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You have been convinced that you MUST consume a post-workout recovery drink and you must buy a specific brand or you’ll never achieve your fitness goals. But is all this true? And what is the best recovery drink? And what is the purpose? Do I have to spend $50 a tub?

The answer is in your favorite childhood drink – CHOCOLATE MILK!


What is the purpose of a post-workout recovery drink?

The purpose of a recovery drink is threefold:
1. Replenish depleted muscle glycogen stores after a prolonged, intense workout

2. Inhibit catabolism, or breakdown of muscle tissue, and promote anabolism, or muscle rebuilding and growth by supplying a pool of amino acids

3. Rehydrate lost body fluids through sweat and restore electrolyte balance


Can Chocolate milk really do all these things? YES!

1.    Chocolate milk has the ideal 4:1 ratio of Carbohydrates to Protein proven to enhance glycogen replenishment

a.    After an exhaustive bout of exercise, subjects were provided with either chocolate milk or a carbohydrate replacement drink. On a subsequent exercise session, those who drank the chocolate milk took longer to reach exhaustion than those who drank the carbohydrate replacement drink. The study concluded that chocolate milk is an effective drink for recovering from exhaustion and depletion of glycogen.

2.    Chocolate milk provides the amino acids to promote anabolism

a.    Athletes given low fat chocolate milk produced less creatine kinase, an indicator of muscle damage, showing that chocolate milk is effective in muscle recovery and repair.

3.    Chocolate milk provides calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium needed to rehydrate

a.    Some research suggests chocolate milk may help you stay hydrated after exercise, more than some commercial sports drinks. 

Not only is chocolate milk very effective when it comes to recovery and refueling your depleted muscles, but it is also much less expensive than your other recovery options.

  • ·      A gallon of chocolate milk will cost you about $4.00/gallon.
  • ·      A 10-pack of Nesquick Ready to Drink bottles will cost you $7.98 a pack. If you workout 5 times/wk, this will last you 2 weeks at only $15/month.
  • ·      The alternative “Popular Brand” Results and Recovery Formula will run you $56.90 for a 30 day supply.

What does the “Popular Brand” have that chocolate milk doesn’t? Nothing!

Whey protein comes from milk. Chocolate milk IS whey protein. Chocolate milk is also fortified with vitamins and minerals. And this “high protein efficiency ratio” that the “Popular Brand” touts is nothing more than the 4:1 ideal ratio of Carbohydrates to Protein that chocolate milk has! This 4:1 ratio of CHO:PRO has been shown in research to yield the highest replenishment of glycogen post-workout when taken within 45 minutes.

When do I need a recovery drink?

It takes about 1 hour of high-intensity exercise to deplete 55% of your glycogen stores. It takes about 2 hours to almost completely deplete liver and muscle glycogen, specifically in the exercised muscles. The intensity of the exercise determines the rate of muscle glycogen depletion, with higher intensity exercise depleting glycogen and blood glucose at a faster rate.

Any high-intensity aerobic workout that is 1 hour or more would necessitate a post-workout recovery drink.

Walking at a slow to moderate pace for an hour does not significantly deplete glycogen and therefore, does not demand a post-workout recovery meal.

What is muscle glycogen?

  • When you eat Carbohydrates, these foodstuffs are broken down into glucose during the digestion process.
  • ·      Glucose is your cells’ preferred energy source.
  • ·      Glucose can rapidly be converted to ATP (adenosine-triphosphate).
  • ·      ATP is your cells’ energy currency that powers all cellular reactions such as, muscle contraction.
  • ·      Glucose is stored as Glycogen within the muscles and liver for a readily available fuel source when needed for physical activity.
  • ·      “Carbo-loading” is a technique used to supercompensate with muscle glycogen.

·      When the body’s storage of glycogen is at its maximum, a higher-intensity of exercise can be maintained for a longer period of time. When the body’s storage of glycogen is low, fatigue comes quick. Looking at the figure to the below, you can see that when in a carbo-loaded state, a higher workload can be maintained. In the Carbo-depleted state, you see the workload progressively declines. There is a reduced power output due to the slow rate of aerobic energy release from fat oxidation which now because a primary energy source. Sounds good to have fat as a primary energy source, right? But NO! What does this reduced power output mean to you? LESS CALORIES BURNED for the session and LESS ADAPTATION to increase fitness. Also note that in the carbo-depleted state, protein becomes a significant contributor as a fuel source (indicated by increased plasma 3-OH butyrate) . Protein breakdown for fuel use means loss of muscle tissue!



If an intense exercise session is followed by a quality recovery drink or meal, muscle glycogen will be maximally replenished. This means your next workout will be quality. You will be able to maintain the desired power output, burn the max calories, and push your body and its systems to the next level of fitness!

When do I need to drink my chocolate milk?

There is a window of opportunity during which you can optimally replenish glycogen stores. If taken within 45 minutes post-workout, you will get the max replenishment of stores. I suggest taking your chocolate milk with you to the gym. Have it in a cooler in your car ready to drink as soon as you get in. 

Why is the 45-minute window so important?

When food becomes available after exercise, 4 factors facilitate the cellular uptake of glucose:

1.    Elevated Insulin in response to Carbohydrate consumption

2.    Increased tissue sensitivity to Insulin improving glucose uptake into cells

3.    Low levels of Epinephrine and Norepinephrine which would facilitate the uptake of fuel sources rather than the mobilization of fuel sources when such levels are high (as they are during exercise)

4.    Increased activity of an enzyme called glycogen synthetase which promotes the storage of glycogen

These 4 factors have their greatest effect for up to an hour post-exercise.

Post-workout Recovery Guidelines:

Within 15 minutes after stopping exercise, consume 50 to 75 g (1.0-1.5g/kg of body weight) of high- to moderate-glycemic carbohydrates.  NESQUICK chocolate milk has 50g of Carbohydrates per bottle. CHOOSE ANY LOW-FAT OR NON-FAT CHOCOLATE MILK OPTION. Chocolate Soy milk also provides a good source of protein. 

Continue eating 50 to 75 g of carbohydrate every 2 hours until achieving 500 to 700 g (7-10g/kg/day) or until eating a large high-carbohydrate meal.

If immediately ingesting carbohydrate after exercise is not possible, an alternative strategy involves eating meals containing 2.5 g of high-glycemic carbohydrate per kg body mass at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 22 hours post exercise.


Nesquick Nutritional Information:



References for further information:

1. Lunn WR, Pasiakos SM, Colletto MR, Karfonta KE, Carbone JW, Anderson JM, Rodriguez NR. Chocolate milk & endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen and performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2012;44:682-691.

2. Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2006;16:78-91.

3. Thomas K, Morris P, Stevenson E. Improved endurance capacity following chocolate milk consumption compared with 2 commercially available sport drinks. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2009;34:78-82

4. Ferguson-Stegall L, McCleave EL, Ding Z, Doerner PG, Wang B, Liao YH, Kammer L, Liu Y, Hwang J, Dessard BM, Ivy JL. Postexercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signaling for protein synthesis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011;25:1210-1224.

5. Ferguson-Stegall L, McCleave E, Ding Z, Doerner Iii PG, Liu Y, Wang B, Healy M, Kleinert M, Dessard B, Lassiter DG, Kammer L, Ivy JL. Aerobic exercise training adaptations are increased by postexercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2011. Epub.


Heather Flebbe, M.S., ACSM holds her Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology and is a lecturer at California State University, Los Angeles. Heather also presents for the American College of Sports Medicine certification workshops. She may be reached at fastbikermom@gmail.com.