenish energy stores while protein is needed for muscle building and repair.”

Chocolate milk also delivers valuable hydration benefits, as it “contains important electrolytes that are needed after a workout to allow for proper rehydration,” Wiemann adds. 

Heller also notes that chocolate milk can be a good option for those who don’t like eating right after a tough workout but still need to rehydrate and refuel for muscle repair.

When to Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout

Heller generally recommends drinking chocolate milk within an hour of finishing your workout. That time frame allows your muscles to recover more efficiently and top off glycogen stores, but still gives your body enough time to cool down and feel ready to eat. “When you're working out at a high level, sometimes you really just don’t feel like consuming much for a little bit until your body settles down,” Heller explains.

Of course, your post-workout snack timing is highly personal, so listen to your body. If your stomach can’t handle a glass of chocolate milk so soon after a workout, it’s perfectly fine to wait. Just try not to delay too long to refuel after an especially intense endurance workout, as it “can lead to dehydration, fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, or poor muscle recovery or cramping,” Wiemann says. 

When Is Chocolate Milk Necessary After a Workout, and When Is It Not? 

Chocolate milk is a great post-workout beverage if you like the taste and your stomach can handle it—but it may not always be necessary, and it’s certainly not your only option for rehydration and refueling.

Wiemann says a good rule of thumb is to reserve post-workout drinks for high-intensity workouts that require significant use of energy and strain on muscles. “Consuming post-workout drinks like chocolate milk when the workout is not super intense or rigorous may just lead to excess calorie intake,” she says. Everyone’s barometer for “intense” will vary, but generally speaking, if you’re working out at your upper limit for more than an hour, a recovery drink (such as chocolate milk) may be a good idea, Wiemann says.

But remember: Drinking water and maintaining a healthy diet are still excellent ways to rehydrate and refuel after physical activity. That’s especially true when you participate in lower-intensity exercise, such as cycling for half an hour or knocking out a dance cardio class. “For most of us, just consuming balanced meals throughout the day should help replenish what we’re using during exercise,” Heller says. “When I do a floor Barre workout, for instance, it’s tough, but I don’t really need a recovery drink after that. I just need to eat balanced meals throughout the day.”

What About Regular Milk and Plant-Based Milk?

Not that into chocolate milk? No problem. Regular white milk will still give you a solid protein-to-carb ratio after exercise—the chocolate simply packs a bigger bunch in the carb department. But if plain ol’ milk is your preference, go for it and get any additional carbs needed from a healthy snack, such as a banana or oatmeal.

If you’re lactose intolerant, vegan, or don’t drink dairy milk for another reason, chocolate soy milk is an available option, too, Wiemann says. “Soy milk contains about 7 grams of protein per 1 cup serving, which is just slightly less than cow’s milk,” she says, although exact amounts can vary by brand and whether you pick a sweetened or unsweetened option. “Soy milk alone only contains about 4 grams of carbohydrate, which may not be enough to replenish energy stores after a high-intensity workout. However, with the addition of chocolate, it’s more likely to meet carbohydrate needs.” 

Pea protein milk is another option, Heller says. It has roughly the same amount of protein as soy milk, but fewer carbohydrates—so you’d want to add either chocolate or a healthy, carb-rich snack to refuel after a tough workout.

While almond and oat milk are fine to drink, too, they don’t have enough protein to make them good for post-exercise muscle repair. If these are your preferred beverages, Heller says to make sure to pair them with a protein-rich snack, such as half of a peanut butter sandwich. And of course, you can veer away from milk options altogether and opt for other post-workout snacks and drinks after an intense workout if you’re not a fan.

The Takeaway

Chocolate milk after a workout gets a thumbs up from dietitians as a tasty way to refuel and rehydrate thanks to its helpful carbohydrates, protein, electrolytes, and hydration benefits. But before you pour yourself a glass, consider the intensity and duration of your workout. While it can help to stir up a cup of chocolate milk within an hour of completing a tough endurance workout, you can still get by with a hearty, protein-and-carb-rich dish at your next meal after a less intense exercise session.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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