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Protein Important for Endurance Athletes: the Chocolate Milk Study
Strength athletes are well versed in the importance of protein for optimal recovery and performance.
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Historically endurance athletes have focused only on carbohydrates with little attention to protein. Emerging research is changing that paradigm. The most recent study examined the effects of different recovery beverages on recovery in highly trained cyclists. The cyclists participated in 3 trials. During each visit they performed a standardized bout of exercise to deplete glycogen levels in their muscles. Immediately after the exercise and 2 hours into recovery they were provided one of three beverages: a commercial carbohydrate-based fluid replacement drink (31 g carbs), a commercial high carbohydrate drink (73 g carbs), and a beverage matched for energy that contained both carbohydrate (63 g carbs) and protein (14 g protein) in the form of chocolate milk. After 4 hours into recovery, the cyclists performed a cycle to exhaustion test at 70% of their maximal power output. The longer they lasted, the better the performance. The results were quite surprising. When the cyclists consumed the beverages containing only carbohydrate, they lasted only 21-23 minutes. The carbohydrate-protein beverage allowed the cyclists to last 32 minutes, representing a 51% improvement in performance. How extra protein during recovery enhanced subsequent performance remains clear, but enhanced glycogen synthesis, increased protein synthesis, faster recovery, and augmented immune responses have been postulated. The findings indicate that strength athletes are not the only ones who benefit from protein during recovery.  

Thomas K, Morris P, Stevenson E. Improved endurance capacity following chocolate milk consumption compared with 2 commercially available sport drinks. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Feb;34(1):78-82.