Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011
The Olympic Games have been tarnished with controversies over blood doping, steroids, performance improving drugs and supplements. Even athletes who have taken an over the counter cold medication have been disqualified for a medal.
What I learned when researching for my new book, Choclatique, that the American swimmer Michael Phelps, who won fourteen career Olympic gold medals—the most of any Olympian—figure it out. He played it safe by drinking chocolate milk between races in Beijing.
In a recent study if was found that chocolate milk may be as good, or even better, than sports drinks at helping athletes recover from strenuous exercise. Chocolate milk has the optimal ratio of carbohydrates to protein, which helps refuel tired muscles. And let’s face it: it tastes much better than those sugary-sweet, expensive sports beverages.
So, say no to Monster and Red Bull, and yes to chocolate milk. That’s what two University of Connecticut researchers, studying the effects of different beverages on young people has concluded. Nancy Rodriguez, who researches the science of endurance sports, says chocolate milk has proved to be an effective post-workout drink for restoring muscle tone. The study, funded by the National Dairy Council and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, was focused specifically on what chocolate milk can do for athletes.
So what does chocolate milk do that plain white milk doesn’t? Rodriguez says, “The chocolate adds a little more sugar, and hence carbohydrates. Carbs—that’s still the energy that helps the muscle do the work. But you want milk to rebuild the muscle.” Rodriguez cautions that the extra sugar isn’t optimal for everyone, but athletes can benefit from it.
For the study, moderately trained male runners ran for 45 minutes at least five days a week for two weeks. Some drank chocolate milk while others drank a carb-only drink such as Gatorade or Powerade; each drink had the same number of calories. Breath and blood samples taken after the first and second weeks indicated that the chocolate milk drinkers had greater muscle rebuilding.
Most important, she said, is for athletes to realize that milk—whether plain or sweetened—is as good and often better than many of the significantly more expensive products sold at nutrition stores. Many of the products marketed to athletes for energy and endurance are just souped-up versions of old-fashioned milk. Despite the many claims of supplements, it’s hard to beat all-natural.
Milk also has bioactive compounds—things that we don’t really know, but probably provide some nutritional value. Likewise, chocolate has over 300 beneficial chemical compounds which appear to complement milk.
And stay away from energy drinks like Red Bull, warns Yifrah Kaminer, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at University of Connecticut. He published an article in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America in July on the dangers of caffeine for young people.
Kaminer said that 30 percent of young people between ages 12 and 17 regularly consume large quantities of energy drinks. Some of the super-caffeinated drinks, like Spike Shooter and Wired x505 (a whopping 500 milligrams of caffeine), carry warning labels that the product isn’t recommended for anyone under 18.
“Energy drinks’ much-touted exotic ingredients—taurine and guarana—give the drinks mystical flavor and image,” Kaminer said. But it’s really caffeine and sugar that do all the heavy lifting. Caffeine levels in energy drinks can range from 80 milligrams in an 8.2-ounce can of Red Bull to 300 milligrams in an 8.4-ounce can of Spike Shooter. To compare, a small McDonald’s coffee has 100 milligrams, while a large Starbucks has 330 milligrams and a 12-ounce can of Coke has 34 milligrams.
“The big difference between coffee and energy drinks,” Kaminer said, “is that young people are more apt to consume energy drinks. Also, they tend to drink many of them.”
So, stick with no or low fat milk—chocolate milk—for improved muscle tone, building and peak performance… and go for the gold!