Chocolate milk is widely touted as the perfect recovery drink, and for a number of good reasons.
First, it has an ideal 3-4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, which is shown to optimally replenish muscle glycogen (energy) stores, stimulating the recovery process. Secondly, as a liquid, it replaces fluids lost with exercise. And third, milk is rich in the amino acid Leucine, one of the important branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and without them muscle that is broken down with exercise cannot rebuilt itself.
Leucine is an essential amino acid, meaning it must come from food, as the body cannot synthesize it. Leucine is unique in that it’s the only amino acid that can actually stimulate muscle protein synthesis following exercise.
All in all, a 200-calorie, 8-ounce glass of low-fat chocolate milk following a workout can restore muscle glycogen (energy stores), promote hydration, and stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Sounds pretty perfect, right? Not so fast.
Considering that many people are lactose intolerant, dairy sensitive, or choose not to consume dairy foods, chocolate milk isn’t necessarily the perfect recovery beverage for everyone. Luckily, there are a handful of other foods that contain leucine, making them an appropriate substitute after a workout.
Some of these foods include eggs, animal protein (beef, chicken, turkey, fish, etc.), quinoa, and beans with the latter two being great for vegetarians and vegans. To get the same 3-4 carbohydrate to 1 protein ratio and water content that chocolate milk has to offer, be sure to include some carbohydrates and drink plenty of water.
For example, have cooked white rice and oatmeal with the above protein sources, toast topped with 1-2 eggs cooked as desired, a bean and rice burrito, pasta topped with meat sauce or cooked chicken breast, or a cup of fruit and a hard-boiled egg.
You don’t really need to supplement with Leucine, as it’s easy to obtain from the above whole foods. Make sure that your recovery snack contains some of these foods for optimum recovery.
Phillips, S. M. (2014). A Brief Review of Critical Processes in Exercise-Induced Muscular Hypertrophy. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 71-77.
Rosenbloom, C., Coleman, E., & Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2012). Sports nutrition: A practice manual for professionals. Chicago: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.