Olympic Athletes Refuel with Low-Fat Chocolate Milk

Chocolate MilkThe Olympic Village in Sochi is fueling up on low-fat chocolate milk, a favorite recovery drink of their olympic athletes.  Look for the “Built with Chocolate Milk” TV and online campaigns featuring the US men’s hockey and women’s ski jump teams to hit the airways soon.  Many of you may will  react to these ads with “healthy” skepticism as they run along side Coca Cola and McDonald’s ads touting athletes who refuel on Big Macs, golden fries and sugar sweetened beverages.  So why should you believe the dairy farmers? 

Here’s the nutrition facts.  The 3 elements of a perfect recovery drink include:

Nutrition Label

Nutrition Label

  1. Carbohydrate the body’s preferred energy source and how muscles store energy in the form of glycogen.  Glycogen is depleted after exercise and the best time  for replacement is when blood flow is the greatest and enzymatic activity peaks or within 30 minutes post exercise.  Athletes who abide by the 30 minute rule will store up to 3 times more glycogen than those who wait 2 or more hours to eat.
  2. Protein to reduce the breakdown of muscle following exercise, promote repair, stimulate new growth and increase the number of mitochondria (energy) and capillaries that support the muscle fiber.  It is also the necessary partner to carbohydrate that helps replenish energy for your next training session.
  3. Electrolytes and minerals (sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) that are lost in sweat, required to perform muscle contraction and help maintain fluid balance.

The Best Nutrient Mix

Research has found that consuming 20-25 grams of protein post exercise is optimal and it’s also the maximum amount that the body can process in a given load.  Your cup will literally ‘runneth over” when you exceed this amount.  The amino acid leucine, found in foods such as egg whites, nuts, soy protein and brown rice, is a top performer in triggering strong muscle recovery.  Proteins whey and casein found in dairy products such as milk and yogurt are also cost-effective options.  

While research has long supported refueling within 30 minutes, nutritional recovery extends beyond the initial dose.  Recent 2013 research published by Areta, Burke and Ross in the Journal of Physiology reinforced previous findings that muscle recovery actually extends over 24-48 hours, so repeated small doses of 20-25 grams of protein is better than one large dose followed by long periods of nothing.  Between meal, protein rich snacks of low-fat string cheese, cottage cheese, Greek Yogurt, humus, peanut butter, a hard-boiled egg, nuts and smoothies are smart snack choices to keep the muscle-building process moving forward.  

The optimal ratio for a recovery drink is 3 grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein.   So why do Olympians favor low-fat chocolate milk?  It has 26 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein (3:1) per cup so most will refuel with 2 cups.  It’s cost-effective when you are training at least twice a day, 6 days a week.  Chocolate milk also has many of the electrolytes and minerals (sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) that not only helps you to rehydrate but stay hydrated.  It has the calcium, Vitamin D advantage that is important for athletes completing in more rigorous events, often at very low body weights for extended periods increasing their risk for calcium loss and resulting stress fractures.  

Who will you choose to believe: McDonald’s, Coca Cola or the Dairy Farmers?


Watson P, Love TD, Maughan RJ, Shirreffs SM.. A comparison of the effects of milk and a carbohydrate electrolyte drink on the restoration of fluid balance and exercise capacity in a hot, humid environment. European Journal of Applied Physiology.2008;104:633-642.

Karfonta KE, Lunn WR, Colletto MR, Anderson JM, Rodriguez NR. Chocolate milk enhances glycogen replenishment after endurance exercise in moderately trained males. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2010;42:S64. 

Categories: Sports Nutrition

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1 reply


  1. A Day with the Dairy Herd | The Dietitian's Digest

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