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Study Shows Chocolate Milk May Help Athletic Performance

Feb. 24, 2006 -- During a 2004 Summer Olympics awash in controversies over steroids and supplements, one sportswriter wryly noticed that top American swimmer Michael Phelps was playing it safe -- he preferred to drink Carnation Instant Breakfast between races.

Now it appears that the six-time gold medalist may have been onto something. A new study shows that plain old chocolate milk may be as good -- or better -- than sports drinks like Gatorade at helping athletes recover from strenuous exercise.

The study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, was small in scale; it was partially funded by the dairy industry. But dietitians say the study should help to counter the notion that high-tech, expensive supplements are better than whole foods when it comes to athletic performance. They also note that milk contains key nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, in quantities that sports drinks can't match.

"[Milk] is a sports drink 'plus,'" Keith Ayoob, EdD, a registered dietitian and associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells WebMD. "It will supply you with things you need whether or not you're working out."

The study builds on findings that intense endurance exercise reduces the muscles' supply of stored glucose, or glycogen, a key source of fuel for exercise. To maximize glycogen replacement, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Dietetic Association recommend taking in a serving of carbohydrates within 30 minutes after a long and vigorous workout.

Milk vs. Sports Drinks

Common sports drinks such as Gatorade supply those carbs, as well as fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat. However, more recent research suggests that adding protein to the mix may further hasten recovery. Hence the new wave of drinks such as Endurox R4 that include protein as well as higher doses of carbs.

In the study, nine male cyclists rode until their muscles were depleted of energy, then rested four hours and biked again until exhaustion. During the rest period, the cyclists drank low-fat chocolate milk, Gatorade, or Endurox R4. During a second round of exercise, the cyclists who drank the chocolate milk were able to bike about 50% longer than those who drank Endurox, and about as long as those who drank the Gatorade.

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