Chocolate milk is the Official Refuel Beverage of Ironman and Ironman 70.3 Series

Recover Right: REFUEL |
Photo of Mirinda Carfrae by Chris Polk Imaging

We chatted with Registered Dietitian Penny Wilson about optimizing your training and race nutrition

Penny Wilson, registered dietitian at the IRONMAN Sports Institute at Memorial Hermann, doesn’t just talk about healthy eating and proper fueling for pre-, during and post-triathlon racing, she lives it. She’s done everything from bike racing (on the road and velodrome) to marathons to triathlons, so she’s all too aware of the requirements Ironman athletes need to train, compete and recover.

“Triathlon is a four part sport – swim, bike, run and nutrition,” Wilson says. “Many athletes are under-hydrating and not getting enough carbs during their training and racing. Once you move up to a half-distance event, nutrition becomes critical.”

Wilson breaks an IRONMAN’s nutrition needs during training and racing into three critical components: fuel, hydration and electrolytes. “Each of those is a separate area that you need to work out, and then practice, in your training,” she says.

That practice is critical, too, because every athlete’s needs, and preferences, are very individual. Wilson says athletes need to figure out if they want to “go all liquid” and forego any solid food while training and racing, or utilize a combination of replenishment options.

“You need to come up with a starting point,” Wilson says. “As a general rule, you should aim to replace about 60 g of carbohydrate every hour on the bike, and about 40 g/ hour during the run. I also have my athletes do sweat trials on the bike and the run to get a ballpark of how much liquid and electrolytes they’re losing to come up with our starting point.”

More often than not, Wilson finds the athletes she’s working with see quick and dramatic improvements once they start to eat and drink enough. “They’ll often call me and say ‘Wow, I’m having great workouts.’”

Pre-race nutrition tends to be even more a matter of individual preference, Wilson has found. For shorter races, she recommends “something that has a little bit of bulk in it,” such as a bagel with peanut butter. “This has fat and protein to keep you full and will last a bit longer.”

For a half or full distance race, Wilson recommends getting up about four hours before your race and having more of a substantial meal “so that it has time to digest and clear the stomach.” Having watched her husband follow that strategy for all of his Ironman races, she’s confident that plan works.

As a consultant with the REFUEL | “got chocolate milk?” campaign, it comes as no surprise that Wilson is a fan of lowfat chocolate milk as an integral part of many triathlete’s post-training and post-race routines. Wilson is a fan of lowfat chocolate milk as an integral part of many triathlete’s post-training and post-race routines, so much so that she agreed to serve as a consultant to the REFUEL| got chocolate milk? campaign.” When I ask my athletes ‘do you like chocolate milk?’ nearly all of them say they do. They like the taste, it’s affordable and easy to find and the mouth ‘feel’ – the creaminess and texture – seems to be something that people love after they’ve had a really intense workout.”

After you’ve depleted yourself during a hard effort, it’s important to replenish your stores so you will be able to recover quickly and be at your best for the next workout. Getting that process started is critical if you have another workout later in the day, but even if you won’t be working out until the next day, you’ll still want to try and get some food and liquid into your system within a couple of hours. As a post-workout or post-race beverage, lowfat chocolate milk works well because, to start with, people like it. It also has carbohydrate to replenish energy stores, protein to repair damage to the muscles, fluid to rehydrate and much needed electrolytes to replace those you lost during your training session or race. With the essential nutrients, fluids and the right mix of protein to carbs scientifically shown to refuel exhausted muscles, some studies suggest chocolate milk may be even more effective than some commercial sports drinks, especially those without the benefits of milk’s protein.

Once again Wilson emphasizes how personal even your recovery nutrition can be.

“For me it’s a personal thing,” she says of her own post-workout nutrition. “I can tell if I don’t have something a short time afterwards.”

Is chocolate milk the right drink for everyone?

“People respond differently to different drinks,” Wilson concludes. “I recommend lowfat chocolate milk to my athletes as a good post-workout option, especially because a growing body of research is showing that drinking chocolate milk after a hard workout could give athletes a performance edge in their next bout of exercise. They should try it to see if they feel a difference.” 

About the REFUEL | “got chocolate milk?” Campaign

The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), Washington, D.C., is funded by the nation's milk processors, who are committed to increasing fluid milk consumption. The National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, through MilkPEP, runs the REFUEL | “got chocolate milk?™” Campaign, a multi-faceted program designed to educate athletes about the recovery benefits of lowfat chocolate milk after strenuous exercise.  Lowfat chocolate milk is simple, effective and scientifically shown to help refuel the body so athletes can perform at their best. It’s a natural source of high-quality protein to build lean muscle; it has the right mix of protein and carbs to refuel exhausted muscles; plus fluids and a natural source of electrolytes to rehydrate and help replenish what’s lost in sweat. For more information, go to

Full Disclosure:  MilkPEP is a paying sponsor of certain Ironman® events and/or an advertiser on certain Ironman® media properties.  The foregoing product review has been prepared and published here as promotional consideration under an agreement regarding such sponsorship and/or advertisement.