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Chocolate milk is the official beverage of US Olympic swim team

With chocolate milk getting banned from school lunchrooms, the milk industry found a new and clever way to boost lagging sales: Get Olympic medalist Dara Torres and other swim medalists to pitch the sugary beverage chocolate milk as a great way to refuel after a workout.

USA Swimming, a membership group that selects the Olympic team, announced Monday that it had joined forces with the Milk Processor Education Board “to highlight the important role that refueling with lowfat chocolate milk plays as part of the after-workout ritual of competitive swimmers,” according to this statement released on Monday.

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Their rationale? Money, most likely, since the milk industry group pays generously for actors and sports stars to sport “got milk?” mustaches in commercials. A USA Swimming spokesperson told me the group is getting paid for the campaign but declined to disclose the amount.

The official reason, though, is due to “a growing body of published research” which supports chocolate milk’s recovery benefits after strenuous exercise -- with it’s right mix of protein, carbs, and electrolytes (aka sugar and sodium) to replace nutrients lost through sweat.

Indeed, I found eight published studies over the past six years comparing chocolate milk to other sports drinks as a recovery aid for endurance athletes. But these studies usually included sports players working out for hours at a time, often in multiple bouts a day. Some, funded by the milk industry, found that chocolate milk helped improve recovery by providing increased energy and decreased muscle fatigue during the second workout of the day, while others found that it wasn’t any better than, say, Gatorade.

What’s troubling is that the bulk of people who exercise do so for less than an hour at a time and no more than once a day, which hardly depletes their body’s nutrients. They certainly don’t need the gallons of chocolate milk that we see in Dara Torres’s refrigerator in the “got chocolate milk?” in a webisode featured as part of the campaign.

In fact, they could easily consume more calories than they’ve burned off in that post-recovery drink -- causing them to gain weight over time. Research suggests drinking sugar-sweetened beverages doesn’t create the same feelings of fullness as eating the same number of calories in food and a new Harvard study linked sugary drinks to an increased risk of heart attacks.

As New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle told USA Today, “I’d never recommend drinking a sweetened drink. People shouldn’t drink their calories.” Instead, she recommended a sandwich after a particularly tough workout.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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