Is It Better To Drink Protein Shakes or Milk To Build Muscle?


question-icon-newI have heard about protein shakes and I’ve recently realized I need to take in protein before and after my workouts to maintain and build lean muscle mass. The problem is I can’t really afford a protein powder supplement due to the price and my limited overall budget. Right now, I’m using nonfat skim milk and some strawberry flavoring. Is drinking milk like this the same as having a protein shake?

answer-icon-newDrinking milk is not the same as drinking a quality whey protein shake and the main difference comes from the amount of protein per serving and the type of protein you are consuming. Without being able to see the actual nutritional information of the milk that you are drinking I will use the values from a standard bottle of nonfat skim milk. 250ML of nonfat skim milk contains 10.3 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat and 14.8 grams of carbohydrates. You can see here that milk does contain protein which is the primary benefit of drinking a protein shake but that is where it ends. Let’s now look at the values in a pretty typical protein shake (Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Protein Powder Strawberry Flavor) seeing as you like strawberry. Just 1 scoop of this whey protein powder mixed with water contains 24 grams of protein, 1.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of carbs. That’s a huge difference in macronutrients!

The reason that most people drink protein shakes as part of their muscle building diet regimen is because it’s important to consume large quantities of protein to recover from intense workouts and support muscle growth. Depending on your overall weight, you could possibly need up to 250 grams of protein per day (1 gram of protein for a 250 pound person). This means that if you were to try to get this amount of protein from drinking milk alone it would mean that you would need to drink almost 6 liters of milk every day! However, if you were using a whey protein supplement, you would only require about 10 scoops to equal the same amount of muscle building protein.

The other difference between protein shakes and milk is that milk contains a lot more carbohydrates (over 10 grams). This becomes a problem because nutrition is the most important factor when training to build muscle and lose fat. As part of your nutritional diet, you need to monitor your total caloric intake. Protein, fat and carbs all contribute to the total energy load (calories) in the foods you eat. If we look at the above example in terms of calories then you can see an even bigger discrepancy between protein shakes and milk.

Let’s go with the example of 6 liters of nonfat skim milk versus 10 scoops of whey protein with our target being 250 grams of protein per day with a calorie goal of 2,200. Six liters of milk contains 247.2 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat and 355.2 grams of carbs which equates to 2,410 calories. This would mean that although you more or less hit your protein requirements, you have exceeded your total calorie requirements. If you were to have 10 scoops of whey protein instead of the milk, you would be looking at 240 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat and 30 grams carbs which equates to only 1,215 calories. You can clearly see in this example the benefits and advantages of a whey protein shake over drinking standard milk in terms of overall calories and carbohydrates.

In regards to drinking protein before and after your workouts to maintain and build muscle, this is where whey blows away milk as your primary protein source. Your goal is to have a fast acting source of protein to fill your muscles with amino acids pre-workout and immediately post-workout. Whey is an excellent source of quick acting protein which gets shuttled to your muscles right away. Milk, on the other hand, contains a protein called casein which is a much slower acting protein source that takes time to be assimilated and used by your muscles. Casein is a solid protein to use right before you go to bed at night in order to provide a slow and steady release of protein to your muscles as you sleep but you would not want to focus on drinking a casein based protein source before or after you train with weights.

Protein can also have an effect on your performance in the gym during a hardcore workout as it can help you maintain a high level of endurance while supplying key amino acids to your muscles so they can repair and recover optimally. The only way that you will build muscle is by eating quality calories with high levels of protein, lifting with heavy mass building multi-joint compound exercises (bench press, squats, deadlifts) and getting adequate sleep to let your muscles fully recover and grow.

Some people might think it’s possible to pack on lots of muscle on a limited calorie diet. This is very hard, if not impossible, since you are either eating calories to lose fat, maintain your weight, or to gain lean muscle mass. If gaining lean mass is your goal then you need to eat big! If you have a faster metabolism (lean hardgainer) then have fun and grub down on a ton of nutrient dense calories! If you have a slower metabolism and tend to gain weight easily, you really don’t want to increase your calories by too much above maintenance otherwise you will probably start packing on excess body fat along with muscle. Over time, you will be able to gauge your diet and overall calorie intake for optimal results so you can pack on lots of quality lean muscle while decreasing your body fat percentage for a jacked physique!

In regards to your limited budget, try shopping at discount grocery chains like Sam’s Club and Costco for great deals on whey protein supplements. You should be able to find a huge bag of whey protein for around $5-7 per pound. If you go to a regular supplement store, the price of whey protein can skyrocket as high as $10-20 per pound! Do your own research and look for special deals and discount coupons on the Internet to save a bunch of money when supplement shopping.

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  1. Avatar

    Very well explained and informative article. I learned a lot about the importance of protein shakes for building muscle. Thanks!

  2. Avatar

    Interesting article. Milk is good for our body but protein shakes are great when your goal is to lose weight or build muscle. Aside from the fact that our body can digest whey protein very easily, it also replaces carbs which speed up weight loss and is a great dietary component for building lean muscle mass. Of course, everything should be regulated. Thank you for sharing this informative article.

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