Is Chocolate Milk Good for You? Here’s What the Research Shows

It's usually thought of as a kid's drink, but chocolate milk might actually be able to help you recover after a workout.

  • Chocolate milk is healthier than some other sweet treats because milk itself offers health benefits.
  • Research suggests the nutrients in chocolate milk can help with exercise performance and post-exercise recovery.
  • Dairy-free milk can be a healthy alternative for some people.

Chocolate milk is usually thought of as a kid's drink. But adults, too, often love it for its taste and as a comfort food. As you go to take a swig of a childhood favorite, you might wonder if chocolate milk actually has health benefits. Here's the lowdown on the drink's nutrients and what research says about how chocolate milk may impact your health.

Is Chocolate Milk Good For You?
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Chocolate Milk Nutrition

Just like unsweetened, unflavored milk, chocolate milk is available in whole (3.5% fat by weight), 2%, 1%, and skim varieties. (Single-serve chugs of chocolate milk are often sold in the form of 1%.)

One individual school container of low fat chocolate milk contains 159 calories, 2.8 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrates, and 9 grams of protein. That container also provides calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and D.

In short, while chocolate milk does provide some key nutrients, it also delivers a third of the recommended maximum daily intake of added sugar for women. According to the USDA database, each 8-ounce cup of low-fat (1%) chocolate milk also provides 7.4 ounces of water, which contributes to hydration.

If you use chocolate syrup to make your own chocolate milk, is that any better or worse than drinking ready-made chocolate milk? It depends on how little or much syrup you squeeze in, but probably not. One tablespoon of Hershey's chocolate syrup added to 8 ounces of milk contains 10 grams of added sugar, the same as what's in 8 ounces of pre-sweetened chocolate milk.

Health Benefits of Milk

When it comes to studies on chocolate milk and health outcomes in adults, research is lacking. Instead, findings are based on research on the main ingredient of milk itself—not chocolate milk—and those findings are mixed.

Good Source of Calcium

Milk and other dairy products provide our bodies with essential nutrients that we need in our diet. Milk contains a good source of calcium which is beneficial to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium helps you maintain bone strength as you age. Milk, and other dairy products, are the main source of calcium for most Americans.

Contains Vitamin D

There are milk products that are fortified with vitamin D, providing a great source of this beneficial nutrient. Vitamin D works with calcium to keep your bones strong.

Provides Other Nutrients

In addition to being a great source of calcium and vitamin D, milk contains many other nutrients like:

  • Phosphorous
  • Vitamin A and B12
  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Choline
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium

Lowers Risk of Disease

A 2021 analysis in Nutrition & Metabolism reviewed 41 studies to find an association between milk consumption and health outcomes. Researchers found that drinking approximately 1 cup of milk per day was associated with a lower risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis

Research has also found beneficial associations between milk and type 2 diabetes mellitus and Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers also found that milk intake might be associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, acne, and iron deficiency anemia in infancy. But they concluded that milk consumption does more good than harm to human health.

Chocolate Milk and Workout Recovery

A lot of people think of chocolate milk as a sweet treat, but it has also been touted as a recovery drink after a workout.

A 2018 study compared the recovery and hydration effects of chocolate milk and a traditional sports drink following endurance exercise. The study asked female collegiate volleyball players to complete an exercise session, rest for 2 hours, and then repeat the exercise. Participants consumed either chocolate milk or a sports drink. Researchers found that chocolate milk was as effective as the sports drink and that chocolate milk was more beneficial for achieving rehydration post-exercise.

A second study looked at chocolate milk vs. water as recovery aids following all-out bouts of high-intensity endurance climbing. Ten men scaled a climbing wall to exhaustion. Twenty minutes later, the participants consumed either water or chocolate milk and then downed their respective drinks again with their evening meals. The athletes also repeated the protocol using the alternative beverage.

When they consumed chocolate milk, the men improved their performance in terms of distance climbed and duration of the workout. Muscle soreness scores were also lower three days after exercise for the chocolate milk drinkers.

What Makes Chocolate Milk Ideal for Recovery

While this research is interesting, it's important to note that it compared drinks that are very dissimilar in composition, including drinks that aren't recommended ways to achieve recovery. The goal of a post-workout snack or beverage is to replenish fluid and nutrients that have been lost during training and provide the building blocks needed to heal from the wear and tear exercise puts on the body.

Sports dietitians recommend that athletes and active people consume fluid, electrolytes, and other nutrients after a strenuous workout, in addition to both carbohydrates and protein in a 4:1 ratio. This approach is known as the 4 Rs—refuel, rehydrate, repair, and rest. In other words, water, a sports drink, or a carb-only beverage alone—the drinks compared to chocolate milk in these studies—aren't standard nutrition protocol after a difficult workout.

For a 2019 review, researchers looked at 12 previous studies that compared chocolate milk to either water or sports drinks to assess post-exercise recovery markers. The scientists concluded that chocolate milk seems to be a good candidate to aid recovery because it contains nutrients needed for replenishment and healing. But again, the research compared chocolate milk to other drinks that do not provide the 4Rs to recover after strenuous exercise.

Basically, what chocolate milk has going for it is that its composition is naturally in line with the fluid, macro, and micronutrients needed to support exercise recovery. Low-fat chocolate milk consists of a 4:1 carbohydrate: protein ratio and provides fluids and sodium to aid in post-workout recovery.

Cow's milk is also a good source of leucine, an amino acid needed to trigger muscle protein synthesis.

Alternatives to Dairy-Based Chocolate Milk

And chocolate milk can usually be found in most grocery stores. That said, it's not the only choice—and it's also not an option at all for certain people, including those with a milk allergy or sensitivity, people with lactose intolerance, and vegans.

If dairy-based chocolate milk isn't a good option for you for whatever reason, or you simply choose not to drink it, there are plenty of other alternatives. One is chocolate plant milk made from split peas.

Like dairy-based chocolate milk, pea milk provides 8 grams of protein per cup and is also a good source of leucine.

An 8-ounce portion of pea protein milk also contains 4.5 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrate with 11 grams as added sugar, 30% of the daily value for calcium, 45% for vitamin B12, and 15% for vitamin D. Pair pea milk with a small banana to up the carb-to-protein ratio to the advised 4:1.

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  2. American Heart Association. Added sugars.

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