Dark Chocolate and Exercise

You've just completed an exhausting run. Or maybe you've been hitting the weights. Perhaps a spirited game of pickup basketball has your heart rate pounding, your sweat oozing. Before you reach for that bottle of Gatorade, however, consider a recent study published by The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

It states that a childhood favorite may actually be better than any sports drink for helping athletes recover from strenuous exercise. Yes, chocolate milk isn't just for kindergarten snacks any longer.

While the health effects of dark chocolate are just making the news, this report may have an even wider spread influence. Replacing nutrients after a workout is a concern for countless individuals around the world.

"[Milk] is a sports drink ‘plus,’" Keith Ayoob, EdD, a registered dietitian and associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told WebMD. "It will supply you with things you need whether or not you’re working out."

The study builds on findings that intense endurance exercise reduces the muscles’ supply of stored glucose, or glycogen, a key source of fuel for exercise. To maximize glycogen replacement, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Dietetic Association recommend taking in a serving of carbohydrates within 30 minutes after a long and vigorous workout.

Common sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade supply those carbs, as well as fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat - however, recent research suggests that adding protein to the mix may further hasten recovery. Hence the new wave of drinks such as Endurox R4; along with the exciting news that chocolate milk will lead to a faster recovery.

What the study entailed
After nine male cyclists rode until their muscles were depleted of energy, they rested four hours and biked again until exhaustion. During the rest period, the participants drank low-fat chocolate milk, Gatorade, or Endurox R4. During a second round of exercise, the cyclists who drank the chocolate milk were able to bike about 50% longer than those who drank Endurox, and about as long as those who drank the Gatorade.

The findings suggest that chocolate milk has an optimal ratio of carbohydrates to protein to help refuel tired muscles, said researcher Joel M. Stager, PhD, Indiana University kinesiology professor.

Aside from being tasty and, evidently, good for you, what's another reason why this chocolate treat should be considered for all gym rats? It's cheap. Sports drinks may never spoil, but they cost twice as much as your basic serving of chocolate milk.

Ayoob estimates that more than two-thirds of teenagers should be drinking more milk anyway because they don’t get enough calcium in their diets. He also recommends milk for its vitamin D and potassium content. “For me, this is a no-brainer,” he says.