Looking for the latest, greatest way to refuel your body after a strenuous workout?
Try chocolate milk.
Yes, chocolate milk.
As Clint Wattenberg, the coordinator of sports nutrition at Cornell University, told the New York Times last week, “The composition of low fat chocolate milk is probably the gold standard for a recovery beverage. We don’t have to second-guess where this supplement is coming from.”
Wattenberg, a 2003 Cornell graduate, brings a unique perspective to the field of sports recovery drinks. Not only did Wattenberg graduate from the College of Human Ecology with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition; he was also a student-athlete.
An outstanding, two-time all-American wrestler in Cornell’s excellent wrestling program, Wattenberg served as an assistant wrestling coach for the Big Red until 2006. He resigned to pursue his dream of wrestling in the Olympics. He finished third in the US Olympic Trials.
Wattenberg then returned to Cornell, where he did nutritional consulting for the sports teams there while earning his registered dietician certification.
By last year, he had implemented a refueling strategy to assist Cornell’s student-athletes. “We want to educate and empower our student-athletes to make healthy choices for themselves,” Wattenberg told Ezra Magazine last summer.
“The most common issue we run into is that 75 to 90 percent of female athletes are not consuming enough carbohydrates. For both men and women, inadequate carb consumption affects everything: performance on game day, recovery, brain function, and academic performance.”
Wattenberg knows what he’s talking about. He lost a match during his junior year because he was mentally fatigued, due to suboptimal fueling. “That season I also dealt with chronic injury and illness,” he told the magazine. “Problems exacerbated by my undernourished body struggling to heal from the strain of training and competing.”
But why chocolate milk?
“Lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk, is half glucose,” Wattenberg continued. “These milk sugars speed up glycogen synthesis to rebuild glycogen stores, while the protein rebuilds damaged muscles so that our athletes can be ready to give it their all at their next practice. The sugar in low-fat chocolate milk creates the perfect ratio for this rapid replenishment.”
Wattenberg was in the perfect location, as Cornell runs its own dairy. He also found the perfect partner in Jason Huck, the former dairy plant manager. Huck did his master’s project at Cornell, focusing on making milk taste better and last longer.
Huck began creating the perfect chocolate milk recipe with a software program. He had to consider ingredients readily available, athletic department specifications, and NCAA rules, which limit the amount of protein that can be included in supplements.
Wattenberg added his own research regarding the amount of protein needed for optimal muscle recovery. Soon, they had a drink which tasted great, was nice and smooth, and contained 16 grams of protein and 230 calories per eight ounce serving.
For comparison, an eight ounce serving of regular low fat chocolate milk contains eight grams of protein and 160 calories.
Known as Big Red Refuel, which has a shelf life of 18 days, it should be available commercially this summer. It already carries an endorsement from the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Inc.
But for now, Cornell student-athletes find it readily available near workout areas. The rowing team keeps bottles in a storage cooler in the boathouse. This enables the student-athletes to follow one of Wattenberg’s key maxims: refuel within 30 minutes of a workout. “It gives us something we can use right away!” field hockey player Marisa Siergiej told the New York Times recently. Even if they have to dash from workout to class.
“Bridging the fueling gaps throughout the day is really a critical component to an effective performance nutrition plan that student-athletes aren’t very suited to manage,” Wattenberg told the Times. “Especially their first year on campus.”
The word is spreading. Thomas Palchak, the manager of the Berkey Creamery at Penn State, calls the network of university dairies a close-knit, fraternal group. “We share papers and documents,” he told the Times. “I know all of them personally, and they’re a great group.”
Already, Penn State, Wisconsin, Brigham Young, and NC State have gotten involved in protein drink research. They’re creating this generation’s Gatorade.
“Fueling is as important as the work you put in,” Wattenberg told the Times.
But who would have imagined that it would involve chocolate milk?