Expert Advice: Chocolate Milk vs. Protein Powder for Recovery

Post workout Recovery. Stewarts chocolate milk refresher held by a Strewarts partner

Your training at the gym is complete. You wipe the sweat off your face with your gym towel. The cafe is your next stop to refuel after that tough workout. The protein shake board is full of your favorite $6 protein drink combinations and flavors. But you wonder if it is worth it? Do protein powders work?

One question athletes commonly ask is, “what is the best recovery fuel for optimal performance?” As a dietitian in practice for over a decade and being a runner myself, I, too, want to know. I have combed the research for the most cutting edge answers. Although, there is no one correct solution, as each person is an individual and needs a personalized evaluation, what might surprise you is that generally, the best and most affordable recovery drink is right at your local Stewart’s shop. Chocolate milk as a post-workout recovery drink has long been suggested and has stood up against the test of time over more expensive protein drink alternatives.

First, chocolate milk satisfies what is considered the best recovery carbohydrate to protein ratio. When we exercise, the body uses glycogen, the sugar stored in our muscles, for energy and causes slight damage to the tissues, which would need protein for repair and growth. Research has shown chocolate milk has the perfect carbohydrate to protein at a 4:1 ratio. Non-dairy milk alternatives have gotten very popular lately. Although fortified with nutrients, they typically wouldn’t have adequate protein needed for muscle repair.

Second, when we sweat, we lose water and electrolytes. Milk’s main building block is water and a perfect way of rehydrating after a workout. Milk also naturally has electrolytes like sodium and potassium needed to replace post-workout and rebalance the body’s pH. Milk is also nature’s gift for bone health, providing essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorous needed for athletes to protect against osteoporosis. Each 1-cup of milk has about 300 milligrams of calcium or about 1/3 of the daily recommended value. Milk also has riboflavin and B vitamins that help convert food into energy needed for those long workouts. It is amazing one serving of chocolate milk could provide all of that!

So what about those protein drinks? Ever wonder if they could deliver what they claim? Did you know you can’t be sure that the manufacturer’s label is accurate? An uncertainty of ingredients and the legitimacy of the supplement’s claims are a real problem for any dietary supplement. The FDA has left it up to the manufacturer to evaluate the safety of its supplements in the USA. The Clean Label Project, a nonprofit watchdog, released a report that many protein powders contained dangerous levels of heavy metals, plastic, pesticides, and other toxins with links to severe health conditions. Often, these powders have 2 to 3 x the recommendations values of vitamins and minerals. When nutrients come into the body via natural forms like a glass a milk, the body does a better job of absorbing what it needs and excreting the excess. When nutrients come in through a supplemented form like protein drinks, the individual has a higher risk of calcium deposits, kidney stones, or reaching toxic levels of nutrients that aren’t able to filter out. And if the protein drink is an ok post-workout alternative to chocolate milk, be prepared to pay three times more.

So, next time when debating, if that $6 protein drink is worth it, stop by your local Stewart’s Shop and get your fresh and locally farmed more affordable pint of chocolate milk instead. Your recovery will improve, and your body will thank you.

About the author:
Rachel Ezelius of Eat Smart! North LLC – Specializing in weight loss and nutrition in Malta, NY. Always accepting new clients.
Rachel Ezelius is a dietitian nutritionist registered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and certified by New York State, has a private practice in Malta, New York and recently moved to the community. She previously lived on Long Island and had won Best of Long Island Dietitian/Nutritionist the last 7 years in a row.