Milk Alternatives

It's protein powder's best friend, but what if you can't stomach milk?

QUESTION

My post-workout protein shake mixed with milk is upsetting my stomach. Are plant-based milks just as effective for gains?

ANSWER

If you have symptoms like abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea, or nausea after drinking cow’s milk or other dairy products, you’re probably lactose intolerant to some degree. Fortunately, plant-based milks like almond, hemp, and rice milk are a good option for people with lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy. Some brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to give you the extra nutrients most cow’s milk provides.

Coconut milk is higher in calories, but most of these calories come from fat, not protein, so be mindful of that if you start to add unwanted body fat. Another alternative is soy milk, which provides 8 grams of protein per cup. Some bodybuilders believe soy can increase estrogen and tamp down testosterone levels, though a 2010 meta-review published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found no impact on T from soy.

You can also try lactose-free milk, which has added lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the natural sugar found in dairy that can cause gastrointestinal distress in those missing the genes to produce the helpful enzyme. Lactose-free milk still has good amounts of protein and calories, comes in 2%, 1%, and fat-free selections, and even tastes a little sweeter than regular milk. Mix your protein powder with these alternative milks to help you reap the benefits of your gym efforts.

 MILK MATTERS 

ALMOND MILK

Low in protein and calories but has heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Usually enriched with calcium and vitamins A and D.

COCONUT MILK

High in saturated fat with 5 grams per ounce. Contains vitamins C, E, and B, plus lauric acid, an antifungal and antiviral medium-chain fatty acid.

HEMP MILK

Nutty, creamy, and good for those with nut or soy allergies. Hemp milk has 10 essential amino acids and has good levels of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.

OAT MILK

Contains more fiber than other milk substitutes. It packs lots of phytonutrients, has a sweet, grassy taste, and is free of saturated fats and cholesterol.

RICE MILK

We suggest leaving rice milk on the shelf, as it doesn’t naturally have much nutritional benefit unless it’s been fortified.

SOY MILK

High levels of isoflavones, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Avoid brands with carrageenan, which may cause stomach problems and inflammation.

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