When the time comes to choose what drink to chug after an intense workout, there are a range of options available: water, sports drinks and protein shakes. Yet, researchers Kim Spaccarotella and Walter Andzel have elevated chocolate milk to the top of the list.

Last month, this New Jersey duo published research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research on recovery drinks and concluded that chocolate milk is the optimum post-exercise liquid of choice for individual and team-sport athletes.

Cindy Foley, a registered dietician and personal trainer at the University of Missouri, says many people are surprised by this suggestion.

“Many people’s first reaction is disbelief when I recommend they drink chocolate milk after an endurance exercise session,” Foley said. “They truly are surprised when something as simple as milk can be beneficial to their workout routine.”

When compared to water or other typical recovery drinks, chocolate milk has double the carbohydrate and protein content which eases sore and tired muscles. Additionally, the high water content of milk replaces fluids and prevents dehydration after a workout. Milk also contains calcium as well as sodium and sugar in order to help athletes retain water and replenish energy. Water and other sports drink are limited to replacing fluids and some electrolytes.

“It is always important to recover after a workout by eating and hydrating,” Foley said. “I always recommend combining nutrition and hydration after a workout, especially those foods that replenish fats, proteins and carbohydrates. A simple bowl of cereal and a glass of milk have all the natural ingredients your body needs to recuperate after strenuous exercise.”

Spaccarotella and Andzel recommend that strength and conditioning personnel, as well as team-sport athletes, consume chocolate milk within four to six hours after a workout — over or in addition to other recovery drink options.

“I drink chocolate milk to recover because it has the optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio,” said Max Kerwick, a member of the University of Missouri swimming and diving team. “Our trainer always keeps it stocked for us to drink after a long practice or a swimming and diving meet.”