It’s got high-quality protein, simple sugars, vitamins and minerals, and will help you replace fluids. 

Refueling properly after a half-marathon is one of the best things you can do to speed recovery. During a distance running event, your working muscles depend on carbohydrates as the primary source of fuel, and fat as a secondary source. Replacing the sugar, or carbs, you burned during the race as soon as you can tolerate something in your stomach—ideally within 30 minutes of finishing—will help resupply your energy stores.

“You want something with a decent amount of carbs and a small amount of quality protein,” recommends Clete McLeod, sports nutritionist and director of strength and conditioning at Southern Illinois University. “Chocolate milk is a great refueling source. It’s high-quality protein, simple sugars, vitamins and minerals, and you’re replacing fluids.”

Consumption amount should depend on your weight, how much time you spent running and how fit you are—well trained, experienced runners tend to burn fewer calories while running because their bodies are more efficient, said McLeod. Choosing between full-fat, low-fat or fat-free chocolate milk is a largely individual choice because research about which is preferable for runners is mixed. “The absence of too much fat would help speed the absorption of nutrients,” McLeod hypothesizes. “But, if calories are what we’re trying to replace, the fat content is going to help.” McLeod recommends that his athletes drink low-fat milk.

Recovery should be a part of a much bigger nutrition strategy, McLeod cautions. Athletes who eat smart and ingest an appropriate-for-them amount of fluids and fuel before, during and after a race are putting themselves ahead of the recovery curve.

RELATED — Expert Advice: What’s the best way to refuel after a half marathon?

This piece first appeared in the April 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.