PHILADELPHIA — Althea Zanecosky takes her chocolate milk seriously.
When she traveled to watch her daughter, Rebecca, run in the Pittsburgh Marathon, she didn't leave anything to chance. Zanecosky packed a cooler with chocolate milk, carted it across the state, stowed it in a hotel room refrigerator and then hauled it to the finish line.
"I am both the sports nutrition mom and the dairy mom," Zanecosky said. "Everyone in the party knows that I carry the chocolate milk."
A former sports nutrition professor at Drexel and registered dietitian who represents the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, Zanecosky used to get funny looks when she trumpeted the recovery benefits of chocolate milk.
"There seems to be this disconnect: If it tastes good it can't be good for me," Zanecosky said. "Chocolate milk is the one delicious thing that all of us can have no guilt about because it's doing the body this wonderful good."
After a long race, Zanecosky said, runners need carbohydrates and protein in roughly a 3 to 1 ratio. Chocolate milk provides that naturally, along with the necessary fluids and electrolytes. Zanecosky said the trend toward chocolate milk began in the cycling community and migrated to running.
All that would have been news to Zanecosky back in the 1980s and '90s when she participated in about 10 Philadelphia Distance Runs. At the time, Zanecosky typified the competitive element of the running circuit. Her best marathon time is 3 hours, 5 minutes, and she completed the Boston Marathon.
In the 30 years since, running has exploded into a mass participation sport. Races designed for fun have drawn weekend warriors focused more on finishing than a fast time. For those non-elite runners, proper recovery is all the more important.
"How much do people spend on shoes? $120?" Zanecosky said. "We know that it's important to have the right equipment. … Part of that equipment is your food."
Zanecosky said the first 30 minutes to two hours after the race is the most important time to refuel. She suggests ditching the traditional, carb-heavy pancake breakfast for a meal balanced between carbs and protein, such as cereal in milk with yogurt and fruit.
And of course, she has an idea about what to drink: "We've got exactly what you need."