When you engage in serious workouts as a cyclist and follow a training plan, one thing you come across is recovery.
Recovery is a key part of the overall training process, the part where physiological adaptations occur and gains may or may not be maximized. Because with the wrong recovery strategy you can leave a lot of potential on the side. As you’re fatigued after the session performance capacity is down. The goal is to adapt to the training stimulus and as a long-term goal become better and better.
I don’t want to focus on rapid recovery strategies like ice baths etc., as the goal for most of us cyclists is to seek long-term improvements.
And to meet this long-term progress we need day-to-day strategies we can always rely on. In sports nutrition the general suggestion is to practice the essential three Rs of recovery which are:
As you lost lots of fluids because you sweated, you need to rehydrate. As you depleted glycogen stores you need to replenish carbohydrates asap post-workout. Rebuilding on protein, on the other hand, is only important to be sufficient daily, but not immediately after. Though it’s a good way to get protein in after your workout for your daily protein intake.
One food that proved itself to be outstanding in its composition to deliver all the important nutrients we need after our training session is milk or in particular chocolate milk.
Milk is a complete food as it contains carbs, proteins, fats, and electrolytes, making it the perfect recovery beverage as it mainly consists of water. Though, it seems that milk is beneficial, it received lots of critics in recent years and there may be even some drawbacks.
I think a good start to look at the potential benefits, is to start with potential drawbacks and alternatives of chocolate milk.
The Cons of Chocolate Milk
Milk contains lactose
Milk contains a sugar called lactose and for the breakdown of lactose, our body needs the enzyme lactase. Even though, we are born with this enzyme many people only have restricted availability as adults.
This state is called lactose intolerance. People with lactose intolerance suffer from gastrointestinal problems when they consume too much milk and lactose. In addition, we have the milk-allergy in our society as well. People suffer most often from the casein protein found in milk.
Carbohydrate is the main fuel for acute recovery, you don’t need the milk protein
The most important factor for rapid recovery is carbohydrates and research indicates that additional protein doesn’t add to rapid recovery though it can improve muscle-protein-synthesis, and suppress muscle protein breakdown. Protein plays its card in long-term adaptations that may take weeks and daily and weekly protein intake are far more important than post-exercise. So, you may not need the protein from the milk immediately after the workout and milk may be redundant.
Milk restriction for ethical and environmental reasons
Due to growing awareness of factory farming, there are more and more people that can’t tolerate the amount of suffering and restrict all kinds of dairy products from their eating plans. On top of that comes the environmental costs of stock farming.
Though there are more controlled and higher quality options available with organic standards, the ethical part is still alive.
And as carbohydrates are the main driver for recovery, you may not need milk for optimal recovery as there are other options available today as a chocolate milk substitute. For example, you can use soy chocolate milk that contains sugar and protein to replenish energy stores or maybe use a pea option if you find it. These alternatives make a good vegan recovery drink.
I didn’t cope well with milk so I ditched dairy. As a substitute for regular chocolate milk, I like to use chocolate milk made from lupine. It contains some proteins from lupine, but most importantly sugar.
Yet, if you decide to include milk in your diet, chocolate milk may provide a bunch of benefits for your recovery.
The Pros of Chocolate Milk
Milk is a great source of high-quality protein, as it’s made up of 20% of the highest quality protein (whey) and 80% of casein, which is another high-quality protein.
Those are complete proteins that contain all amino acids and are especially high in leucine amino acids known to trigger protein-bio-synthesis.
But there’s more to milk than the protein content.
Milk contains a bunch of nutrients
Milk is high in calcium, a mineral that is essential for bone health. Consuming high amounts of calcium can help to protect from osteoporosis (a condition of weak bones) which is common with aging. And as studies indicate milk is great in increasing bone mineral density.
In addition to electrolytes, milk also contains essential vitamins like vitamin A. Vitamine A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for normal vision, the immune system, reproduction, growth, and development.
Other vitamines milk supplies include Vitamin B12. B12 is essential to form red blood cells and DNA and is a key player in brain function and nerve cells.
The most important part of milk for cycling, however, is the contribution to recovery.
Chocolate Milk for recovery
Chocolate milk is a better beverage for recovery than pure milk already is.
As we already know it contains high-quality protein and it’s high in carbohydrate lactose. If you don’t suffer from lactose intolerance, lactose is good at restoring glycogen in the liver, which is important for short-term recovery. The reason is that lactose is a disaccharide made up of the two sugars glucose and galactose.
Due to its structure with its electrolytes, milk has also been shown to be very effective at rehydration and maybe even better than commercial recovery drinks. The reason chocolate milk is even better than pure milk is that as well as containing all other nutrients, chocolate milk contains sucrose. This helps to deliver additional carbs post-exercise, the main factor for recovering exercise performance.
Compared to regular milk, a glass of chocolate milk (around 250 ml) provides you with 21 grams of carbs compared to 11.5 grams for a glass of pure milk. In terms of protein content, they are similar or slightly higher as chocolate milk is usually made up of low-fat milk. You can adjust the amount toward the severity of the effort. For example, after 5 hours of climbing, you may consume up to 500 ml of chocolate milk. It’s your choice and the proteins will benefit your daily protein intake.
What’s more, is that chocolate milk is more cost-effective than commercial supplements and chocolate milk for sure is always free of prohibited substances. That makes it a good source for elite athletes.
You can enjoy it cold from the fridge or drink it as hot chocolate after your workout, it’s quite flexible.
And in contrast to most supplements with chocolate milk, you can choose the quality you want. In organic markets, you will likely find way better chocolate milk from farms where the cows get way more free space and are treated way better.
All this makes chocolate milk a favorable recovery shake after an intense workout so you are ready for the next training and sow the seeds for long-term improvements in cycling because you’re aware of the three Rs of recovery.
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