Chocolate milk is a popular recovery drink and many studies have shown it is just as good as specially designed, commercial drinks.
It contains carbohydrates and proteins in a 4:1 ratio, which is widely considered the best for recovery. Milk contains casein and whey proteins, resulting in sustained high blood levels of amino acids, and plenty of branched chain amino acids, which are essential for rebuilding your muscles. It also has a high concentration of electrolytes, to replace those you have lost through sweating.
Moreover, cocoa contains flavanols, which are antioxidants. Oxidants are natural by-products of your metabolism, and during exercise you produce more of them. They are highly reactive substances and even though they are essential for normal cell function, they can damage cells and therefore further aggravate muscle pain after intense exercise.
To keep them under control your body uses antioxidants, some of which are produced by your cells, and others are obtained from your diet.
You could therefore conclude that having extra chocolate after a hard workout would help you to recover. But does it?
A large amount of the flavanols is lost as cocoa is processed. To find out if flavanols are really helpful, you should thus compare the effects of ordinary chocolate milk with those of chocolate milk containing extra flavanols.
Kately Peschek and her colleagues did just that, and in January 2014 they published their results in Nutrients.
They asked 8 well-trained endurance athletes to run downhill for 30’, -creating delayed onset muscular pain-, and then gave them chocolate milk or chocolate milk + flavanol rich cocoa. They measured their plasma CK levels (a marker of muscle damage), muscle tenderness, self perceived soreness and force, and made the volunteers run a 5 km time-trial. 3 weeks later the same athletes did it all over again, using the other beverage.
Unfortunately, they could not notice any difference… (That is bad news for all chocolate lovers!)
The researchers wondered if the athletes should have taken cocoa before the exercise to see an effect. On the other hand, there is evidence that milk slows down the absorption of flavanols. It would be interesting to see if taking extra chocolate without any milk is helpful.
Note that taking antioxidants as supplements is not a good idea. Researchers now agree that this is useless and can be even harmful.
Chocolate for your health
Chocolate is good for you, unless you consume too much of it. It contains more flavanols than red wine or tea. It also has caffeine and theobromine, which are central nervous system stimulants, and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, cupper, iron…
Epidemiological studies have shown that chocolate can help to reduce blood pressure, dilate blood vessels, lower stress levels and make cells more sensitive to insulin. Many researchers believe it can protect you from cardiovascular disease.
You have to be careful however, as it contains a lot of calories and can therefore make you gain weight. If you want to consume chocolate on a regular basis, you will have to reduce the calories you get from other foods. Do not cut down on the healthy ones though, as then you would do more harm than good!
You have to choose flavanol rich chocolate, which is difficult to do as this is usually not mentioned on the packaging. You can increase your chances by taking the dark and bitter forms. Do not forget to check the labels to make sure they do not contain transfats.
Disclaimer: this article is for general information only, and does not replace medical advice. It cannot be used to diagnose or guide treatment. If you have any concerns or questions, you should talk to a qualified health provider.
Latif R. Chocolate/cocoa and human health: a review. Neth J Med 2013; 71 (2): 63-68.
Peschek K, Pritchett R, Bergman E and Pritchett K. The effects of acute post exercise consumption of two cocoa-based beverages with varying flavanol content on indices of muscle recovery following downhill treadmill running. Nutrients. 2014; 6(1): 50-62.
Roy B. Milk: the new sports drink? A review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008; 5:15.