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First, let’s address for whom and when recovery nutrition is best suited. Recovery nutrition, which is consuming food or drink in the 30-45 minutes post-exercise, is most helpful for those who participate in high intensity, endurance, or power/heavy lifting fitness or sports. Truly, many team sports are a combination of all three types of exercise depending on the position, the type of practice or competition style.
Research has shown that in the 30 minutes to 2 hours following intense exercise, the body is hyper responsive to absorbing needed nutrients. It is in these situations that athletes will most benefit from ingesting carbohydrate and protein to replenish glycogen stores and rebuild and repair important tissues like muscle. (1) I tell my athletes that your recovery fuel is the first decision you make toward having the next great workout.
Recovery nutrition can also help contribute to an athlete’s total calorie needs, which in many cases may be high and difficult to achieve without eating frequently.
If you’re not quite sure what high intensity exercise and fitness is, refer to these guidelines.
High intensity exercise is quantified as reaching high heart rates over a time period of about 45 minutes or longer, either through intentional interval training, or as a result of practice, like in playing basketball.
Recovery nutrition is not as crucial for those who exercise at a moderate level for under 60 minutes (think general gym goer) as they typically won’t create as great of deficit in calories or amino acid need. A balanced diet throughout the day will help them achieve all the nutrients they need to benefit from their fitness routine.
Research has revealed that there is an ideal ratio of 4g:1g carbohydrates to protein in recovery nutrition which maximizes the digestion, absorption and impact of food. Many athletes focus heavily on the amount of protein they get in after workouts. However, they fail to realize that a higher amount of carbohydrates is necessary to promote quick digestion and stimulate absorption of the amino acids for immediate use. Chocolate milk, which has more carbohydrate than regular milk thanks to the added chocolate, has been studied and proven to be an excellent recovery choice because it is a perfect package of this 4:1 ratio. (2,3)
Milk contains both whey and casein proteins naturally. These proteins play a critical role in stimulating muscle synthesis initially and can help to continue to provide amino acids beyond the feeding. I see many athletes who think they need an expensive, special protein supplement after a workout when in reality, all-natural chocolate milk will do the trick nicely.
One of the initial draws to chocolate milk as a recovery drink is its appeal. Most people like the taste and it’s rather easy to find. You do not need to go a supplement store and drop a lot of money on something that may help you. Certainly when it comes to teen athletes I feel much more confident recommending chocolate milk then a supplement in most cases. And if an athlete has any financial struggles, utilizing chocolate milk in their nutrition plan hopefully frees up money to use on the other real food they need to maximize performance.
In many youth sports, chocolate milk is most often accessible as the 8 oz carton provided by school lunches. This quantity is an acceptable amount in many situations, especially with younger athletes. In cases where the athlete is older, calorie burn is very high, muscle building is critical, or the athlete has a higher baseline calorie need, I will recommend 12-16 oz of chocolate milk post-exercise. Another approach (if needed) is to pair 8 oz of chocolate milk with a snack like a granola bar.