What Is the Ultimate Protein Shake?

The Ultimate Protein Shake

Chocolate milk as a the ultimate protein shake on a budget? Every athlete I’ve ever worked with, every friend I’ve ever given nutritional advice to, and random people in the gym, have all asked me to recommend some type of recovery shake. Should I take this supplement or that supplement, eat carbohydrates, or avoid them, what should I do? All but one athlete, who happened to be a type one diabetic, has received the same response, and it’s definitely not what they expect. My recovery drink of choice is none other than…CHOCOLATE MILK!

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Chocolate milk? Yup, TruMoo, Nesquik, Hershey’s, it’s all good to me! To understand why I’m such a firm believer in chocolate milk, we need to dive into sports nutrition for a little bit.

Quick Carbohydrate Overview

Carbohydrates, as previous covered in An Athlete's Guide to Carbohydrates, are essential for an athlete’s performance. They are mandatory when trying to recover from the current day’s workout, and prepare for the next. Basic physiology tells us that carbohydrates are the easiest and fastest way for our body to create ATP.


Without carbohydrates, your body wouldn’t be able to reach intensities above 75% of your max heart rate. At high intensities your body is relying almost solely on carbohydrates since fat can’t produce ATP at a quick enough rate. Common sense tells you that if you can’t make enough ATP to maintain a certain intensity, you will run out of energy.

Quick Protein Overview

As we all know, protein is the building block of skeletal muscle, tendons, ligaments, bones and organs. When resistance training, you elicit a stress within your skeletal muscle, bones, tendons and ligaments. The stress of training  causes micro trauma within the tissue, which, if enough damage has occurred, will lead to soreness. No, the day after soreness is not caused by lactic acid that is still accumulated in your skeletal muscle. Your body is extremely efficient at clearing it.

The damage to the tissue, and the subsequent repair process, causes soreness. With physiology aside, the damage sets off a cascade of steps to rebuild and repair what has been damaged. The first thing your body does is to activate phagocytes to clear the dead or damaged cells. Immediately following phagocytosis, satelite cells are activated, and transform to fit the mold of the newly needed cells, or to repair those that have been damaged.

This whole process results in an increase in blood flow to the area, also known as edema, commonly known as swelling. Most people think swelling is a bad thing, which is understandable since swelling causes your body to sense pain. However, it is part of the healing process. (If you’re wondering why people love to use ice after workouts and take anti-inflammatories, then awesome - that means the wheels are turning and you’re thinking outside the box! That topic will be tackled in the next few weeks).

Ingesting a protein supplement comes into play for cell growth. Protein, as we've heard 1000 times, is built by Amino Acids, and AA's are the building block of skeletal muscle. In order for cell growth  to occur, there needs to be a high rate of protein synthesis. To accomplish this, the mTOR pathway needs to be activated my AMPk.

Amino acids don't stop there. They are used in many different pathways within the body, such as vision, digestion, absorbing nutrients, bone repair, etc.  


What Your Recovery Shakes Should Contain 

To properly recover from a training session, you must replace what you used. In other words, if you had a high intensity bout of training, where your heart rate is at, or above 85% of your max heart rate, you are primarily creating ATP from your body’s carbohydrate stores.

So, what is the best way to recover? Ingesting carbohydrates! Glycogen can only be replaced with carbohydrate. There is no way to create glycogen by consuming fat and protein. Ever wonder why you feel like doo-doo when you try one of those high fat/protein and low carb diets? That's why. 

If you were truly training at a high intensity, you caused stress and damage within your body. How do you begin to rebuild what has been damaged? Protein! So, if you are trying to be efficient with your time post-workout, you are going to want to consume something that has both carbohydrates and protein.

What The Research Suggests

Research conducted by Stegall et al. has looked at the differences between consuming a carbohydrate/protein mix in the form of chocolate milk, a pure carbohydrate recovery drink, and a placebo, which consisted of flavored water. The results showed chocolate milk more rapidly increased glycogen re-synthesis, reduced markers of muscle damage and inflammation, and resulted in a decrease in protein breakdown and an increase in protein synthesis via the mTor pathway.

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So what is it about the chocolate milk that makes it work magic?

Besides the great taste, and the kid-like feeling I get every time I drink it, it is the ratio of carbohydrate to protein. Research has shown a ratio of carbohydrate to protein of 3:1 or 4:1 is optimal. The main reasons for this is it allows for optimal glycogen resynthesis, elimination of protein degradation, and an increased rate of protein synthesis due to the insulin spike that allows more AA to be brought into the nucleus. All of these things take place by simply consuming carbohydrate. Besides the carbohydrate protein ratio, milk is a complete protein. Complete proteins contain the amino acids our bodies can’t produce itself, giving your body more tools to assist in the repair process. Finally the cocoa used in chocolate milk contains anti-oxidants. If you pay attention to the health field at all, you should know anti-oxidants eliminate free radicals that are responsible for disease processes taking place within our body.

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Take home message!

Chocolate milk is a great way for athletes to recover from a workout. It’s easy on the wallet, cheap, nutritious, delicious, and a complete drink to have after you workout. For a 3 month period in highschool, I would drink a 32 oz chocolate milk after all my workouts. Looking back on it, I remember my football coaches asking if I was eating a lot of chicken, because I was getting bigger. Little did I know that I was actually ahead of the research with my choice of recovery shakes!

Drink Up!