Carbs After Exercise: Is Chocolate Milk Worth the Hype?

Sports Nutrition Handbook: Eat Smart. Be Healthy. Get on Top of Your Game. makes better fueling simple. This handy guide answers the most common sports nutrition questions and unpacks the need-to-know concepts for athletes to make smart food and diet choices for better training.

Carbohydrate Replacement After Exercise

To highlight the role of carbohydrates in powering physical activity, it might help to first consider a time when the body’s fuel reserves are low: after exercise. During training, we lose significant amounts of glycogen, and it should be replaced quickly. This is particularly important when we train five to six days per week, sometimes working out three or four days in a row. When we work out on successive days, we have about 20–22 hours left to restore losses. If glycogen is not recovered at this time, then we will not be able to perform the next workout at 100 percent capacity. In the subsequent days of training, the body weakens, which in turn can lead to overtraining and injury.

Even successful, high-performance athletes who disregard appropriate nutrition are at risk of these negative effects.

Many people mistakenly think that if they eat a big, rich meal—for example, a huge sandwich—right after training, it will quickly replenish their glycogen stores. But it does not work that way. The speed at which the body can recover after an exhausting effort is limited to about 5 percent per hour. Total recovery of resources takes at least 20 hours. Research indicates that the fastest glycogen resynthesis occurs within the first few hours after exercise, especially when the athlete eats primarily carbohydrates and protein. However, this time may be longer in the case of an inappropriate pre- or post-exercise meal; glycogen recovery could even take up to 48 hours.

Glycogen restoration can be significantly improved by using carbohydrate supplements—sports drinks or energy bars, for example—as they contain ingredients that enable faster regeneration. To supplement or preserve carbohydrate supplies, you can use sports drinks during training, too. It is also very important that the first meal after a workout contain carbohydrates (and some protein), and it should be eaten within 20 to 60 minutes after the end of the exercise.

Q: Is chocolate milk a good recovery drink?

After training, an athlete needs to replenish the body’s carbohydrates and protein. Because chocolate milk offers both, it has become an increasingly popular drink in sports. And the popularity is justified: A glass of low-fat milk contains 158 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 26 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein. (Refer to the guidelines in the book to review how much of these nutrients are needed in your post-workout meals.) Research conducted on cyclists has proven that after prolonged medium-intensity exercise, chocolate milk has a better regenerative effect than commercial sports drinks laden with carbohydrates. Skim chocolate milk contains carbs and protein naturally, but they have to be added to many sports drinks—usually in the form of artificial chemical equivalents. So, through chocolate milk, you can receive a healthy dose of carbohydrates, high-quality protein to restore muscles, and basic electrolytes (calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium). Chocolate milk also provides vitamin B, which supports energy production, and vitamin D, which protects bones against injury.

Sports Nutrition Handbook: Eat Smart. Be Healthy. Get on Top of Your Game. makes better fueling simple. This handy guide answers the most common sports nutrition questions and unpacks the need-to-know concepts for athletes to make smart food and diet choices for better training.

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