Did you know chocolate milk is the official drink of Halloween?… But there is nothing spooky about chocolate milk! It contains the optimal proportion of nutrients for athletic recovery, which is a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio between 3:1 and 4:1, and provides electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium to refuel after a strenuous workout. However, you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy the numerous health benefits of chocolate milk as part of a healthy lifestyle! Consuming one to two cups of chocolate milk per day is a healthy option for everyone, and especially a great choice for growing children, teens participating in sports, recreational exercisers, endurance athletes, strength trainers, and anyone who follows an active lifestyle.
Chocolate milk is power-packed with nutrition. It contains eight grams of high-quality protein per cup (8oz), which will keep you satisfied throughout the day, and B vitamins such as cobalamin, riboflavin, and niacin to keep your energy up. It contains vitamin A to support a healthy immune system and normal vision. The calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and protein contained in chocolate milk work together to build and maintain strong bones, and reduce risk of stress fractures. These essential nutrients are beneficial to children and adults alike.
Science enthusiasts, this paragraph is for you! The specific nutrient content in chocolate milk is especially helpful to people who exercise. Its carbohydrate-to-protein ratio falls between 3:1 and 4:1, which is the ideal ratio for post-exercise glycogen (i.e., energy store) replenishment in depleted muscle tissue reserves. Including post-workout carbohydrates such as those contained in chocolate milk is crucial for muscle development. Glycogen stores must be replenished before developing muscle tissue, as protein synthesis (i.e., building new muscle fibers) will not occur unless energy stores are replenished first. Additionally, chocolate milk restores fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat. For optimal recovery benefits, chocolate milk should be consumed within 20 minutes following aerobic or strength training. It’s no wonder that the chocolate milk always disappeared so quickly at running camp – post workout nutrition is just as important as training!
I know what you’re thinking – doesn’t chocolate milk contain a lot of sugar? First, we must consider the naturally occurring sugar of plain milk, which is 12 grams of a naturally occurring sugar called lactose per cup. Subtract that from the total sugar content, and the amount of added sugar is actually very low compared to other beverages such as sports drinks or soda. If you’re concerned about consuming extra sugar, unflavored milk is a great option since it contains all of the same essential nutrients. However, chocolate milk specifically contains the nutrients proven to improve athletic performance, thus chocolate milk and physical activity go hand in hand. Further, we must consider the package of essential nutrients contained in chocolate milk. It is better for children who prefer flavored milk to receive its nutrients than to not drink milk at all. For physically active children and adults, the sugar in chocolate milk is functional: before and during activity, sugar fuels working muscles, while after activity it helps to replenish depleted energy stores.
With the holidays approaching, chocolate milk is a sensible and healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Get creative and make a smoothie or milkshake with chocolate milk and ingredients such as frozen ripe bananas, strawberries, yogurt, and natural peanut or almond butter. For a more festive fall treat, try combining chocolate milk with frozen ripe banana, pumpkin puree, vanilla Greek yogurt, pumpkin pie spice, and cocoa powder for a ‘chocolate pumpkin pie smoothie’. While chocolate milk tastes like dessert, it can be incorporated into a healthy and active lifestyle to receive nutritional benefits.
If you’ve become a chocolate milk fanatic by now, I suggest giving out cartons of chocolate milk to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. While this might be a bold and different approach to handing out Halloween treats, kids likely would not refuse a carton of their favorite chocolate milk! You’ll have to ensure it stays cold, or purchase the shelf-stable type that does not require refrigeration (be sure it’s dairy to receive said nutrients). Horizon Organic, Kirkland Signature, Organic Valley, and Hershey’s sell shelf-stable cartons of chocolate milk that do not require refrigeration and may be purchased in bulk. A little extra effort is worth it to provide kids with a nutrient-dense alternative to candy. Kids love the taste of chocolate milk, so they’ll thank you twice, both now and later!
About the Author
Alaina Coffey is a senior in the undergraduate Dietetics program at Boston University. She aspires to become a Registered Dietitian and specialize in nutrition for athletic performance. When she’s not studying, she might be spotted running outdoors, in a power yoga class, or weightlifting at BU FitRec. Alaina is currently interning with New England Dairy & Food Council.