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Protein Shakes – Milk or Water?

Posted by Joel Marion on July 24, 2009

Being the resident fitness guru, I’m always being asked questions by my friends and family about diet and exercise.

And every once in a while, against my better judgment, I agree to help a friend or family member out by designing them a diet and/or exercise program (knowing fully well that, at best, they will stick with it for a week, maybe two).

But, still, I do it…because hey, I’m a nice guy.

Well, just last week I decided to help my buddy Mark out with a program per his request. He’s a pretty disciplined dude (ex-army guy), so I figured he might actually follow through. And if he does, that’ll make it worth it.

In the meantime, however, I’m sure he’ll be giving me some ideas for blog content based on the questions I’m being bombarded with as he begins the program, like yesterday’s question about whether he should be mixing his protein shakes with milk or water.

So, let’s say you’re getting ready to mix up some protein, which should you go with?

The answer, as it usually is: it depends.

Let’s take a look at several factors that you should consider before choosing.

1. Adding milk adds calories.

2. Adding milk adds insulin.

3. Adding milk adds flavor.

With that said, let’s take into consideration a couple different scenarios.

Scenario #1: You are on a fat loss diet, attempting to drop fat rapidly.

In this situation, you’d want to avoid extra calories and insulin for the most part, so it’s best that you choose to mix your shakes with water most of the time.

That said, there are a couple situations in which using milk is acceptable, and perhaps even desirable.

One such situation is in the morning, as insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate tolerance are at their peak. That and a little extra insulin and calories won’t be a big deal at the beginning of the day.

The other situation is post workout. You WANT some extra calories, carbohydrate, and insulin after a workout to help shuttle nutrients to your muscles for growth, repair, and recovery, so using milk in this situation is perfectly acceptable, even on a fat loss diet.

Scenario #2: You are on a muscle building diet, attempting to gain muscle rapidly.

With this scenario, it is perfectly acceptable to mix the majority of your meal replacement shakes with milk, and a great way to add extra calories (without much volume) to a meal.

Believe it or not, many people actually struggle to get enough calories when attempting to build lean muscle–drinking more calories is a great way to increase your daily caloric total without having to stuff yourself with large volume meals.

A couple of other things to consider:

Does your protein shake already contain substantial carbohydrate?

If it’s just a straight “protein powder”, then that gives you a bit more leeway to add calories via milk. If it’s a higher calorie “meal replacement” however, you may want to just go with water.

Are you drinking a meal replacement shake prior to bed?

Doing so is a great way to avoid catabolism while shuttling nutrients to muscle tissue throughout the night, but you’re definitely going to want to avoid milk in this situation because of the insulin surge.

Are you using a shake that actually tastes good?

Most people use milk with their shakes because they taste horrible when mixed with water. Well, you don’t have to down a bunch of extra calories and spike insulin to enjoy a great tasting shake if you use the right brand. One of the best tasting meal replacements I know of is Prograde Lean, and it tastes just as good when mixed with ice water.

So, do you use mix your protein shakes with milk or water? Find today’s post helpful? Drop a comment in the comment section below!

At least 50 comments and I’ll be back this weekend with more content!


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