Blogpost: Sports Drinks and Recovery Drinks: Harm or Good?

The pros are doing it. Why not us regular folks? Drink chocolate milk to recover from triathlon training, touts a famous female triathlete. She is a fabulous athlete that is sponsored by the milk industry, and I would give anything to run like she does. Will chocolate milk make me faster, stronger, and less likely to get injured? How about a mixture of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, zinc, and branch chain amino acids? Will that heal my aching muscles quicker, and make them grown stronger? What does the 2 GRAMS of salt per serving do to my cardiovascular system? Are branch chain amino acids better then straight amino acids? When did my body cease to be able to process whole foods? Are leg cramps better with sports drinks? Let’s pause a minute before we chug another artificial colored, sweetened beverage in the name of health and recovery.

So let’s start with chocolate milk. There certainly is not cocao powder in commercial chocolate milk. Cacao power is made from grinding the cacao bean seeds after the fat has been largely removed. This is a cold pressed process unlike cocoa powder that is made from the roasted beans and often contains extra sugar and possible heavy metals. The antioxidants are largely removed by the heating process. Chocolate milk contains cocoa powder plus sugar and other fats in addition to the milk itself. Whether the milk is skim, 2% or whole milk fat determines the fat calories which again is not something an athlete benefits from after exercise. The milk sugar is lactose which is a disaccharide of glucose and galactose if you have the enzyme to break it down as does a baby cow. There are 12 grams of carbohydrate per cup which accounts for about 48 calories from sugar if you can break lactose down and absorb it. Forty-eight calories to replace your lost glucose stores from exercise. That is not much when you think about vigorous exercise that may have burned 1000 calories such as a 10 mile run. The protein in milk is from casein, 80% and whey, 20%. They are complete proteins in that they include all the essential amino acids in the same percentage as animal meat. The branched chained essential amino acids are in the whey part of the protein and are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The other amino acids in casein include histamine, methionine and phenylalanine. Both methionine and elevated intakes of branch chain amino acids have been associated wtih increased risk of adenocarcinoma, pancreatic carcinoma, and breast cancer. In fact branch chain amino acids have been to be a promoter of cancer cell grow as noted by Elisa A Ananieva et al. from a study out of Des Moines University in Iowa 2018 among others. So you may get your sweet tooth filled and your hunger pains to go away after exercise, but your health will not be optimized in any such fashion.

What about factory manufactured concocted recovery and energy drinks. They are largely sugar and salt with added whey protein or branch chain amino acids. I recently reviewed one for a member and there was over 900 mg of SODIUM. The RDA is for less than 1500mg of sodium daily. Fruits and vegetables in their raw natural form will provide about 700-800 mg of sodium for the calories needed to maintain a healthy weight. For a liter of sweat, the average sodium loss is about 500mg. If one consumes food following a workout to replace caloric needs, sodium will also be replaced. Fittness levels have not correlated with the sodium content of sweat. Neither have leg cramps. The sodium content of arm sweat has been shown to be greater than leg sweat and both acclimate to changing enviroments. The sodium content of sweat decreases in cooler months. Your body is a lot smarter than energy drinks give it credit for. The SAD diet can contain 7 to 10 grams a salt per day. Add, a high sodium energy drink and you have a prescription for volume overload and hypertension. The body will correct for excess salt intake by retaining water. This means the heart has to pump a higher volume of blood, and the blood vessels constrict to help the processes. This is not what your body needs to recover from vigourous exercise or even gardening.

Most people consume excessive sodium daily in the form of processed foods such as things in a box, can or from a window at a drive through. There is also the popular misconception that vigorous exercise is a license to over-indulge. This is more often than not associated with a high sodium diet that results in more water and salt than is eliminated with exercise. We are not a society of deficiencies, but a society of excess. There are more and more deaths associated with long distance events and more hospitalizations for over hydration than underhydration. There are very few people that are exercising to the point that they cannot meet their nutritional requirments with real food in its whole form.

If you would like to replace your lost calories with liquid, consider fruit and vegetable smoothies with water instead of powders and supplements. Seasonal fruit provide numerous antioxidants and phytonutrients that will help one actually repair damaged tissue and provide adequate protein and amino acids to build muscle. Take time to enjoy REAL food as opposed to boxed or window food. I wonder how long the careers of athletes could be extended if they were fed fruits and vegetables that would actually accelerate recovery and repair as opposed to increase the cellular damage done by vigorous exercise and sport.

If you would like some easy recipes for smoothies and whole foods, check out our cookbook: Plant-based Wellness Cookbook. Three generations of cooking: the Doctor, the Dietitian and the Diva. Available at, .,

or your local bookstore.

  1. Reply
    Marie Burchette Merritt

    Thank you for your blogs and pod casts! I’ve listened to them since day one. Very interesting information regarding sports drinks and sodium. Also a point to remember is the artificial color that can have adverse effects. I used to get severe headaches after long hikes (15-22 miles) and finally narrowed it down to the orange sports drink color enhancer. It and MSG are triggers for me. Now I stick to water and occasionally coconut water and experience no problems. Keep up the great work!!

    • Reply
      Dr. Dulaney

      Thank you. You are correct. No need for artificial anything!

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