Remember that small, white carton from your youth: that thin layer of condensation, the waxy coating, the way the spout would grow soggy as you drank from it? How, almost every time it emptied, you wanted another one? Who knew, back then, that in your hand was the world’s greatest post-exercise recovery drink?

Chocolate milk, once relegated to no more than a child’s summer treat, is slowly gaining long-awaited recognition from the world of sports nutrition. Studies at the Human Performance laboratory at Indiana University have revealed that, when athletes were either given an electrolyte-loaded sports drink or chocolate milk between sessions of strenuous training, those who had consumed the chocolatey goodness were able to perform just as well, and sometimes better than, those given the sports drink.

Here’s why: low-fat chocolate milk contains the perfect trifecta of protein, fat, and carbohydrates your body needs for recovery. Water has always held the distinction as top choice for replenishment. While still a supreme option, the only thing water replaces is hydration lost from sweat. Keep in mind, also, that chocolate milk has a high water content. What else does it have? Protein, which is essential to rebuild muscle. Carbohydrates, which replace used glycogen (energy) stores within our muscles. Calcium, known to maintain and build strong bones. Vitamin A, which is needed to support healthy cell growth. Vitamin D, the “happy” vitamin, also responsible for regulating the immune system, as well as aiding in the absorption of calcium. Fat, which allows your body to absorb Vitamins A and D.  Sounds pretty good, right? We’re talking about chocolate, here.

Exercise encourages your muscles to absorb sugars from your bloodstream, creating more energy to use for your next workout. This heightened sensitivity to insulin only lasts around thirty to forty-five minutes, so the sooner you ingest, the better- according to John Ivy, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Austin.

While store shelves are stocked with sports drinks marketed toward the same concept, many of those drinks contain more calories than most of us burn during our workout. Check the labels. Oftentimes there are multiple servings in those bottles, so the math can be discouraging if you just downed the whole thing. Beware of sugar-free sports drinks, too. If the sugar has been taken out, rest assured that a synthetic ingredient (or ten) is likely to have replaced it.

Take advantage of this free pass to decadence after your next tough one. Simple, delicious, and, now, nutritious. Who knew? Bottoms up.


Jodilyn Stuart is the owner of ModaBody Fitness and has been a fitness professional since 1997. She currently contributes to 303 Magazine as a Fitness and Health writer.