Could chocolate milk be the ultimate energy drink?

Kathryn Doeneka

Chocolate milk, a beverage commonly consumed by children, is now being used as a sports recovery drink for people of all ages. Karp, Johnston, Tecklenburg, Mickleborough, Fly and Stager (2006) established that it can help to rehydrate the body and rebuild muscles during and after workouts or athletic events. Maybe that is not surprising, because the contents of chocolate milk include carbohydrates, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D and calcium, all of which contribute to rebuilding muscle. Also present are sodium and sugar, which help stabilize and restore the body’s electrolyte balance.

By contrast, energy drinks, which are popular among youth and some active people, contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar, along with ingredients such as taurine, guarana, ginseng, green tea and vitamins.

So, which is better for refueling the body after a workout: chocolate milk or energy drinks? Two recent studies have addressed this question.

Thomas, Morris and Stevenson (2009) showed the difference between chocolate milk and two other replacement drinks (fluid and carbohydrate energy drinks) when consumed by nine well-trained male bicyclists before and during low to moderate exercise. In the study, “participants cycled 51 percent and 43 percent longer after ingesting chocolate milk than after ingesting carbohydrate replacement drink and fluid replacement drink, respectively” (p. 81).

Pritchett, Bishop, Pritchett, Green and Katica (2009) compared chocolate milk and a similar carbohydrate replacement beverage among 10 well-trained male bicyclists before and during high intensity exercise. The only significant difference they found was a higher creatine kinase level in the carbohydrate replacement drink from the beginning to end of the trials, while the creatine kinase levels of chocolate milk remained about the same throughout. Creatine kinase is an enzyme present in muscles and the brain that uses adenosine triphosphate or ATP. ATP is the main energy source for cells of the body, while adenosine diphosphate is the main energy source for muscles and the brain. In other words, the consumption of a carbohydrate replacement drink required more energy, which depleted the athletes’ muscles more quickly and slightly increased their level of exhaustion.

While the jury is not in entirely, these two small preliminary studies suggest that chocolate milk appears better at refueling the body after workouts compared to energy drinks. Clearly, though, additional studies using more diverse and longer samples are warranted.

Kathryn Doeneka is a columnist for the Daily Barometer at Oregon State University.