Chocolate Milk and Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate as a Post-Exercise Recovery Drink

by Dr Ruth Ketron

Chocolate Milk: Low fat chocolate milk is increasingly being touted as an effective drink after workouts. If you read the research it suggests that chocolate milk's high carbohydrate and protein mix refuels muscles, reduces muscle breakdown and rehydrates the body. Studies at Indiana University, George Mason University and elsewhere suggest that drinking low-fat chocolate milk, NOT a chocolate drink, after exercise is just as effective in helping tired muscles recover, as a high-carbohydrate sports drink.

Chocolate milk has the advantage of additional nutrients not found in most traditional sports drinks. Eight ounces contains 170 total calories with 29 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein for a ratio of 3.6 to 1. The Optimal recovery ratio for carbs to protein is between 3 to 1 and 4 to 1. Chocolate milk also contains vitamins A, D, B-6 and B-12: niacin; riboflavin; thiamin; calcium; magnesium; phosphorus; and zinc.

Comments From Websites:

  • "I'm a natural in water, but after a workout my natural choice is milk." Dara Torres, Olympic swimmer, from Got Milk?
  • Portland Blazer's team dietician, Ruth Carey, RD,SSD,LD, supports chocolate milk as a recovery aid.
  • Washington Huskies are now using chocolate milk as their choice of recovery drink.
  • The strength coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha has switched his athletes to chocolate milk from sports drinks.
  • Downing chocolate milk after a tough workout can help replenish exhausted muscles and significantly adi excess recovery. Fitness Drink

The following information was taken from my half-gallon of fat-free OVER THE MOON chocolate mile container:

  8 ounces:  
  Calories 150
  Fat 0
  Cholesterol 250 mg
  Sodium 530 mg
  Potassium 530 mg
  Total Carbohydrates 27 g
  Dietary Fiber less than 1 g
  Sugars 25 g
  Protein 11 g
  Vitamin A 10%
  Vitamin C 0%
  Calcium 40%
  Iron 4%
  Vitamin D 25%
  Phosphorus 30%

A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, was small in scale and was partially funded by the dairy industry. However, dieticians say the study should help counter the notion that high-tech, expensive supplements are better than whole foods when it comes to ahtletic performance. They also note that chocolate milk contains key ingredients in quantities that sports drinks can't match.

The study builds on findings that intense endurance exercise reduces the muscles's 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 with 30 minutes after a long and vigorous workout.

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

You can contact the American Dietetic Association for their recommendation for recovery drink measurements for varying races. My personal drink is a mix of 8 ounces of fat-free / low calorie chocolate milk and 2 tablespoons of tart cherry juice concentrate within 30 minutes of a 5K or 10K race completion. This is an excellent ratio of carbohydrates and proteins for recovery. The quart size of the concentrate can be purchased at Walmart or Food City in the produce department. Don't spend a lot of time looking for the product, just ask for help when you get in the department. The price for a quart is $15.99 plus tax. This concentrate lasts a long time in the refrigerator.

If you have a medical condition that doesn't allow you to drink (cows) milk, try Silk soy milk instead.


Some athletes say that tart cherry juice concentrate, rich in Phyto-Nutrients, (flavonoids and anthocyanins), and powerful antioxidants and, therefore, reduces the oxidative stress muscles undergo during strenuous exercises, reducing inflammation and lipid (fat) perioxidation. Tart cherry juice is also shown to reduce muscle strength loss associated with exercise-induced muscle damage. Tart cherry juice concentrate also has anti-inflammatory pain relievers and sleep regulators. The following information came from my quart container fo tart cherry juice concentrate:

  Serving size: 2 tbsp
  Calories 80
  Total fat 0
  Sodium 15 mg
  Potassium 202 mg
  Total Carbohydrates 19 g
  Sugars 15 g
  Protein 0 g

This maybe mixed with water, milk, or other juices.

In Dr. Rallie McAllister's column in the Kingsport News (July 30), she wrote that "cherries are rich in anthocyanins, which give them the bright red color, and other natural compounds that help alleviate pain and swelling related to arthritis and gout. In animal studies, anthocyanins from cherries reduced painful inflammation significantly better than aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

For athletes and weekend warriors, cherries make an excellent post-exercise snack. Phytochemicals in the tart, tasty fruit help refuel tired muscles, reducing muscle soreness and weakness following strenuous exercise. Eating a handful of cherries is one of the few food sources of melatonin, a compound involved in the regulation of the body's natural sleep-wake cycle.

There is no one-size-fits-all post-exercise recovery drink. It is definitely an individual choice. For myself, I bring along a cooler with a pint of chocolate fat-free milk and 4 tablespoons of tart cherry juice concentrate. Sometimes I share this with Barbara and Sandra who are my race walking buddies. We think it is wonderful. I would like you to try it and tell me what you think. Do not use a chocolate drink, only chocolate milk. There is limited research on cherry juice. I called the company who make the tart cherry juice concentrate I use and they had no idea about any of the research that has been done on cherries. I gave them websites to explore.

I keep touting this mixture to anyone who will listen. Recently, two friends shared with me how the mixture affected them.

Bill Dickerson: "This winter I completed the TN State Parks Running Tour. I ran fourteen races from a 5K to a half marathon. As a group, they were the hardest races I have ever run. Sometimes, you must race 4 or 5 weekends in a row in order to compete in your age class. Thanks to Dr. Ruth for the excellent advice to try the cherry juice concentrate for recovery. I am certain that drinking tart cherry juice concentrate in low fat chocolate milk helped me recover quicker so that I could compete the next week. This drink has a natural way to control inflammation and it has many other health benefits."

Wayne Thurman: "For the last thirty-six years, I have appreciated the health benefits of my being physically active from bicycling, jogging, hiking and kayaking. As a recovery drink, I had been following Dr. Ruth Ketron's recommendation of mixing chocolate Silk soy milk with tart cherry juice concentrate.

On July 6, 2009, I was enjoying a road bicycle ride on a twenty-mile loop that I had literally ridden hundreds of times. Suddenly, a dog charged out of a yard on my right attempting to intercept a motorcycle which was traveling up the hill as I was decending. The dog sheared the bicycle out from under me while I was moving at a speed of 30 mph. Needless to say, when I impacted the pavement the outcome was a disaster. I suffered six broken ribs, three broken back vertebrae, two broken neck vertebrae, a broken right shoulder, a collapsed lung, and multiple abrasions on my face, arms, legs, and hips.

My wife brought the silk/cherry drink to the hospital each day and I feel it helped with my miraculous healing. I learned that "tart" cherries contain higher amounts of antioxidants that help repair damage such as the fighting of inflammation in the body as well as reducing muscle pain and back pain. Even today, I continue to use the "recovery" drink after physical activities."

This an informational article and one that is not research laden. In my opinion, a common sense approach is what we need to take with natural foods rather than supplements for a recovery drink.

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