Chocolate milk vs. protein shake: Which is better after a workout?

You might not need protein shakes after all.

Caroline Roberts Digital Editorial Intern
Caroline Roberts writes articles and notifications for CNET. She studies English at Cal Poly, and loves philosophy, Karl the Fog and a strong cup of black coffee.
Caroline Roberts
3 min read
chocolate milk

The post-workout drink you never knew you needed.

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You've made it your mission to get fit, and you're finally following through on it. You've got the time, energy and know-how to work out, but there's only one problem -- you're spending a fortune on protein powder. 

Supplements like protein powder are often marketed as necessary for any sort of fitness gains, whether you're trying to lift heavier weights or run a longer distance. But the reality is, they're not all that necessary for the majority of people. Instead, you can sip on a nice, tasty beverage after your workout that'll give you all the same benefits: chocolate milk. Yup, you heard me right. The treat from your childhood may now be the key to athletic success.

Why is protein necessary?


You can get plenty of protein from actual food.

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Protein is great to eat right after any type of workout because the amino acids help your muscles repair themselves. All exercises, from running marathons to weightlifting, create small microtears in your muscles. After you stop working out, your body sends blood and nutrients to heal the site -- this is how muscles get stronger. It's also why post-exercise fuel is vitally important.

However, protein's role in this process may be slightly overstated. Many researchers say that we consume twice as much protein as we really should -- the average adult woman only needs about 55 grams per day, and men need 65 grams. A single serving of protein powder has around 20 to 25 grams of protein, which is a bit of overkill for most people, considering you're also likely getting protein from your meals.

What else should be in a post-workout drink?

What's often overlooked in our post-workout recovery equation is carbohydrates. Working out also depletes your body's glycogen, which is essentially stored energy. Eating carbs replenishes glycogen, and also helps cell maintenance and repair.

So, an optimal post-workout recovery drink would have a good mixture of both carbs and protein, with some electrolytes thrown in. Electrolytes are minerals like calcium, sodium and potassium that keep you hydrated and help balance your body's pH. 


Protein shakes are best if you don't consume dairy.

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Is chocolate milk or a protein shake a better post-workout drink?

The answer to this question partly depends on your personal preferences. If you're vegan or lactose intolerant, a plant-based protein powder may be better suited for you. Similarly, if you're trying to cut down on sugar, you may want to skip the chocolate milk -- but beware, many protein powders and premade shakes have sugar in them, too. 

Chocolate milk has been proven to contain a near-perfect ratio of protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes to help your body replenish its fuel stores after a hard workout. With 9 grams of protein in a cup, it's suitable for drinking after both weightlifting and endurance exercise. It also contains potassium and sodium, so it'll help you rehydrate after a difficult workout.

Even if you're a weightlifter, chocolate milk as a post-workout drink has been shown to help people grow stronger. Multiple studies showed that drinking milk led to greater increases in muscle hypertrophy and lean muscle mass than drinking a standard sports rehydration beverage.

Plus, the cost of high-quality protein powder really adds up. A typical serving of protein powder costs anywhere from 75 cents  to $1.31, while a serving of chocolate milk is usually around 25 cents. It may seem like a small difference, but the savings will show over time.

So, next time you're at the store looking for something to refuel with after your workout, consider skipping the expensive protein powder and go straight for the chocolate milk instead.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.