While runners and athletes may be aware of the importance of carbs after a workout, many do not know that carbs come in different forms. Simple carbs – like sugar – can be especially helpful after tough exercise since they’re absorbed quickly by the body and can aid post-exercise recovery.

As you plan your recovery routine, make sure to gain the most out of a workout with these tips from sports dietitian and marathon runner Natalie Rizzo.

Carbs and Workout Performance

“When you eat carbs, they’re broken down into a simple sugar called glucose, which provides energy for exercise,” says registered dietitian, Natalie Rizzo. “Our brains also need glucose to function properly during exercise, and any glucose that isn’t used right away is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen.”

Sugar can be both natural (like the sugar found in fruits, vegetables and dairy) or added. While sugar is often lumped in with foods to avoid, runners who workout regularly can benefit from a post-exercise snack that includes sugar to help quickly replenish glycogen stores. Moreover, simple carbs are absorbed more quickly than more complex carbs, giving athletes what they need to replenish glycogen stores as soon as possible and recover properly. In lowfat chocolate milk, a mix of natural and added sugar combine to give it the right mix of carbs and protein that’s scientifically shown to help refuel exhausted muscles.

“If you ever feel like you ‘hit a wall’ during exercise, it’s likely because you don’t have enough glycogen stored to finish strong,” explains Rizzo. “Drinking lowfat chocolate milk post-workout is an effective way to replenish your body’s glycogen stores so you’re ready for that next tough workout.”

Rizzo's Take on the Sugar-Free Trend

While there’s a lot of conflicting information about sugar, Rizzo emphasizes that it’s what your body does with what you eat that matters most. A diet low in added sugar is a good idea for sedentary individuals, but for active, fit athletes, simple, easily digested carbs – like a mix of natural and added sugars in a nutrient-rich chocolate milk – are a key component of a proper recovery routine. Plus, the Dietary Guidelines states it’s perfectly fine to consume 10% of your calories from added sugar. And, limiting natural sugars, like those found in fruits, vegetables and dairy milk, could cause you to miss out on a variety of nutritious foods.

So, instead of overhauling your diet to be completely sugar-free, use natural and added sugars strategically for exercise performance. And, if you would like to decrease added sugar in other aspects your diet, Rizzo recommends making gradual changes over time. “It’s much easier to make small changes, like adding more fruits and veggies to what you already eat. A bunch of small changes add up to one big change over time.”