Finding that perfect protein drink will help you sip your way to success. But, having seen clients try different store-bought protein shakes and end up with detrimental health effects, I was determined to find the ideal muscle increasing ingredient. After extensive research, the answer ended up being as simple as reaching into the fridge for a tall, cold glass of milk.
Is milk bad for bodybuilding? Milk is not bad for bodybuilding. In fact, it contains the perfect balance of nutrition to support muscle growth and replenish depleted glycogen stores after intense exercise. Milk also contains casein protein, which is slow absorbing and a good option to drink before bed.
Nowadays, milk is a controversial topic. Considering the plant-based movement and documentaries such as The Game Changers and Forks Over Knives, there’s been a huge push to avoid dairy.
But I’m here to inform you why milk is made for bodybuilding, and since everybody is different, the top five things you should consider before guzzling it down.
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
Is Milk Good for Bodybuilding?
Before we sit down and talk about what you should consider when adding milk to your bodybuilding routine, let’s talk about why it’s considered liquid gold for bodybuilding.
1. Perfect Protein for Pumping Iron
Building muscle is all about getting the right balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), gathering enough calories, and doing a solid training routine. High quality dietary proteins are effective for maintaining, repairing, and building muscle protein.
In a comprehensive position paper, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American College of Sports Medicine gave milk their stamp of approval. Drinking milk-based protein after resistance exercise is an effective way to increase muscle and body composition.
The protein type in milk is 20% whey and 80% casein. You may have heard of whey since its the main ingredient in many muscle drinks and supplements. However, when whey is processed, like in protein powder, research has shown that it may contain toxins and cause digestive distress (gas, upset stomach). You don’t these same whey effects when drinking milk.
Whey contains all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) and is easily absorbed and effectively used by the body. Casein is similar to whey but it’s absorbed much slower by the body when compared to whey. This is why a lot of bodybuilders use casein protein before bed-time so that they get a constant supply of protein absorption throughout the night.
Related Article: Is Rice Good For Weight Loss? (5 Rules To Follow)
2. Prime for Post-Workout
When it comes to nutrition for exercise, studies encourage optimizing muscle protein, restoring glycogen (storage form of glucose), hydration, management of soreness, and getting enough calories.
Milk checks all these boxes.
It has high quality and easily absorbable protein, carbohydrates, and micronutrients (calcium, phosphorus, and B vitamins) which make it an ideal post-exercise recovery drink. Research has shown that drinking milk after exercise has the potential to benefit quick recovery and training changes.
Milk contains good amounts of leucine which is an easily digested and utilized branch chain amino acid (BCAA). A review showed that having BCAAs alone (like in a supplementation powder), does not prove to be effective in protein synthesis. This is why it’s best to get it from a whole food source like milk.
3. Chocolate Makes Everything Better
Chocolate that’s good for muscle growth? Umm yes please.
Although more research is needed, a review of 12 studies showed that chocolate milk produced either similar or preferable results when compared to a placebo or other sports recovery beverage.
Chocolate milk contains the ideal ratio for refueling muscles after an intense workout. Since it’s higher in carbs than regular milk, it has the expert-determined “golden” standard of post-workout nutrition, at a 3-1 carb-to-protein ratio.
(Check out my other article on the 7 best coffee creamers for weight loss)
Is Milk Bad for Bodybuilding: Let’s Discuss 5 Things
So we’ve established that milk is good for bodybuilding, but you may still be wondering why it’s such a controversial topic. Some sources promote is as one of the most nourishing foods while others view it as more harmful than helpful.
The USDA recommends two to three cups per day for good bone health. Yet other experts like Harvard University have combined data and found that there is no association between calcium intake and bone fracture risk.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
The processing methods of milk have changed over the years, making it difficult to get a good product. Plus there’s so many types and fat contents to choose from. But we’ll break it down for you, exploring why it’s still superior to protein shakes you find at the store and what to do if you think you may have an intolerance to it.
1. Pay Attention to Processing (Is Milk Processed Safely?)
Milk and dairy products have been a part of the human diet for over 9,000 years yet allergies, intolerances, and gut health complaints seem to be increasing in recent years.
The main problem with many of these protein shakes or weight gain products are packed with sugar and hydrogenated fats. Studies have shown that excess amounts of these ingredients have the potential to lead to diseases such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve had clients who’ve seen significant increase in their LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels by adding just two protein shakes per day.
Check out the comparison of how processed some of these shakes are:
Organic whole cow’s milk contains one ingredient: organic cow’s milk.
This store-bought protein shake includes over 30 ingredients
Manufactured versions of vitamins and minerals may not be as well-absorbed (or absorbed at all) when compared to natural versions.
Related Article: Is Peanut Butter Good For Weight Loss?
Modern processing methods can compromise the quality of milk and change the way our bodies absorb it. Here are common ways that your milk products are processed:
Homogenization: pressurizes the fat in milk, so it’s less likely to separate from the liquid. This makes it look and feel better but some argue that it damages the structure of the fat and may irritate the gut.
Pasteurization: heats milk to destroy harmful bacteria and extend shelf life. It may also kill healthy bacteria, decrease nutrients, and damage some protein and enzymes, making it difficult to digest.
2. What About Fat? (How Many Glasses of Milk Should You Have?)
Diet trends have swung dietary fats from bad to good. Healthy fats can help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) which contribute to overall health. But what about saturated fats that come from milk?
The link between saturated fats and heart disease has been reassessed. According to Harvard University physician, Dr. Hu, a rule of thumb is to still aim to have no more than 20grams of saturated fat per day.
Considering one cup of whole milk contains 4.5 grams of saturated fat, it’s a good idea to be safe and aim for no more than a few glasses per day.
Something to keep in mind is that fat is absorbed slower than carbs and protein. So for pre-workout, give yourself time after pounding a glass.
Low-fat milk, which has some water added to replace the fat content, has been shown to be as effective, if not more effective, than commercially available sports and rehydration drinks. But due to some of those processing methods, some people may not digest it as well.
3. Avoid if Allergic or Intolerant (How Do You Feel After Drinking Milk?)
Some people have an allergy or intolerance to milk. Lactose intolerance is lack of lactase (an enzyme) which digests lactose (milk sugar). Common symptoms include excessive gas, bloating, diarrhea, cramps, and stomach upset about 30 minutes to two hours after eating dairy.
If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you can choose to avoid dairy, consider taking an enzyme like Lactaid, buying Lactose-free milk, or switching to a non-dairy alternative (more in the next section).
Milk allergy is a dangerous allergic reaction that occurs soon after consuming milk or milk products. Signs range: breathing difficulties, vomiting, digestive problems, and hives. If you suspect you may be having a milk reaction, contact your emergency provider immediately.
Avoiding milk and milk products is the main treatment for milk allergy.
4. Are Vegan Versions Better? (What To Do If You’re Vegan)
Milk alternative options have exploded the last century. Some available options include almond, oat, coconut, cashew, and hemp.
All have different compositions and pros and cons. For instance, soy milk may be a good source of fortified (added) nutrients but it’s a common allergen and is frequently genetically modified.
When compared to cow’s milk, alternatives usually have far less protein. For instance, 1 cup of low-fat cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein, compared to almond milk with only 1 gram of protein.
As a general rule, aim to get the less processed versions. Watch for and steer clear of long ingredient lists and ingredients you can’t pronounce since these are more processed. Carrageenan for instance (an emulsifier used to thicken or preserve foods) may cause digestive issues in some people.
To keep vegan milk healthy, try making your own! Minimalist Baker has a simple recipe that includes vanilla – yum!
5. Are Antibiotics and Growth Hormones Dangerous?
Antibiotics are administered to cows when they get sick or have an infection. Typically, cows will be removed from the milk production for a few days and tested before being brought back into production.
The problem is that farms may wrongfully return antibiotic-treated cows too soon. So the antibiotics are still in their systems and therefore get passed into the milk. This overuse of antibiotics in America has been associated with overgrowth and mutation of unhealthy bacteria.
You may have heard of or seen rBGH, called recombinant bovine growth hormone. This is a common growth hormone, that’s injected into commercial dairy cows in order to make them produce more milk. Evidence shows that they can cause harm to dairy cows, but whether these cause adverse health in humans is inconclusive.
Its best to aim for organic and grass-fed versions of milk whenever possible. They have less or no antibiotics and growth hormones and contain more heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. When cows can roam, they’re healthier. Just like when you move more, you
Milk is an excellent addition for bodybuilding routines. It contains high quality and easily absorbable protein, carbohydrates, and micronutrients (calcium, phosphorus, and B vitamins) which are made for muscle building. It’s naturally convenient, easily drinkable, and portable while being cheaper and healthier than store-bought protein drinks.
Not all milk is created equal. The type of milk and degree of processing and hormones also make an impact on overall health. When possible, aim for organic and grass-fed versions.
If you don’t have an allergy or intolerance to milk, it can be an ideal bodybuilding element. Whether or not milk does your body good depends on how it makes you feel; you know yourself best!
About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.