Ask Stew: Got Milk?

Staff Sgt. Nick Warner, 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Public Health NCO in charge of food and sanitation element, measures the temperature of milk and checks their expiration dates (U.S. Air Force photo by Cody H. Ramirez).

When you consider a healthy diet, does it include milk? If you work out often and fairly intensely, do you take extra protein and carbohydrates to help with recovery? If you are not sensitive to lactose, you should consider dairy as part of your nutritional plan.

Here is an email from a young man still in high school, who is training for both sports and future military service. He asks the following question:

Stew, I am 15 and like to work out. I play two sports (Football / Baseball) and I want to join the Army and become a Ranger after I graduate. I am not asking about Ranger fitness, but about trying to gain weight for both sports and future Army life (rucking). Any recommendations on adding protein to my diet? My mom won't buy protein supplements as they are too expensive. What other options do I have? - Jake

Jake:  great question and keep up the great work with school, sports, and training. I know at 15 gaining weight can be a challenge. The good news is that you can add protein to your diet with normal foods that are in the grocery store and likely in your refrigerator already. But consider this: you need a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Do not be scared of carbs and fats at your age, but there are better carbs and fats to eat than others.

Focus your eating on the following ranges:

A normal diet of protein, fats, and carbohydrates will be adequate to help with recovery from moderate exercise. "Normal" as defined by the USDA in the following chart:

Recommended Macronutrient Proportions by Age





Young Children (3 and under)




Children (4-18 years of age)




Adults (19 and over)





I would test out the ranges of the above charts to discover where you are seeing the most results. For a few weeks, try more proteins and fats and the fewer carbohydrates diet, then reverse it for another few weeks to see which gives you the best results.

In the beginning, your weight gain will be small -- maybe a pound a week at the most. If you can gain four to five pounds in a month, that is spectacular, but it will require eating a lot more calories. You basically do this by consuming roughly 500 extra calories a day, seven days a week for a total of 3,500 extra calories.

Depending on your daily activity, you may have to eat more to accumulate a 500 calorie surplus. You may find a big difference in your need to eat more during football as compared to not being in season or even baseball practice (depending on position).

You do not add these calories in one meal but spread throughout the day with extra glasses of milk, peanut butter, nuts, eggs and even foods and extra sugar calories. Recovery from workouts with inexpensive drinks like chocolate milk should be considered. However, if you are not trying to gain weight or not working out for multiple sessions for long hours, the extra sugar of chocolate milk is not needed. You could just use regular milk, nuts, and eggs as a natural protein source.

Most chocolate drinks are high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contains more sugar than soda. If you are trying to gain weight or working out really hard (several hours or high intensity), chocolate milk is a good option. Is it the best option? I would say it is the best option for the price. If you prefer a non-HFCS chocolate, check out Hershey's Simply 5, but if you are trying to lose weight, regular milk is great for the protein source.

About Milk

Milk is more casein protein than whey protein, which makes it ideal for night time snacks with the slower digesting protein of casein. As far as recovery is concerned from hard workouts, sleep is our number one recovery source, however, casein protein is very useful during sleep.

Whey has been the go-to protein source in supplements, as it is quickly digested and aids in recovery during post-workout recovery window (which is not actually that small). One of the primary differences between casein and whey is the rate of digestion. Whey digests quickly, while casein takes longer. You need both, and both come from milk. But there are other proteins that are needed as well that come from eggs, fish, meats, nuts and other foods that should be in your diet.

Related Studies

Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports.

USDA Dietary Guidelines

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