Study funded by the National Dairy Council and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board.

Put down the Red Bull, pick up the chocolate milk.

So say two University of Connecticut researchers, each studying the effects of beverages on young people.

In a study funded by the National Dairy Council and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, Nancy Rodriguez, who researches the science of endurance sports, says chocolate milk has proved to be an effective post-workout drink for restoring muscle.

Plenty of studies have focused on the benefits of milk, but Rodriguez says hers is the first to focus specifically on what chocolate milk can do for athletes. She has submitted her study for publication in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

So what does chocolate milk do that plain white milk doesn’t?

“The chocolate adds a little more sugar, and hence carbohydrate,” she said. “Carbs — that’s still the energy that helps the muscle do the work. But you want milk to rebuild the muscle.”

For the study, moderately trained male runners ran for 45 minutes at least five days a week for two weeks. Some drank chocolate milk while others drank a carb-only drink like Gatorade or Powerade; each drink had the same number of calories. Breath and blood samples taken after the first and second weeks indicated that the chocolate milk drinkers had greater muscle rebuilding.

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Rodriguez cautioned that the extra sugar isn’t optimal for everyone, but athletes can benefit from it.

Most important, she said, is for athletes to realize that milk — whether plain or sweetened — is as good and often better than many of the significantly more expensive products sold at nutrition stores. Many of the products marketed to athletes for energy and endurance are just souped-up versions of old-fashioned milk. Despite the many claims of supplements, it’s hard to beat all-natural.

“Something like milk also has what we call bioactive compounds — things that we don’t really know, but probably provide some nutritional value,” she said.

And stay away from energy drinks like Red Bull, said Yifrah Kaminer, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Connecticut. He published an article in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America in July on the dangers of caffeine for young people.

Kaminer said that 30 percent of youths between 12 and 17 years old regularly consume energy drinks. Some of the super-caffeinated drinks, like Spike Shooter and Wired x505 (a whopping 500 milligrams of caffeine), carry warning labels that the product isn’t recommended for anyone younger than 18.

But warning labels only do so much. As a test, Kaminer had his 10-year-old son ask a clerk at a drugstore if he could buy a Red Bull. Sure, the clerk told him. Kaminer said that, based on his research, he thinks it’s worth considering age restrictions for energy drinks. He suggested putting the cutoff at age 12 or 14. Most important, he says, is educating parents and youths about the effects of energy drinks.

Energy drinks’ much-touted exotic ingredients — taurine, guarana, etc. — give the drinks “mystical flavor and image,” Kaminer said. But it’s caffeine and sugar that do all the work. Caffeine levels in energy drinks can range from 80 milligrams in an 8.2-ounce can of Red Bull to 300 milligrams in an 8.4-ounce can of Spike Shooter. To compare, a small McDonald’s coffee has 100 milligrams, while a large Starbucks has 330 milligrams and a 12-ounce can of Coke has 34 milligrams.

The big difference between coffee and energy drinks, Kaminer said, is that young people are more apt to consume energy drinks. Also, they tend to drink many of them.

A true love for sports

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