Q: Could my post-workout snack be making me fat? I've read that chocolate milk is a great post-workout drink, but is that still true if I just took a beginning Zumba class (or did a similar low-intensity workout)?
A: No, your post-workout snack is not making you fat. In fact, quite the opposite. The holy grail of nutrition is to be able to preferentially send the nutrients in your food toward your muscles for energy and repair and not to your fat cells. Exercise is the one thing that can do this. Exercise causes your muscles' cells to actively pull sugar out of your bloodstream and into your muscles with much more fervor than any other time of day.
Find out if chocolate milk makes the best recovery snack after the break!
In regard to chocolate milk as a post-workout snack choice, the research showing the beneficial effects of drinking chocolate milk after exercise has not focused on people lifting heavy weights, but on cyclists and collegiate soccer players (activities closer energetically to your Zumba class than to resistance training). Chocolate milk is a combination of sugar (the sugars naturally found in milk combined with the added simple sugar from the chocolate powder or syrup) and protein, which is one of the primary reasons why research studies repeatedly find it to be the superior post-workout drink when compared to a carbohydrate-only sports drink (e.g., Gatorade). The combo of protein and carbs is better for recovery than carbs alone for the following reasons:
- It helps optimize important postexercise hormones such as cortisol and insulin
- It replenishes your muscle’s energy stores faster
- It improves the process of muscle repair and recovery
This is good news if your body can’t tolerate the lactose in chocolate milk, as any combination of simple sugars (e.g., a traditional sports drink) and protein (e.g., whey, egg white, or soy protein powder) will most likely give you the same benefits as drinking chocolate milk.
But you should know that there is one nutritional wild card that could give chocolate milk an extra edge: the antioxidants found in chocolate.
Dark chocolate’s antioxidants may help your body deal with the stress associated with exercise. Previous "Ask the Diet Doctor" columns are full of tips aimed at getting you to eat more antioxidant-rich foods to fight excessive oxidative stress, which may increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes while also making it harder to lose weight. Exercise is a major source of oxidative stress during your day, and regular dark chocolate consumption (in small doses) can help control this.
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition, Exercise, and Metabolism found that regularly eating dark chocolate two hours before exercise can help your body better release stored fat to use as energy (which is exactly what we want!).
If you find that a glass of chocolate milk (preferably made with dark chocolate) is a sweet post-workout indulgence that you look forward to each day, relish it a little more knowing that it’s nourishing your body, as well as satisfying your sweet tooth.
Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, is a nutritional consultant known for his ability to transform complex nutritional concepts into practical habits and strategies for his clientele, which includes professional athletes, executives, food companies, and top fitness facilities. Dr. Mike is the author of Dr. Mike's 7 Step Weight Loss Plan and The Six Pillars of Nutrition.