Why chocolate milk is NOT the best recovery snack

Yes, I have said it. I have told people that chocolate milk is a good recovery snack. I kind of wish I hadn’t and here is why.

One of the #1 statements (not question) that I get is “Chocolate milk is a good recovery snack, right?”. Often I am not in a place to be able to explain the nuances to my actual answer, so I have often said yes to be agreeable. Now that I have a daughter in sports, I am not so sure that was the right thing to do. I kind of wish I had said “no” and at least planted the seed that chocolate milk is not all it is cracked up to be in the world of sports nutrition. Here is my best attempt to explain the nuances…

Think about how chocolate milk affects your blood sugar. Sugar intake in youth is strongly linked to childhood obesity and poor lifelong health.


Now, I know many parents look at their children and think, well, that’s not us. My child is not obese or at risk of being obese. But, then I ask, are you considering what the inside of their body looks like? There are many skinny adults who have the health problems of the obese adults and this is because high sugar intake does more than simply store as body fat. In realty many very knowledgeable scientists are already sounding the alarm on sugar intake in adults AND youth

The amount of sugar recommended for youth is less than 25 grams in a day. This means that 1 sweetened yogourt,  a low sugar “healthy” muffin, and a few teaspoons of jam on toast and you have arrived at the daily limit. Add on a popsicle after soccer practice and oops… over the recommended limit!

When our children eat or drink a lot of sugar in one sitting they rapidly increase the sugar in their blood. This is toxic to the body and you need to reduce the blood sugar right away! High blood sugar causes a large dose of insulin to release from their pancreas, which in turn causes a rebound low blood sugar.

In the see-saw of balancing blood sugar where the sugar in the blood goes way up, then way down, we often see outward signs of poor performance:

 

  • High blood sugar = Inability to focus, crazy-eye, bouncing off the wall kind of energy
  • Sugar comes down quickly to keep the body safe = A moment of normal
  • Blood sugar drops too quickly = Outbursts, tantrums, inability to reason, and huge energy dips

The time I put my foot in my mouth!

If you know me, you know I am not a fear mongering sports dietitian. It came as a true shock to myself that I told a bunch of soccer parents “you are poisoning your kids” as they were handing out popsicles after youth soccer the other day.

Oh boy, if I could take back those words! This, of course, is not the way to gain the support and trust of a community. I don’t think there is a defence here, just a wish to get my little 4 year old artist to enjoy soccer enough to want to stay on the field without having soccer associated with sugary treats. Yup, the same sugary treats I have been telling people that their kids could consume. Ugh, chocolate milk has even more (in fact, often 4 times more) sugar per serving than a popsicle. This leaves me in the grey zone of sports nutrition recommendations. Its hard because all these nuances make sense to me but to the outside world it must sometimes appear like sports dietitians do not agree… so let me explain by asking you an important question:

Does Your Child Sprint for More than 5 Minutes? If not, reconsider the chocolate milk.


When you are playing a sport recreationally and do not really move a lot, or when your young child is playing a sport for fun, they are not using up energy stores in a significant way to need a high influx of energy into their system.

If you have a young athlete in sports you can take out your phone stopwatch and literally time how many seconds your child sprints during their sport. If the time is less than 5 minutes you will start to see what I am talking about.

So why do people recommend a sugary drink like chocolate milk for recovery after sport? Because it sort of fits into one of the 4 key moments around eating for performance that I am always talking about. Chocolate milk has natural sugar from the lactose in milk plus it is naturally a source of protein (a.k.a. Muscle builders as seen on my performance foods list). However, chocolate milk also has added sugars right? In fact in 1 cup there is often 3 sugar packs!

When I look closely at the ADULT/OLDER TEEN recommendations for recovery after sport chocolate milk is not the perfect recovery drink unless you drink A LOT of it. And, then I would argue you could probably pair chocolate milk with other nutrient-rich foods like fruit and nuts. So, for elite athletes chocolate milk is NOT the perfect recovery snack.

 

When we bring this science to the recreational athlete or YOUTH elite athlete the needs for sugar are naturally less. In my view chocolate milk is much too high in sugar to be beneficial for a YOUNG recreational athlete in most instances.

#1 ELITE ATHLETES

#2 ACTIVE FOR FUN

In recommendation #2 you can see that the sugar in the chocolate milk is too high. And, in recommendation #1 you can see that the sugar in the chocolate milk might be too low. In my view, we need to be very CAREFUL when touting that chocolate milk is the best recovery drink / food for after sport. Chocolate milk is an interesting beverage and can be used as part of a recovery strategy for sport, but I will no longer be globally recommending it for young athletes to consume.

What's Next?

Do you want to know more about sugar in sport and how to master it? After taking my challenges and working with me in the next level program all my sports parents and young athletes have mastered sugar. Join them by starting here in the next challenge…

What do you think about sugar beverages for young athletes?

Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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