Ever-targeting a new generation of consumers, the dairy industry-funded and released a new study in February 2019 in an attempt to support the misguided campaign, “Built With Chocolate Milk.” Titled, “Chocolate Milk Versus Carbohydrate Supplements In Adolescent Athletes: A Field Study,” the study tested teens during a seven-week summer training program to measure the performance effects of chocolate milk versus sports drinks in a “real-life” environment. As with the chocolate milk studies targeting adults, this latest study is seriously flawed to a high degree.
First, a red flag is raised when we look at the funding. No doubt researchers were pressured to create positive results in favor of the dairy beverage, as the entire study was financed by DairyMax, a dairy council representing over 900 dairy farms across seven states. Dairy farms are closing at a rapid rate—the remaining businesses need all the backing they can get to continue their operations. If all goes according to plan, the robust marketing arm of the dairy industry could use these results to market more milk to parents and teens.
This study is unique in that it targets adolescents as opposed to adults, and it attempts to exemplify a real-world application as opposed to highly monitored laboratory testing. One hundred and three teenagers participated in a seven-week strength and speed summer camp, training four consecutive days a week for two hours each day. Upon completion of this daily exercise, students were randomly assigned to drink either Horizon Organic Low-Fat Chocolate Milk or a “commercially available” (yet unidentified) sports drink. After measuring for squat and bench press values, researchers concluded that the chocolate milk group improved their scores while the sports drink group suspiciously regressed.
There are several glaring issues with the design of this study that should render these results invalid. Researchers did not divulge which brand of sports drink was given to the participants, only that it was “commercially available.” In theory, the athletes could have consumed Kool-Aid with a bit of added salt and technically that could pass as a sports drink due to the carbohydrates and electrolytes. Further, researchers noted that the macronutrients and calories between the two beverages were not equal—not by a long shot. The conclusion dismissed this major flaw by explaining that this is the nature of a field study—they were not going to manipulate the available products to create a fair, apples-to-apples study—they just worked with what they had. Doesn’t seem very scientific, does it? Further, there was no indication to confirm that the participants drank the entire portion of their beverage after each workout, which leads to a continued muddling of variables and inconsistent factors that could seriously affect overall results.
Suggesting that chocolate milk is superior to an unidentified sports drink does not prove that it is an optimal recovery beverage—and yet that is the message the dairy industry needs consumers to believe. It has been shown that athletes tend to improve their strength overtime when they refuel post-workout with a mix of protein and carbohydrates, but these macronutrients do not have to come from sugar-added, calorie-laden, hormone-filled chocolate milk (or any dairy for that matter). Protein, fats, and carbohydrates are naturally found in an abundance of plant foods that are also accessible, convenient, and affordable. Given proper, plant-based nutrition, teens can thrive as athletes—just stay off the Kool-Aid and chocolate milk.