Got milk? If you're trying to put on muscle, you better. Whole milk was once a staple for guys who were packing away calories and moving massive amounts of iron in order to go from pencil neck to bull neck. These days we know enough to shun or restrict the saturated-fat-filled whole variety in favor of skim, but even the fat-free version has its detractors. Some claims against milk link it to childhood diabetes, while others allege widespread pesticide contamination of dairy products.
However, Kristin Reimers, M.S., R.D., associate director at the International Center for Sports Nutrition in Omaha, Neb., says the attacks on milk are largely hype. "Let's face it, dietary fat as the `bad guy' is old news, and every good story needs a bad guy," she says. "Milk is the new bad guy of the day. After a while, it'll get back to beef, then maybe sugar. It's the cycle of 100-percent-unfounded food bashing."
Using an array of accusations and smear tactics, food bashers push a lot of buttons in their battle against milk, but Reimers implores people not to get misled. "I have absolutely no reservations about recommending milk," she says. "Skim milk is a good choice for men who are looking to add muscle mass. It's convenient, inexpensive, high in protein, full of vitamins and minerals, and tastes good to boot."
Milk's Protein Power
Ahh, workout's done. Time to kick back on the couch with the Cheez Doodles and feel that muscle building kick into action, right? Not if you're serious about creating a more muscular physique. You can do all the biceps curls you want, but you won't add a centimeter to those guns without protein and other nutrients to rebuild what you've broken down during training.
Milk has plenty of protein-about nine grams per 8-ounce glass—and that protein contains all eight essential amino acids, which means it's complete and can be readily used by your body for repair and growth. For hardgainers, who need to cram down protein every three hours, milk can be a major boon. Drinking an extra, and inexpensive, 30 grams of protein a day won't leave you feeling too stuffed for one of your regular feedings.
Milk actually includes two types of protein: casein, which makes up 80 percent of the total protein content, and whey, which accounts for the remaining 20 percent. Both are recognized as high-quality, muscle-building proteins; in fact, whey is currently the most common form of protein found in bodybuilding supplements.
Numerous studies, including a recent report published in the American Journal of Physiology that examined the body's anabolic response to whey, casein and amino-acid consumption, show whey to be a fast-acting protein absorbed quickly for use by muscles. Casein digests more slowly, providing your body with a steady stream of protein over time. Getting both nutrients in one relatively inexpensive source is a double whammy for a growth-starved guy who doesn't have the time or facilities to mix up a powder-based protein shake at work.
Milk Replaces Electrolytes
Of course, milk has a lot more nutrients than just protein: vitamins D, A, B2 and B12, phosphorous, electrolytes and bone-building calcium, to name a few, all of which must be replenished if you're working your butt off in the gym.
Keep in mind that when you sweat-which you should be doing plenty of in your cardio bouts if you expect results-you lose calcium as well as the electrolytes sodium and potassium. Hence, milk may indeed be just what your body needs after a workout, since it contains significant levels of all those minerals.
For men, one of the most valuable minerals found in milk is calcium. A study in the American Journal of Medicine showed that American men tend to come up short of the recommended 1,200 milligrams a day. Since active guys lose even more calcium through sweat, they stand to be even worse off. But don't think that calcium is important strictly for the health of your bones and teeth. Researchers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville found that eating two servings of low-fat, calcium-enriched foods a day inhibits a hormone which causes the body to store fat. Since a glass of skim milk contains about 300 milligrams of calcium, it could be your ticket to a leaner physique.
Some anecdotal evidence advises against milk when you're trying to get shredded. In fact, professional bodybuilders, whose livelihood depends on cutting body-fat levels to precarious depths, seem to shy away from milk as a rule during contest preparations. But is it really necessary to drop the milk entirely in favor of lean meat and protein supplements?
"If an individual can tolerate and digest milk properly, meaning he isn't lactose-intolerant [to experience bloating or abdominal pain after ingesting milk or dairy products], then there's no reason why skim milk cannot be used as a lean source of protein," says Debra Wein, M.S., R.D., president of The Sensible Nutrition Connection Inc., a company that offers online nutrition counseling for bodybuilders and other athletes.
The key is moderation. If you're trying to get cut, you need to account for every calorie. In that regard, other food sources give you protein without the added carbohydrates. Milk, then, shouldn't be your primary source of protein, but rather one of many.