Recovery Drinks: Gatorade or Chocolate Milk?

Chocolate Milk for Athletes?

You got up early, dragged yourself out of bed and spent 30, 45, or even 60 full minutes on the treadmill, swimming, or jogging outside before the heat gets too unbearable. Congrats!

Now it’s recovery time, a scientific-come-marketing term that means you need to eat/drink something to replenish your aching body. Gatorade has been around for decades, touting its special formula of electrolytes, and sponsoring professional athletic events to convince us. The dairy industry, in a marketing stroke of genius, decided a few years ago to position chocolate milk as a recovery drink as well. Milk is healthy for you, and chocolatey flavor makes it easy to chug down after a strenuous workout.

So which is better?Neither.

Unless you are participating in the Olympics, running a marathon, or working out for over an hour a day, your best bet is to stick with water to rehydrate. Water has 0 calories. You’re exercising as part of a weight loss / maintenance regimen, right? You’ve just burnt off a hundred or more calories. Isn’t it a shame to immediately add them back in the form of a sugary drink?

An 8 fl oz. glass of low fat chocolate milk is about 100 calories, has 3 teaspoons of added sugar, and 3 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar – lactose. It also has 7 grams of protein and 1.5 grams of saturated fat. The same size Gatorade has just 70 calories, but no naturally occurring nutrients whatsoever. Both have some amount of sodium and potassium, which the body loses through perspiration.

Worried about lost electrolytes? Have a banana for potassium. Eat almost anything for breakfast and you’ll replenish your lost sodium (yes, even bread, cereal, and breakfast bars have sodium).

But what about the science extolling the virtues of chocolate milk and Gatorade?

Most of the studies that have been conducted on the miraculous recovery traits of either Gatorade or Chocolate Milk have been on small groups of elite athletes. YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THEM (and if you are, we are sorry, this blog may not be the best source of nutrition advice for you). They were also sponsored by groups with a vested interest in a specific outcome…

Bottom line: keep working out, and save those hard earned sweat-calories for something you can bite into, not liquid candy.

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  • Frank Shin

    Totally agree. I wrote about this just last month. Go for water!

  • Robin InRuskin

    You may also want to try the Arbonne Protein Shakes with vitamins, minerals and 20 grams of protein from brown rice, peas and cranberries! Many Personal Trainers and athletes use these products over “store” brands because of the nutrition and purity! No soy, No Lactose, No Gluten, No preservatives, Certified Vegan!

    • Fooducate

      Have you read the post? For 99% of people, the only recovery needed is water. Everything else is a waste of precious calories that could have gone to eating real food. Or snacks. Not expensive shakes

  • Galloway runner

    You don’t have to be an “elite” athlete to train multiple hours in a day and need more than water to recover. Plenty of regular, normal people train for triathlons, marathons, and other long distance events. And isn’t recovery about more than just electrolytes? After my weekly long run, I know I need carbs and a little protein (which is why chocolate milk is a possible suggestion, even though it’s obviously not the only one.) Suggesting to people that they will never be the kind of athlete that requires paying attention to recovery nutrients isn’t just shortsided, it’s discouraging and unkind.

    • Fooducate

      Hi Galloway, more power to you!! But let’s talk numbers: What percent of the US population trains for more than 45 minutes a day?

      • Galloway runner

        Couldn’t you have simply made that distinction then? It’s not regular people vs elite athletes, it’s based on the type and amount of training a person is doing.

        • Fooducate

          Sorry you took offense. By our book you and other triathletes are definitely elite athletes!

      • Kevin

        You might want to reword the intro. You didn’t say that the US population in general doesn’t need recovery drinks as much as they consume. Instead, you implied that even if you just ran for an hour, you only need water and perhaps a banana to recover. This makes the percentage of people training for an hour irrelevant.

  • lpc125

    yeah.. after my 14 mile run I’m gonna go for chocolate milk..sorry :/ and even if you’re not an “elite” athlete, chocolate milk is still a quick way to recover muscles in a way that water doesn’t. even if you’re trying to lose weight it’s a good drink

  • Becka

    Yeah, people really overestimate the need to alter their diets for day to day fitness. I remember a friend discussing carb-loading the night before a 5k.

    But I agree with some earlier commenters – there really are a good portion of everyday athletes who regularly run, bike, etc. for multiple hours. And for them, yes, they need something more.

    And lastly: “scientific-come-marketing”? Really? Sometimes, no matter how we feel about it, “cum” is the word we’re looking for.

    • malachite2

      cum is the Latin word for “with.”

      • Becka

        Right, which is why I said “cum” was the word the author was looking for. As opposed to “come,” which is, you know, wrong.

  • joe w

    An added bonus with conventional chocolate milk is bovine growth hormone, udder puss and the taste of complete terror from the conditions a cow “lives” under. I will stick with almond milk.

    • Rachel

      I agree the plug-in about chocolate milk seems like a biased “got milk” commercial funded by the diary association.

    • George Babbitt

      OK, nobody uses the bovine growth hormone anymore, the rest of the world due to laws, and in the U.S. due to public pressure. Udder puss is just a gross out fear tactic, and I could care less about a cow’s living conditions, it’s an animal.

    • malachite2

      You might want to check out some of the chemicals used in growing almonds (non-organically).

  • nuitgoddess

    I play tennis 5 times a week generally only one of the matches causes exhaustion. However, I play in Florida, it is often close to 95 in the blazing sun, for 2 to 4 hours, very HIGH humidity. I’ve found without at least coconut water or EmergenC in my water, I get very dizzy. Don’t environment aspects factor in?

  • Violet

    Your question: You’re exercising as part of a weight loss / maintenance regimen, right?; my answer: no, I’m not. Interesting presumption, though.

  • Charity Froggenhall

    I rode my bike for 3 hours & 20 minutes today. Is Gatorade a good idea, either during or after I ride?

  • George Babbitt

    At least chocolate milk doesn’t have artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and colors.

  • paleogoddess

    Thanks to migraines, I follow a low sodium diet, and thus have a lowered ability to retain water for any length of time. This, in turn, means that I have an increased risk of heat exhaustion, which is really not fun at altitude! I carry electrolyte gel packs in the pocket of my Camelback, but have found that including a few thick slices of bacon with my breakfast does wonders. I typically don’t like the flavor of gatorade
    anyway, and I’m lactose intolerant, which to me means GO WATER!

  • Michael Gambill

    I am a 56-year old male and make cycling trips between 75 and 100 miles a couple of times a week in Arkansas where summers are hot (+95) and humidity high. I will burn over 3,000 calories on those rides but plenty of water with a banana and PBJ sandwich is all I need. If I don’t need sports drinks (or chocolate milk or coconut water) then who does? Buying any sweetened (or unsweetened) liquid in a plastic bottle is just pure nonsense.

  • ChocMilkCalc

    To be honest, I personally prefer chocolate milk I even came up with the website it shows you how much chocolate milk you should drink according to your exercise amount. The studies mentioned in the article above may have their problems, but it’s always fun to have a guilt-free excuse to drink chocolate milk. It’s definitely a nice treat for yourself after a hard work-out!

  • Kurt

    I’m surprised to see all of serious athletes ignored the calcium value of chocolate milk. To many people today are calcium deficient.

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