Becoming an Olympian is an incredible honor. Winning a gold medal is even more prestigious. Setting an Olympic record while doing so is the apex of athletic achievement.
Tyler Clary knows the feeling. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Clary won gold in the 200-meter backstroke with an incredible time of 1:53.41. It still stands as an Olympic record.
Clary beat Japan's Ryosuke Irie by just .37 of a second, making his margin for error virtually non-existent. Everything he did in the years leading up to that race made a difference. "You have to be kind of a special mixture of crazy and arguably stupid to be able to stare at a black line for hours on end. But I like to be able to take that time and really wrap myself up in the moment," Clary says.
All those grueling hours in the pool took a serious toll on Clary's body, but the pounding didn't stop once he stepped outside the water. Weight training and rock climbing were also important parts of Clary's training routine. All that activity meant Clary had little room for error when it came to recovery.
Clary is a smart dude. He was a computer science major at the University of Michigan and he recently constructed a self-sustaining greenhouse in his own backyard. So when he was involved in an experiment conducted by the United States Olympic Committee that showed how beneficial chocolate milk was as a recovery drink, he was instantly sold. While it wasn't a clinical trial per se, the results are quite compelling.
"There was actually a really interesting experiment they did with us. They had an ultrasound machine, and they looked at the levels of stored glycogen in our quad muscles before and after practice," Clary says. "I was restoring more (glycogen) when I had access to chocolate milk after practice than if I didn't."
Glycogen is defined as a "readily mobilized storage form of glucose." It's a critical source of easily accessible energy for athletes. If your glycogen levels are low, performance will suffer. The experiment Clary was involved in is just part of a large body of research that's shown the effectiveness of chocolate milk for recovery. Researchers at Indiana University found that when competitive swimmers recovered with reduced fat chocolate milk after an exhausting swim, they swam faster in time trials later that same day than swimmers who recovered with a carbohydrate sports drink (which contained equal calories to the chocolate milk) or a calorie-free beverage. The swimmers who recovered with chocolate milk swam an average of 2.1 seconds faster during a 200-yard swim than those who recovered with the other beverages. As a point of reference, Clary would've finished third in 2012 had his time been 2.1 seconds slower.
"I've been drinking chocolate milk for years. It's not just how much protein and how much carbohydrate you're getting after each work out, it actually has a lot to do with the ratio that you're taking in. And chocolate milk just happens to have a scientifically proven ratio for recovery nutrients to keep my body functioning at the level it needs to be," Clary says. "The ultimate goal is to make sure that I'm in peak condition with the utmost preparedness to make sure that I have the best performance possible."
Clary has since retired from competitive swimming to pursue a different kind of sport—motorsports. He's currently working his way up the ranks as a driver for BMW and he wants to land in the NASCAR Cup Series by 2021. Whether he's racing in the pool or on the track, chocolate milk helps Clary stay fast.