Ask Stew: Got Milk?

A staff sergeant checks the temperature of 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 expiration dates. (Cody H. Ramirez/U.S. Air Force photo)

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 high school student who is training for 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 years old, 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 already in your refrigerator.

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 Here

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

Recommended Macronutrient Proportions by Age





Young Children (3 and under)




Children (4-18 years of age)




Adults (19 and over)




Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 | Chapter Two

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 season, as compared to being out of 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 in chocolate milk is not needed. You could just use regular milk, nuts and eggs as a natural protein source.

If you are trying to gain weight or working out really hard (several hours or with a high intensity), chocolate milk is a good option. Is it the best option? I would say it is the best option for the price.

About Milk

Milk is more casein protein than whey protein, which makes it ideal for nighttime 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 digested quickly 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 other proteins are needed as well and come from eggs, fish, meats, nuts and other foods.

Related study:

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

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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