A recent scandal involving chocolate milk, football concussions and a news release based on an industry-funded medical study that didn't go through the peer-review process, has rocked the University of Maryland in recent months.
University officials last week agreed to return more than $200,000 from a chocolate milk manufacturer in western Maryland -- Fifth Quarter Fresh -- which funded a study conducted by university researchers that concluded drinking chocolate milk protected high school football players from concussions during the season.
The lead researcher also came under fire from various news organizations and watchdog groups like Health News Review. The university was forced to investigate the study and released its findings April 1.
But lost amid the criticism about the study's poor design and dubious conclusions was the fact that chocolate milk has become the go-to drink for many sports teams, as well as endurance athletes.
Not to prevent concussions, but to run or ride faster.
In recent years, chocolate milk has been linked to improved performance by cyclists, runners, rock climbers, judo, martial arts and other athletes. While parents and nutrition experts have bemoaned chocolate milk for causing obesity in kids who drink too much, its 4-to1 ratio of carbohydrates to proteins is ideal for elite athletes who need to recover quickly after strenuous exercise.
Chocolate milk has "become beneficial for athletes participating in two-a-day practices where they have a short recovery period between workouts," said Kelly Pritchett, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University, who compared chocolate milk to powdered sports drinks in a study of cyclists.
Pritchett said many of the triathletes that she coaches drink chocolate milk in between their various swim, run and bike workouts. So too, do football teams at the University of Georgia and University of Washington -- among others.
Chocolate milk works better than regular milk, according to Pritchett.
"The main difference is the chocolate milk has more sugar than regular milk," Pritchett said. "For a cup of 1 percent milk, you get 12 grams of carbohydrates. With a cup of chocolate milk you get 30 to 35 grams. That's what important for athletes is replacing the glycogen."
It's also cheaper. Pritchett said it costs about $12 per week for her study group, compared to $40 per week for powdered sports drinks.
In recent years, chocolate milk alternatives have popped up on store shelves, appealing to vegans or others who don't like or can't drink dairy milk. Soy and hemp-based chocolate milks are also available, and one recent study found they work just as good as "regular" chocolate milk, as long as they are equal in their respective amounts of carbohydrates, sugars and fats.
Adam Upshaw, professor of fitness and director of the Health Promotion Program at Niagara College in Ontario, found in a recent study that there is no difference in performance from a group of cyclists undertaking a 12-mile time trial and drinking the different kinds of chocolate beverage.
Based on these and other recent scientific findings on chocolate milk, should we all start swigging brown milk cartons for lunch? Absolutely not, according to both Pritchett and Upshaw. The extra calories go right to your waistline.
"I don't drink chocolate milk," Upshaw said. "I don't recommend it because of the amount of sugar. It's OK for elite recreational athletes or elite athletes. For regular exercise, absolutely not. I don't recommend that much sugar. If you just eat food, you'll be fine."